An allergy occurs when the immune system over reacts when one is exposed to substances that are normally harmless in others. Allergic reactions can come from the inhaling, ingesting and touching of allergens from the environment, foods, medications, insects and chemical exposure. This type of immune response is called a Type 1 or immediate hypersensitivity reaction.
Environmental allergies to pollens and airborne particles are common in the spring and fall seasons causing the following symptoms:
• Itchy, red eyes
• Runny nose and sneezing
• Contact dermatitis
• Asthma attack or aggravation
• Increased mucus production
• Difficulty breathing
• Dark circles under the eyes
• Chronic sinus congestion
Severe allergies can cause anaphylactic reactions including restriction of the airways and swelling that requires immediate medical attention. Anaphylactic reactions are most commonly associated with insect bites, venom, peanuts and medications.
Food allergies to proteins can develop overtime and may be associated with the following symptoms:
• Abdominal pain and discomfort
• Gas, bloating and cramping
• Skin rashes and breakouts
• Diarrhea or constipation
• Nausea and vomiting
COMMON SOURCES OF ENVIRONMENTAL ALLERGENS
Hay Fever is a blanket term for any allergic reaction of the nasal airways that results from the exposure of pollens, dander, mold and dust. This is also known as allergic rhinitis. Common sources include:
• Grass: ryegrass, timothy-grass
• Weeds: ragweed, plantago, nettle, artemisia vulgaris, chenopodium album, sorrel
• Trees: birch, alder, hazel, hornbeam, aesculus, willow, poplar, platanus, tilia, olea, Ashe juniper
• Animal dander (particles from the shedding of the skin: cats, dogs and rabbits are common sources)
COMMON SOURCES OF FOOD ALLERGENS
Canada and USA both recognize the following list as common causes of allergic reactions in a large segment of the population:
• Tree nuts (hazelnuts, almonds, cashews, macadamia, pecans, coconut, pine nuts, walnuts, pistachios)
• Eggs (albumen mostly in the whites of the eggs)
• Cow’s milk and other dairy products
• Wheat and gluten containing grains
• Soy products
• Sulphites (used a common preservative in dried fruits and wines)
COMMON SOURCES OF CHEMICAL ALLERGENS
Additives added to foods, cosmetics and cleansers may contribute to hives, eczema and headaches such as:
• Heavily scented detergents, soaps, cleansers and perfumes
• MSG (associated with headaches, dermatitis and changes in the nervous system)
• Food colorings (tartrazine: FD&C Yellow #5 is associated with dermatitis and asthma)
UNDERSTANDING THE PROCESS
A substance that is causes a type 1 hypersensitivity reaction in the immune system is called an allergen or antigen (these two terms can be used interchangeably in this context). An allergen causes the immune system to produce specific IgE antibodies against it. IgE antibodies bind to certain white blood cells (mast cells and basophils), initiating the secretion of chemical mediators such as histamines, prostaglandins, leukotrines and cytokines into the surrounding tissues. These mediators result in tissue swelling, redness, inflammation and increased mucous production that result in the uncomfortable symptoms on an allergic reaction.
IgE antibodies are specific class of immunoglobulins that play a key role in type 1 (immediate) allergic reactions as well as in immunity against parasites. Seasonal allergies, some food allergies and penicillin reactions that cause an immediate response in the body are examples type 1 hypersensitivities.
IgG Antibodies are associated with secondary immune response that involve type II and type III hypersensitivity reactions. IgG reactions may occur gradually over hours or days. Because of this delay, it is often difficult to isolate the offending allergen. Furthermore, the effects of the IgG reactions can become cumulative over time as chronic inflammation contributes to other health concerns and symptoms. IgG allergy testing is a valuable tool when a symptom picture reflects inflammation and is not being resolved by other means.
Testing for IgG food allergies can be done quickly in the clinic with a simple finger prick to obtain a sample of blood. Analysis is done through Rocky Mountain Analytical Laboratories, who provide a detailed report. It is important to consume a wide variety of foods a minimum of 7 days prior to taking this test in order for allergen-antibody complexes to form for the foods being tested.
IgA antibodies play a critical role in mucosal immunity. They are associated with the gastrointestinal tract, genitourinary tract, prostate and respiratory tissue.
IgA antibodies initiate inflammatory reactions in the presence of a trigger. For example, Celiac disease testing often involves high IgA antiendomysial antibodies due to the chronic exposure of gluten. Overtime, this results in chronic inflammation and damage the lining of the small intestine.
NATUROPATHIC ALLERGY TREATMENTS
Naturopathic treatment approach involves reducing inflammatory reactions and histamine release using dietary modifications along with supplements and herbs.
CLINICAL NUTRITION: Many patients see a dramatic improvement in their seasonal allergy symptoms when common dietary allergens are removed or reduced. It is important to have a consistent elimination diet in order to both reduce the burden on the body and maintain proper nourishment. Dr Carrie Watkins can work with you in identifying your personal allergens as well as developing a meal plan for lasting results.
BOTANICAL MEDICINE: Herbal preparations can be very effective when given from a quality source that contains therapeutic amounts of the key phytochemicals. Medicinal herbs and supplements such as flavonoids can naturally reduce histamine release and modulate the immune system without the side effects of long term corticosteroid use and risk of rebound congestion associated with nasal decongestants.
HYDROTHERAPY: Regular and safe use of water therapies at home help to improve lymphatic drainage, circulation and sinus congestion for long term natural symptoms relief.
SUBLINGUAL ALLERGY THERAPY: Homeopathic preparations of specific seasonal allergens are given to help build tolerance when taken overtime. This is the treatment of choice for children as has minimal side effects and is not invasive. It is most effective when given 1-2 months prior to allergy season before exposure.
ACUPUNCTURE AND TRADITIONAL CHINESE MEDICINE: As a supportive therapy, acupuncture can help balance the immune system as well offering relief from acute symptoms such as hives/rash, sinus congestion and headaches. Dr Carrie Watkins is board certified in acupuncture as a Naturopathic Physician in BC.
The change of seasons is the ideal time to consider a detoxification plan to cleanse the body and reduce your exposure to foods and chemicals that contribute to inflammation. Detoxification can be incredibly beneficial for managing allergic reactions, supporting the immune system as well improving energy, congestion and skin reactions.
A combination of dietary modifications, vitamin and herbal support can be used to optimize the detoxification process without affecting day to day activities. Strict fasting programs are a quick fix solution and do not address the root causes or create a routine for long-term lifestyle changes. Naturopathic Medicine can offer support creating elimination and detoxification plans that are unique for your individual needs.
CONVENTIONAL ALLERGY MEDICATIONS AND ASSOCIATED SIDE EFFECTS
Used as a spray for allergic rhinitis, a cream to manage skin rashes or less commonly as a pill (for more chronic, severe allergic reactions. Corticosteroids reduce inflammation and swelling of the mucous membrane as well as suppress immune response. Long term use of steroids is not recommended because the potential side effects often out way the symptomatic relief provided. Side effects can include:
• Thinning of the skin and mucous membranes
• Risk of nose bleed with nasal spays
• Dryness and burning of the mucous membranes
• Systemic affects with oral corticosteroids including: muscle atrophy, increased blood pressure, bruising, weight gain and bone loss to name a few.
Decongestants are available in spray, pill and liquid form to manage symptoms of allergies. They cause narrowing of the blood vessels and thus reduced swelling and congestion. Nasal decongestants will only affect the local blood vessels of the nasal cavity but are strongly associated with rebound congestion and concerns of dependency. Oral decongestants have more system affects as they will narrow blood vessels throughout the body, causing high blood pressure and symptoms of anxiety.
• Rebound congestion can occur in as little as 3 days use, whereby the mucous membranes swell as the effects of the decongestant wears off, resulting in more frequent use of the spray and at increasingly higher doses. This causes a cyclical effect that may result in some dependency on decongestants.
• High blood pressure with pills and liquid decongestants. This increase in pressure can also affect those with urinary retention problems, enlarged prostate and glaucoma.
• Anxiety/Nervousness/Increased heart rate are common side effects from the ingredient ephedrine in decongestants. This can also lead to insomnia and headaches.
• There are many interactions with oral decongestants and medications and well as aggravating chronic health concerns.
• Health Canada has advised that all decongestants be labelled as not for use in children under the age of 6 years old due to possible side effects and health complications.
Histamine is a chemical mediator released by white blood cells (basophils and mast cells) in response to an allergen. Histamine binds to histamine receptors to initiate an inflammatory response that includes increased permeability of capillaries. This causes the symptoms of runny nose, watery eyes, congestion and increased mucous production in the nasal cavities as well as in the gut. Anti-histamine medications work by either blocking the binding of histamine to the receptor sites or blocking enzyme that converts histidine to histamine. There are many different types of anti-histamine medications available with varying degrees of side effects. Common over the counter anti-histamines for the management of allergies have the following side effects:
• Sedation and drowsiness
• Dry mouth
• Dizziness and confusion
• Nausea and vomiting
• Restlessness in children
• Difficulty urinating
• Erectile dysfunction and lower libido
• Health Canada has advised that anti-histamines be labelled as not for use in children under the age of 6.
The clinic offers the following testing for allergens:
- 96 IgG Food Allergy Testing
- 95 IgG Vegetarian Food Allergy Testing
- Mini-inhalant Panel
- 48 Herbs and Spices
What is the difference between food intolerances and food allergies?
At times, an allergy test might not reflect an immune response to a food that causes a known reaction in an individual. In this case, the results may be due to an intolerance. For example, lactose intolerance is due to a deficiency in the lactase enzyme rather than an allergen-antibody reaction. Low stomach acid or digestive enzymes can also contribute to intolerances.
Management of allergy and intolerances is done through clinical nutrition, supplements, botanical medicine and acupuncture depending on the specific symptoms unique to each individual.
DR CARRIE WATKINS | NATUROPATHIC DOCTOR IN VICTORIA BC
VICTORIA MASSAGE THERAPY AND HEALTH SOLUTIONS CLINIC
645 FORT STREET, SUITE 212
If you are looking to book an appointment in Toronto, Ontario please call 416.738.6757 for Dr Rachel Goldgut