“That’s my friend Paul Pfieffer. Paul was allergic to everything. Wayne used to say he was even allergic to his own snot.” – Kevin Arnold..The Wonder Years first episode
Allergies just stink. I mean on the one hand you can’t breathe, you can’t smell anything, you feel like your forehead is going to explode, and your nose is dripping like a leaky faucet. On the other hand, you don’t feel fever, aches, or chills, and you’re not…sick.
So what’s going on here
I’m allergic to….
Most of us generally understand that you can’t mention allergies without mentioning being allergic to something. Pollen comes quickly to mind. Dust mites are up there. There’s also mold, certain trees, and ragweed.
My brother Andrew gets some nasty allergies around cats and he’s not alone.
Then there are food allergies like peanuts, wheat, and dairy. More to come on that.
Why do allergies happen though?
Well, it starts with our body’s immune system. You see our immune system is wired to respond to fight anything it considers as foreign. Think of what happens when we’re exposed to infection. For the sake of making it easier, we’ll call the offending agent…germs (yes germs). So the way it works is, germs attack, the body recognizes germs as foreign, and kick into motion all the different players involved in getting rid of the germs. The biggest player in this process is histamine. You’re probably familiar with the term histamine because of anti-histamines. We’ll talk about those later. Histamine is actually a hormone and its job is to more or less to tell everyone that there’s something foreign around. The result of this signal is swelling of the nasal passages which lead to a stuffy nose, runny nose, and pressure around your sinuses. The more histamine is released, the more severe the symptoms.
Now the confusing this is…why right? I mean pollen is not germs, right? Dust is kind of yucky but, it’s really just dust and doesn’t necessarily have to have any bacteria with it. And what about food allergies. What’s wrong with peanuts? Why do we get allergic responses to milk and soy and wheat?
Well, it comes down to a couple things. Ancestry…and Alterations.
I’m probably a pretty good example here. You see my folks come from Egypt. The land of Pharaohs and the Nile. My people at food from the region and breathed in the air of the area. Our guts were equipped to digest the food, and our respiratory tract was used to the normal stuff in the air. This stuff is built into my DNA. If I was born and raised in Egypt and nothing changed about the territory, there’s a good chance, I’m not gonna suffer much on the allergy front. Unless of course, a foreign comes around and I’m exposed to something that I’m not usually exposed to. But if you take my genes, and move them halfway across the world to the good old U. S. of A…now you have a situation where what I’m breathin’ in and what I’m eating is not always easily recognized by my respiratory tract and gut. When in doubt, my body’s first priority is to protect me, so if there’s something coming in that doesn’t seem normal…the signal get’s alarmed and histamine is on the move.
There’s another part to this. Once again, remember that our body will operate business as usual if it recognizes what it’s used to. What would happen, though, if the thing your body is exposed to has been changed itself? Let’s take the example of dairy. Cow milk comes from…cows. The…ingredients in cow’s milk come from what the cow eats. If the cow is eating the grass it has always eaten and the cow itself is otherwise unchanged, then the cow milk shouldn’t be a problem. That is for someone that who’s ancestors have always eaten and drunken dairy. But what if you change what the cow eats? What if, instead of grass, the cow is fed corn and soybeans? Even more so, what if those corn and soybeans were genetically modified. Suffice it to say that what ends up in the cow, ends up in the milk. And what ends up in the milk, ends up in our gut when we drink milk, or consume cheese or butter or ice cream. Now maybe our gut has no problem with this. We can drink gallons of milk and eat pounds of cheese without a problem. But it might also think…”Hey, what’s this? It looks like milk, but there’s something…something different about it. Hmm…let’s sound the alarm” and histamine get’s released and the whole process starts up.
So you can see now, why we might get allergies. But what do we do about them?
I think the best approach, as always, is a comprehensive one.
Anti-histamines are medicines that…block histamine. Since we know what histamine does, then it sounds pretty simple that all we need to do it just stop all the histamine, right? The only problem is, histamine isn’t just for sounding alarms. Histamine is also released to wake us up. Which means that, if we block histamine, then we’re gonna feel pretty sleepy. Now you know why Benadryl makes you drowsy. Speaking of Benadryl. It’s known as a first-generation anti-histamine. First generation antihistamines, like Benadryl, are very effective at blocking histamine which is why it helps a stuffy and runny nose better than anything. Unfortunately, we’d be zombies if we took Benadryl around the clock.
That’s why there are second-generation antihistamines. Almost as effective as first generation, but not as sedating. These are the Allegras, Zyrtecs, and Claritins out there. Sometimes these work great…not always, though.
It’s very difficult to feel better without using anti-histamines when you’re suffering from allergies, so I’m normally in favor so long as you can safely take them. For most of us, they can be taken without worry about damage to our bodies. The first generation antihistamines do have the potential for some dangerous side effects, so older individuals who are prone to falls should be careful.
I want to quickly mention decongestants. If you try to take decongestants, like Sudafed, for allergies, you do decrease the swelling in the sinuses temporarily. Unfortunately, decongestants don’t block histamine and carry what’s known as rebound congestion and, in my opinion, make things worse than when you started.
In addition to using anti-histamines judiciously, the other important treatment is what I want to call stabilizing the system. Because our gut is a key player in deciding what’s normal and what’s not, it’s a good idea to help the gut out. I won’t get into a whole discussion on what’s good for the gut, but some quick recommendations include probiotics, chamomile tea, garlic, turmeric, and greens. You also want to avoid things like sugar and other stuff that is obviously unhealthy. I also recommend decreasing wheat and dairy products.
I also am a big fan of essential oils for allergies. These include Lavender and Tea Tree Oil.
Other products that can help include omega threes such as fish oil, Vitamin D3 (5,000 international units daily for adults), and nasal saline to keep your nasal passages moist.
I want to mention one final thing. Allergies, or allergic rhinitis, is not an infection. There’s a difference between infection and…not infection. Infection will normally make you feel drained, achy, and feverish. Allergies should not. As such, if you’re able to control the storm, then they should eventually calm down and you’ll good as new in no time.