Spring has arrived! With this post, we will look at Spring’s companion, seasonal allergies, and how to cope. As I mentioned before, I suffered greatly with an allergic response to pollen when I was a teenager and into my twenties. Mid-May to mid-June was the most difficult time. I tried all sorts of drugstore remedies but none gave me the relief I needed. In what I thought to be an unrelated event, I attended a presentation about the benefits of chiropractic care. I was quite surprised to hear the doctor say he could help with seasonal allergies. In need of a more effective solution, I explored this possibility with the chiropractor.
The first thing he had me do was take a blood test called the ELISA test which stands for enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay. Basically the test identifies food allergens through the body’s immune response system. I was not surprised to find sugar on the list as I had quite the sweet tooth and a penchant for Oreo cookies. On that list were my other staples like: apples, bananas, whole wheat flour (gluten) and other items which I have since forgotten. Other than the cookies, I thought I had a reasonably healthy diet. So in fairness to this experiment, I became very disciplined and stayed away from sugary products and the other foods on the list. I even learned how to bake gluten-free bread (or as my wife called them, hockey pucks).
When mid-May arrived, the results were astonishing. I went through the season relatively symptom free. There were only two instances where an allergic backlash occurred. Each time was after succumbing to a hot fudge brownie sundae at the restaurant where my brother worked. These two occasions were proof enough for me. I remained determined to stay away from all forms of sugar and wheat products leading up to and including my allergy season. By following this protocol, I have not had a significant allergic response to pollen since then.
Could it be that my immune system was so overwhelmed, from the foods I was regularly eating, that pollen was just the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back?
To be clear, I went through this improvement, in response to pollen, long before I heard about Paleo. But this is the premise behind the Paleo/Primal movement. By eliminating certain foods, you can heal the gut and symptoms that result from chronic inflammation. Medical doctors like Terry Wahls and Amy Myers chronicled their experiences using the Paleo template to alleviate their own more serious autoimmune conditions such as multiple sclerosis and Graves’ disease, respectively. In her book “The Autoimmune Solution” Amy Myers, M.D. notes seasonal allergies as a sign of poor gut health. If you have been following my post, then remember too that a large portion of our immune system resides in the gut. To quote from the movie Origins “health starts in the gut.”
So, how are you or loved ones going to cope with the upcoming allergy season?
I’m speaking to the more than 35 million Americans who suffer each year from pollen related allergy symptoms. Like myself, you could test for foods that cause your immune system to activate, start by researching what foods others (in the Paleo/Primal community) have eliminated to heal their gut, continue with drugstore remedies or see an allergist for a prescribed medication if symptoms become worse.
Regarding drugstore remedies, Dr. John Cohn, an allergist in the Department of Critical Care and Pulmonary Medicine at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital recommends antihistamines. He prefers the long-acting non-sedating type such as Allegra (fexofenadine), Claritin (loratadine) and Zyterc (certirizine). Dr. Jonathan Spergel, Chief of the Allergy Section at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, says all three forms of these antihistamines come in liquid form making them safe for children. Dr. Cohn warns against decongestants as they can be habit forming and cause nasal damage if taken more than three to five consecutive days. Also, he states that decongestants have the greatest potential for side effects such as tremors, prostate issues, blood pressure and sleep troubles. Dr. Spergel is concerned most about the use of Afrin (a topical nasal decongestant). He recommends using a saline nasal spray to flush out the pollen. When kids come in for the night, he recommends they shower and change clothes so they are not breathing in pollen all night long.
Other recommendations include wearing a dust mask when outdoors, drying your clothes in a dryer and not on an outside line, using a HEPA filter on your air conditioner or furnace and staying indoors between the hours of 10 AM and 4 PM when pollen counts are usually higher. Keep in mind that pollen can travel on the wind more than 100 miles from its source.
Whichever therapy you choose, I wish you well with the upcoming allergy season.
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For my next post, we will look at Lyme disease.
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