Your immune system is designed to protect your body against harmful substances, such as bacteria, viruses, and foreign substances (allergens). In that sense, allergic responses are not inherently bad. But in a person with allergies, the immune response is exaggerated, and you react to substances that are not generally harmful.
The word “allergies” is kind of a catch-all term, since it can refer to allergic conjunctivitis, atopic dermatitis (eczema), contact dermatitis, hay fever (seasonal allergies), or food or drug allergies, which tend to manifest symptoms all over the body.
Common allergens include drugs, dust, food (these can be to the protein, starch, additive, or pesticide on the food), insect bites, mold, pet dander, pollen, hot or cold temperatures, sunlight, or other environmental triggers. Sometimes even friction can cause symptoms in highly reactive individuals.
There are actually five kinds of antibodies in your body, but for the purposes of allergy testing, we only care about two: IgE and IgG. IgE are considered “immediate sensitivity” antibodies, which means your body mounts an immune response to that substance immediately. IgG are “delayed sensitivity” antibodies, which means it may take your body up to 72 hours to mount an immune response.
Skin prick tests are the most common method of allergy testing. This measures IgE (“immediate sensitivity” antibodies). Blood tests can measure either IgE, or IgG. Food allergies are best measured with IgG antibody blood tests, because 80-95% food reactions are of the IgG variety. Only about 10% of food allergies are immediate sensitivity (IgE). Unfortunately, IgG blood tests are rarely covered by insurance and can be rather pricey. Some patients opt for elimination diets instead, which are less convenient but certainly cheaper.
Blood tests for IgE antibodies are more valuable for environmental allergens such as molds, pet dander, pollens, grasses, dust and the like. These usually are covered by insurance, but sometimes you have to fight for it.
The Traditional Approach to Treating Allergies:
Most medications for allergies focus on symptomatic relief, including antihistamines, steroids, decongestants, and a few other medicines that work by different mechanisms (such as Singulair). Although these medicines can be effective for many patients, they do not address the root cause of immune system hypersensitivity, and side effects can be prohibitive.
For severe allergies or allergens that cannot be avoided, shots are sometimes recommended. These work much like vaccines, exposing your body to a small amount of each allergen at a time so that it “gets used to” it. They work well for some patients, but they require frequent (usually weekly) trips to the doctor, and the co-pay adds up.
The Naturopathic Approach:
The primary approach in traditional medicine is the same as in naturopathic medicine (at least initially), and that is the avoidance of triggers. This is important while we figure out what else is causing the hypersensitivity reactions and address the root cause.
After that, it’s always important to start by cleaning up your diet. You need adequate nutritional support in order to heal, or at least to avoid undue stress on your system that will impede healing. At this stage, there are also supplements and botanicals which function via a similar mechanism to some of the more common drugs for symptomatic relief.
Now down to business.
Allergies of any kind almost always involve the gut. This is because 80% of your immune system is in your gut – it produces another antibody, called IgA. Ideally, your gut should produce a lot of IgA , because it’s your first line of defense against any foreign substance. The flora and the lining of your gut need to be healthy in order to produce adequate IgA so that the rest of your body never has to deal with those substances.
Next, we assess whether your adrenals are acting properly. High stress leads to a high level of a hormone called cortisol, and this can also decrease production of IgA.
Next, we will assess your liver. People with allergies almost always have a high toxic body burden. Toxins are foreign substances which really are harmful to your body (unlike allergens which are not), and they need to be altered in some way so that your body can eliminate them. This alteration usually happens in the liver. When there are too many toxins and your liver can’t keep up, these toxic substances build up in the system. This may increase reactivity to substances that would ordinarily be considered harmless.
Finally, we offer an alternative to allergy shots: allergy drops. The drops are formulated in a similar fashion and work via a similar mechanism to shots, and the allergens represented in the shots are chosen based on the results of an IgE blood test to environmental allergens. These drops are not covered by insurance, but the cost is likely cheaper than the co-pay for frequent visits for allergy shots, and they can be administered in the convenience of your own home… without needles.
Allergies are on the rise. They can dramatically decrease quality of life, and in traditional medicine, they are very difficult to treat. Fortunately, in naturopathic medicine there is hope. Set up an appointment today.