Minimizing Environmental Sensitivities
Since we are just starting to get into the season of cottonwood and increased dust and pollen because we’ve had such a cold and wet May, I thought this would be a good time to discuss minimizing the effects of allergens.
The most common symptoms of environmental allergens are: itchy/watery eyes, runny/irritated nose, sneezing, sinus stuffiness, ear congestion, shortness of breath or cough and post-nasal drip worse in the AM. These two articles are a brief overview of causes and in the following weeks we will discuss some treatments for your sensitivities.
The cause of these hyper-sensitivity reactions have been related to 3 or 4 factors. These are:
1. Food allergies– Many studies have indicated that food allergies play an important role in asthma and hayfever. Adverse reactions to foods may be immediate or delayed. Immediate onset sensitivities are quickly identified due to the instant symptoms of swollen lips, closing throat, swollen eyes and possibly shortness of breath and wheezing. This is usually due to eggs, fish, shellfish, nuts and peanuts (a legume). More commonly people have delayed onset reactions. This means the reaction can be up to 48 hours after the consumption of the food. The most common symptoms are abdominal cramping, pain, gas, bloating, constipation or diarrhea, skin rash, shortness of breath/wheezing, sinus congestion, stuffy/runny nose, ear congestion, eye puffiness/dark circles under the eyes, drop in energy, lack of focus/clarity, increased frequency in urination and palpitations or irregular heart beat. This is only some of the ways food sensitivities/allergies can affect a person!!!!! You can see how it can affect almost any system in the body, depending on the weak area of that individual. Typical foods include cow milk products, chocolate, wheat, citrus and food colourings.
It is essential that people be tested for these allergies/sensitivities to minimize the load on the system. This will therefore reduce reactions to environmental allergens. It’s amazing how many people, once they know which foods to be careful with, tell me they no longer notice seasonal allergies.
2. Low stomach acid– Stomach acid analyses in asthmatic children and those that experience hayfever showed that 80% had below normal amounts of stomach acid. If there is not enough stomach acid, the food is not properly broken down. Also, stomach acid stimulates the release of enzymes from the pancreas and bile from the liver to break down the food in the intestines. Therefore, pieces of food are released into the bloodstream and the immune system will react to them which results in an allergic response. Therefore, proper stomach acid is essential as well. One of the worst kinds of medication for the immune system are the antacids, even Tums. They decrease the release of stomach acid, which will result in improper breakdown of foods, which can lead to allergic reactions including environmental reactions.
3. An over-reactive immune system- The immune system can get over-loaded because of releasing too much cortisol from the adrenal glands. This often occurs when a person tends to worrying and anxiousness or has been raised in a stressful home/school environment. The chronic anxiousness increases the amount of cortisol release, which decreases the immune system’s ability to deal with irritants and tends to over-react to them instead. This is why you often see asthma/allergies in children.
4. Food additives– Vitally important in the control of allergies is the elimination of food additives. Artificial dyes and preservatives are widely used in foods, beverages and drugs. The most common colouring agents are azo dyes-tartrazine (yellow/orange), sunset yellow, amaranth and coccine (both red) and the non-azo blue dye. The most commonly used preservatives are sodium benzoate, 4-hydroxybenzoate esters and sulfur dioxide. Various sulfites are also used in prepared foods.
The next article will discuss treatments of allergens.
Brenda Gill is a naturopath practising in Rossland, BC.