Issue link: http://www.wacmagazine.com/i/284451
APRIL 2014 | Washington Athletic Club Magazine | 25 UNDERSTANDING MEDICATION Commonly prescribed allergy medications often provide quick-acting symptomatic relief and in some cases save lives. They have three diﬀerent mechanisms of action— antihistamine, decongestant and steroid—and they work by blocking the histamine response, decreasing circulation to nasal tissues, or suppressing the immune response, or a combination thereof. Chronic dependence on these medications does not go without health risks, however. With the exception of severe asthmatic attacks, the use of these medications should be limited. Of the three types of medication, antihistamines pose the least health risk. Some antihistamines can cause drowsiness, but many of the newer generations do not. Limiting dependence on decongestants and steroids is encouraged because of unhealthy side eﬀects, including high blood pressure, irregular heartbeat, anxiety, depression, low libido, insomnia, dizziness, osteoporosis, weight gain, diabetes, and cataracts. Understanding these drugs' side eﬀects helps motivate us to ﬁnd ways to depend less on them—if we decide to use them at all. THERAPIES THAT WORK Knowledge is power, and allergy-suﬀerers have many options. Here are a few: • Minimize exposure: Experience may tell you what sets oﬀ your allergies. If it's unclear, however, allergy testing can help. If the answer is pollen, then tracking pollen counts will inform you what sort of burden you face on any given day. Numerous online resources oﬀer pollen counts. When you know how much pollen is in the air, you can do your best to adjust your outdoor activity accordingly. • Stay clean: As warmer temperatures release allergens into the air they contact your skin, hair, eyes, and respiratory tract. Keep your body clean and clear of sticky allergens by bathing regularly, washing your hands often, and irrigating your sinuses. Sinus irrigation is one of the most eﬀective ways of preventing allergens from eliciting an allergic response from the immune system. • Manage the air indoors: HEPA ﬁlters that ﬁlter down to 0.3 microns can help reduce your indoor exposure. Many people who use HEPA units in their bedroom report feeling much better in the morning. Central HEPA ﬁlter units can dramatically improve air quality in the whole house. EAT WISELY Human beings are designed to eat a predominantly plant-based whole foods diet. In part, the nutrients and compounds contained in these foods help prevent disease by decreasing our susceptibility to inﬂammation. Certain foods contain higher concentrations of these anti-inﬂammatory nutrients and compounds, including bioﬂavonoids, vitamin C, and omega-3 fatty acids. Flavonoids tend to enhance the beneﬁcial eﬀects of vitamin C, a natural antihistamine. (See sidebar for more eating tips.) Other foods can worsen allergy symptoms. Some allergy suﬀerers experience what is called a cross-reaction to certain foods. A cross-reaction occurs when the immune system encounters a food protein that looks similar to the triggering protein found in pollen and launches an inﬂammatory response. People allergic to tree pollens, for example, may react to apples, cherries, peaches, almonds, and hazelnuts. ose allergic to grass pollen may react to tomatoes, oranges and melons. Because eating these foods during allergy season may make symptoms worse, it is wise to avoid them. By focusing on nutrition, strategies to minimize exposure, and use of safe and eﬀective herbal medicines (see sidebar), many of us can avoid the negative side eﬀects of pharmacological medicines, beat our allergies, and still ﬁnd plenty of time to enjoy spring. Allergy-ﬁghting foods Bioﬂavonoids, vitamin C, and omega-3 fatty acids all help ﬁght inﬂammation in the human body and can help lessen allergic reactions. Here are some allergy- ﬁghting foods that pack a punch. • Dark leafy greens, dark berries, and multicolored bell peppers are loaded with bioﬂavonoids, the pigments responsible for their beautiful color. Dark berries also contain high amounts of vitamin C. • Onions have high amounts of a powerful ﬂavonoid called quercetin. • Fatty ﬁsh, such as salmon, mackerel, cod, anchovies and sardines, are high in omega-3 fatty acids. NATURAL TREATMENTS Another option for ﬁghting allergies without drugs is called immunotherapy and involves injecting small amounts of an allergen at timed intervals to improve tolerance. Similarly, sublingual immunotherapy achieves the same effect using drops placed under the tongue and can be done at home. Botanical medicines, such as butterbur and stinging nettle, can also help. Paul Dompé is a naturopathic physician specializing in treatment of stress-related disorders using biofeedback, nutrition, and herbal medicine. He provides services through the Wellness Center, 206.839.4780.