WAC Magazine

APRIL | 2014

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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.

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