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Don't let allergies ruin the spring
Allergy Season Is Upon Us

march picTake action to control your allergies. Breathe easy by learning more about how to manage symptoms. According to research or other evidence, the following self-care steps may be helpful:

  • Clean it up. Control household allergens like dust, mold, and animal dander to reduce your overall allergic load.
  • Help children avoid allergies with beneficial bacteria. Take a probiotic supplement containing high-potency beneficial bacteria (probiotics) during pregnancy and give them to newborns to help reduce the risk of children developing allergies.
  • Watch what you eat. Work with a specialist in food sensitivities to see if certain foods are causing your allergies.
  • See a healthcare provider. Find a professional to help you manage your allergies.

About allergies
Allergies are responses mounted by the immune system to a particular food, inhalant (airborne substance), or chemical. In popular terminology, the terms "allergies" and "sensitivities" are often used to mean the same thing, although many sensitivities are not true allergies. The term "sensitivity" is general and may include true allergies, reactions that do not affect the immune system (and therefore are not technically allergies), and reactions for which the cause has yet to be determined.

Some non-allergic types of sensitivity are called intolerances and may be caused by toxins, enzyme inadequacies, drug-like chemical reactions, psychological associations, and other mechanisms. Examples of well-understood intolerances are lactose intolerance and phenylketonuria. Environmental sensitivity or intolerance are terms sometimes used for reactions to chemicals found either indoors or outdoors in food, water, medications, cosmetics, perfumes, textiles, building materials, and plastics. Detecting allergies and other sensitivities and then eliminating or reducing exposure to the sources is often a time-consuming and challenging task that is difficult to undertake without the assistance of an expert.

What are the symptoms?
Common symptoms may include itchy, watery eyes; sneezing; headache; fatigue; postnasal drip; runny, stuffy, or itchy nose; sore throat; dark circles under the eyes; an itchy feeling in the mouth or throat; abdominal pain; diarrhea; and the appearance of an itchy, red skin rash. Life-threatening allergic reactions—most commonly to peanuts, nuts, shellfish, and some drugs—are uncommon. When they do occur, initial symptoms may include trouble breathing and difficulty swallowing.

Dietary changes that may be helpful
A low-allergen diet, also known as an elimination diet or a hypoallergenic diet is often recommended to people with suspected food allergies to find out if avoiding foods that commonly trigger allergies will provide relief from symptoms. This diet eliminates foods and food additives considered to be common allergens, such as wheat, dairy, eggs, corn, soy, citrus fruits, nuts, peanuts, tomatoes, food coloring and preservatives, coffee, and chocolate. Some popular books offer guidance to people who want to attempt this type of diet. The low-allergen diet is not a treatment for people with food allergies, however. Rather, it is a diagnostic tool used to help discover which foods a person is sensitive to. It is maintained only until a reaction to a food or foods has been diagnosed or ruled out. Once food reactions have been identified, only those foods that are causing a reaction are subsequently avoided; all other foods that had previously been eaten are once again added to the diet. While individual recommendations regarding how long a low-allergen diet should be adhered to vary from five days to three weeks, many nutritionally oriented doctors believe that a two-week trial is generally sufficient for the purpose of diagnosing food reactions.

Strict avoidance of allergenic foods for a period of time (usually months or years) sometimes results in the foods no longer causing allergic reactions. Restrictive elimination diets and food reintroduction should be supervised by a qualified healthcare professional.

Lifestyle changes that may be helpful
People with inhalant allergies are often advised to reduce exposure to common household allergens like dust, mold, and animal dander, in the hope that this will reduce symptoms even if other, non-household allergens cannot be avoided. Strategies include removing carpets, frequent cleaning and vacuuming, using special air filters in the home heating system, choosing allergen-reducing bed and pillow coverings, and limiting household pets’ access to sleeping areas.

Other therapies
People with allergies and sensitivities are typically advised to avoid exposure to particular allergens, such as tree and grass pollens, dust mites, molds, specific foods, latex, or environmental and household irritants. Those who have experienced severe reactions should wear a medical alert tag listing their allergens.

Vitamins that may be helpful
Probiotics may be important in the control of food allergies because of their ability to improve digestion, by helping the intestinal tract control the absorption of food allergens and/or by changing immune system responses to foods. One group of researchers has reported using probiotics to successfully treat infants with food allergies in two trials: a double-blind trial using Lactobacillus GG bacteria in infant formula, and a preliminary trial giving the same bacteria to nursing mothers. Probiotics may also be important in non-allergy types of food intolerance caused by imbalances in the normal intestinal flora.

Thymomodulin is a special preparation of the thymus gland of calves. In a double-blind study of allergic children who had successfully completed an elimination diet, 120 mg per day of thymomodulin prevented allergic skin reactions to food and lowered blood levels of antibodies associated with those foods. These results confirmed similar findings in an earlier, controlled trial.

Holistic approaches that may be helpful
Acupuncture may be helpful in the treatment of some types of allergy. Studies of mice treated with acupuncture provide evidence of an anti-allergic effect with results similar to treatment with corticosteroids (cortisone-like drugs). A preliminary trial found a significant decrease in allergy symptoms following acupuncture treatment. It was found that the decline in symptoms coincided with a decline in laboratory measures of allergy. Relief persisted for two months following the treatment. Other preliminary trials have also demonstrated positive results. One controlled trial reported a reduction in allergic complaints following acupuncture treatment, but the results were not statistically significant. In the future, controlled trials with larger numbers of subjects may help to determine conclusively whether allergies can be successfully treated with acupuncture therapy.

Treatment of food allergy using very small but increasing daily doses of actual foods has been reported, and in one controlled trial 12 of 14 patients successfully completed the program and could tolerate previously allergenic foods.

Talk to your doctor about desensitization programs (treatments that introduce an allergenic substance in small amounts until a person builds up a tolerance to them). While none of these approaches has been unequivocally proven, several show promise that people with allergies may be treatable by means other than simple avoidance of the offending food or inhalant substance.


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