Allergies – What Are Your Treatment Options?
Introduction – From the point of view of conventional Western medicine allergies and sensitivities can be controlled to reduce their symptoms but generally cannot be eliminated. For those who come from backgrounds in both Eastern and Western approaches that view the individual as a mixture mind/body/spirit and explore the effects of lifestyle, environment, nutrition and energetics it is possible to not only reduce allergic and sensitivity reactions, it is possible for many people to eliminate them entirely. If you wish to go straight to information on non-invasive relief from allergies please see the NAET® discussion towards the end of this article.
There are three primary approaches to controlling allergies in this context. The first is avoidance of the substance(s) causing a reaction, which is certainly reasonable, although it does not address the underlying problems. The second is medication to control symptoms and the third is therapy to develop immune tolerance.
Avoidance – This is effective but not always possible (e.g. airborne allergens, “hidden” allergens in foods). Once allergies and sensitivities have been identified there are a variety of strategies to avoid or reduce exposure and we will not attempt to discuss them all here. For airborne allergens this can be difficult depending upon the offending substances as well as work and home environments. Staying indoors with the air conditioning on all day during hay fever season is generally not practical or desirable. Allergies to animal dander may affect one’s ability to visit friends’ homes without distress and food allergies can seriously limit what one can eat and affect one’s ability to eat in restaurants or at gatherings. One of the most challenging situations is people who have a reaction to mold which may be present in air in their home or workplace.
Medication – Antihistamines are very common and can be administered orally, by nasal spray or as eye drops. They are mostly well-tolerated although many can cause drowsiness and some people have other side effects. They are effective for sneezing, itchy eyes, runny nose, hives and swelling and other symptoms. They are not effective for asthma caused by allergies. For some people they do not adequately control the symptoms.
Nasal decongestants – These reduce swelling and congestion in the nose and sinuses and often include pseudoephedrine as the active ingredient. Many products combine a decongestant with an antihistamine. Decongestants may be administered orally or via nasal spray. The nasal sprays should be used for no more than three days at a time or tolerance can occur requiring increasing amounts to be effective and a rebound aggravation upon discontinuance. General side effects include trouble sleeping, headache, increased blood pressure and irritability and should not be used in people with cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, glaucoma or hyperthyroidism.
Corticosteroids – These can be taken as a nasal spray, eye drops, inhaler (for people with asthma) and skin creams. Oral forms may be used in severe situations. Corticosteroids are powerful anti- inflammatory drugs as they suppress immune function and the release of inflammatory chemicals in the body. While short term usage can be effective and done safely, they have a long list of potential side effects and some complications can be severe or life threatening. As a result, most of these drugs require prescriptions and should be monitored by a physician. A few are available over-the-counter (OTC) including some nasal sprays and skin creams.
Epinephrine injections – These are used for those subject to anaphylactic reactions as discussed in Allergies #3. Patients carry an injectable form of epinephrine to counteract the shock and airway obstruction.
Others – Mast cell stabilizers are generally used when antihistamines are not fully effective or well tolerated. They inhibit the release of chemicals that promote inflammation. OTC nasal sprays are available as are prescription eye drops. Leukotriene inhibitors block a chemical that is involved in inflammation and one is approved as a prescription for nasal allergies. Side effectscan include anxiety/depression, sleep disturbance, strange dreams and suicidal thinking or behavior.
Immunotherapy – This involves significant time, energy and cost and as such is often only used when symptoms are difficult to control with drugs or they are not well tolerated. In general, this approach is more effective for airborne vs. food or drug allergies. It has been shown to be beneficial for allergic rhinitis, allergic asthma and insect sting allergies. The treatment involves weekly administration of very small amounts of the allergen in gradually increasing amounts over months to years. It is given via either shots or sublingual tablets. Side effects are usually confined to local irritation at injection sites although anaphylaxis (see Epinephrine above) can occur. Studies have shown 60-70% improvement in symptoms and 70% decrease in medication use. 85% of people with improvement have continued relief after treatment ends. The course of treatment should be at least 3 years for best results.
NAET® – Allergy Elimination Treatment
The diagnosis of allergies and sensitivities with Nambudripad Allergy Elimination Technique® (NAET) is covered in “Allergies – How Are They Diagnosed?” NAET is a synthesis of Western and Eastern concepts in physiology and body energetics. The treatment takes into account the interaction of organ and physiologic systems with special attention to immune and central nervous system function. NAET treatment is designed to reset the individual’s response to substances that trigger allergy or sensitivity reactions so that they no longer occur. The process includes optimizing the function of organ systems and improved utilization of nutrients to support allergy/sensitivity elimination as well as improving overall health.
With treatment the patient holds vial(s) of the offending substance(s) plus organ systems and nutrients as indicated by the diagnostic test. Acupressure points along the spine that correspond to autonomic nervous system ganglia (nerve centers) are stimulated by light tapping. Next, very fine needles are inserted into acupuncture points to regulate the response of the nervous and immune systems to the substance(s). The process takes about 30 minutes and is virtually pain free. Children who might be afraid of needles can be treated with acupressure instead of needles.
Allergens are treated in groups, e.g. tree pollen, grass pollen, food groups, etc. Mild to moderate allergies/sensitivities usually respond well with 1 to 2 treatments while more severe ones may require 3-4. Reactions to more than one group, e.g. pet dander and dairy foods, are treated separately. Prolonged avoidance of offending substances is not required, but food allergens should be avoided for 24 hours after treatment.
Our experience is that most patients who undergo the full treatment will no longer react to the offending substances. The benefits can last for many years to a lifetime depending upon the person’s overall health and subsequent illnesses or medical treatment. In those occasional situations where symptoms reoccur, additional treatments may be done to restore tolerance.
Some studies have been done on the use of NAET® for allergies, including severe peanut allergies, that supports its efficacy and safety although further research is indicated to develop the amount of data that exists for conventional therapies. Individual case reports and my own experience suggest that this treatment is effective for allergies causing life-threatening anaphylaxis, e.g. peanuts, shellfish, latex and others. None the less, appropriate caution should be exercised to avoid the offending substance by people who have such severe reactions. A reasonable goal could be considered as a reduction in the possibility of a severe reaction from chance encounters in the environment while the intent remains avoiding contact or consumption. Any attempt after treatment to test tolerance by consumption or touch should only be done in a physician’s office equipped to handle an anaphylactic response.
This is Part 4 of a four part allergy series by Soaring Crane Acupuncture: