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.

Conventional Treatment

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.

MedicationAntihistamines 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:

  1. Allergies – An Introduction
  2. Allergies – Why Do We Get Them?
  3. Allergies – How Are They Diagnosed?
  4. Allergies – What Are Your Treatment Options?

Allergies – What Are Your Treatment Options? Read More »

Allergies – How Are They Diagnosed?

Sometimes it is easy to know to what substances you are allergic or sensitive. You get a rash every time you eat strawberries or have sneezing and itchy eyes every spring when a certain tree pollinates. But often it can be difficult to know exactly what your allergens are as there may be multiple substances you react to or the effects may be ongoing as is often the case with food allergies. Then we have to go through a diagnostic process to figure it out.

Symptoms & Signs

Symptoms are changes in how you feel when you have a disease or disorder. Examples include itchy eyes, feeling hot and headaches. Signs are changes that can be observed. Examples include a runny nose, a flushed appearance or a rash. Knowing the common, and uncommon, signs and symptoms of allergies is the first step in the diagnosis of allergies, sensitivities and intolerances (see “Allergies – An Introduction” for definitions of these terms).

Airborne Allergies and Sensitivities – The most common symptoms and signs include sneezing, runny nose, nasal congestion and itchy eyes. Coughing and throat irritation can also be present. Asthma with shortness of breath and wheezing occurs in some individuals. Some people also have fatigue, difficult concentration and mood changes, especially when exposure is prolonged. Mold and chemical exposures can have toxic effects as well as allergic symptoms.

Food Allergies and Sensitivities – This is more complex as the signs and symptoms can be acute or chronic (long standing) and involve reactions to multiple foods. They can manifest with GI symptoms, such as indigestion, tingling/burning of lips or mouth, irritable bowel syndrome, heartburn, constipation, and diarrhea among others, as well as signs and symptoms throughout the body. Common problems include headaches (including migraines), fatigue, cloudy thinking/poor memory, mood changes/anxiety/depression, recurrent infections (e.g. bladder, respiratory, ear), poor sleep, menstrual disorders, skin diseases (e.g. eczema, psoriasis, hives, etc.) and many others. They may even contribute to severe conditions such as autoimmune disorders and seizures.

Anaphylaxis – This is a sudden, severe allergic reaction that is life threatening. It usually occurs within a few seconds to a few minutes of oral, blood or skin exposure although it may take up to a half hour or longer. The person manifests symptoms and signs of shock with a severe drop in blood pressure, severe shortness of breath (may die of asphyxiation), rapid heart rate and dizziness or weakness. There may also be a skin rash, nausea, vomiting or diarrhea. It may be caused by certain foods, commonly peanuts, tree nuts, fish/shellfish, eggs and milk, and occasionally others. It may also be caused by exposure to certain drugs, insect stings and latex. People subject to anaphylactic reactions need to carry epinephrine (Epi-Pen) for emergency injection upon exposure. While not actual anaphylaxis, airborne allergies, especially to animal dander, can trigger life threatening asthma attacks.

Conventional Diagnosis

Allergists employ different strategies to test for allergies.

Skin testing involves pricking the skin, or using patches, to expose the person to possible allergens and then measuring the size of any reaction on the skin to determine if an allergy is present. This is commonly used and sometimes yields useful information. But there are many false positives and some false negatives, consequently the results cannot always be relied upon.

Blood testing involves drawing blood and then measuring levels of antibodies that react with suspected allergenic substances. This is usually done only if skin testing has not yielded satisfactory information or if it is not done for some other reason. The challenge with the blood tests is that while they measure the presence of antibodies that does not always correlate with allergic reactions as it sometimes just indicates past exposure to a substance. These tests do not detect sensitivities, only true allergies.

Elimination testing is done by discontinuing one or more foods for an extended period of time to see if symptoms and signs improve. This is the most definitive of these approaches and works best for food allergies and sensitivities. It is, however, time consuming as exposure must be discontinued for a month or more in the case of foods and it is not practical for seasonal pollen or mold allergies to determine specific offending substances. For reactions to animal dander, the individual must be removed from the environment, or the animal removed and the house thoroughly cleaned, for a month or more. Some practitioners may only have the food discontinued for a period of days to a few weeks which is not always adequate. It is difficult to be certain all offending foods are identified unless one goes on a very restricted, hypo-allergenic diet for a month or more. If one is willing to be disciplined enough to meet these requirements,it can be very successful in identifying offending foods.

Challenge tests are not commonly done as they carry some element of risk depending upon the severity of the reaction. A person is exposed to increasing amounts of a food to see if a reaction occurs. This may follow an elimination test or be used to see if desensitizing treatments have been effective. They are done in a doctor’s office in case of severe reactions.

NAET® Diagnosis

Nambudripad Allergy Elimination Technique was developed by Devi Nambudripad, DC as a synthesis of concepts existing in Western and Chinese medicine. The treatment component is discussed in “Allergies – What Are Your Treatment Options?“. The diagnostic method is non-invasive (no skin puncture or blood draw) and can usually be accomplished in one visit, although complicated cases involving multiple allergies occasionally require additional testing as treatment progresses. It utilizes a Muscle Response Test (MRT) in the presence of substances suspected of causing allergies or sensitivities. The substances are present in liquid form in small vials held by the patient while the practitioner tests muscle strength. If muscle strength weakens when in contact with the vial, this indicates the presence of an allergy or sensitivity to the substance. It detects both allergies and sensitivities without differentiating between them. This is not a concern as NAET treatment is effective for both. Conventional testing, with the exception of elimination diets, will detect only potential allergies and not sensitivities. Underlying nutritional and metabolic imbalances will also be part of the NAET test (vitamins, minerals, hormones, organs, etc.). Addressing these weaknesses is part of the treatment and greatly improves results and overall health. This approach can also be used to identify allergies or sensitivities to substances not usually considered. We have experience with diagnosing and treating adverse reactions to joint replacements, jewelry, dental work, perfumes and chemicals.

This is Part 3 of a four part allergy series by Soaring Crane Acupuncture:

  1. Allergies – An Introduction
  2. Allergies – Why Do We Get Them?
  3. Allergies – How Are They Diagnosed?
  4. Allergies – What Are Your Treatment Options?

Allergies – How Are They Diagnosed? Read More »