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Complementary And Alternative Allergy Approaches

Aug 11, 2008
Recently, Western medicine has started to appreciate the wisdom offered by complementary and alternative medical treatments (CAM). Searching Google for the phrase "Allergy Treatment Alternatives" yields more than 500,000 hits. This reflects an enormous interest in alternative treatments, driven primarily by consumer demand but also by potential financial benefits in the marketplace. Over 60 million Americans suffer from allergies or asthma, so the extent of this interest is no surprise.

Allergy symptoms are the body's response to an irritant, called an allergen, which is perceived as harmful. The reaction to an irritant can be severe, particularly during excessive exposure. Common allergens include pollen, dust, animal dander, and chemicals found in foods, hygiene products, air pollution, and medications. The symptoms of an allergic response may be as simple as a stuffy, drippy, or itchy nose. Other common complaints also include irritated swollen eyes, itchy throats, a feeling of tightness in the chest, coughing and wheezing. These symptoms, which can be either seasonal or year-round, tend to run in families and are exacerbated by work environments and polluted air. Not to be taken lightly, they significantly affect quality of life.

Western medicine is based on the evaluation of scientific studies and the application of emerging evidence in clinical practice but alternative approaches are often rejected without the scientific data. The majority of studies in the field of allergy medicine focus on new medications or on manipulation of the immune system. Prevention is an area that is currently being demanded by the consumer. But in the last quarter century, researchers have begun to apply serious scientific study to CAM - the time-honored practices often based on folk beliefs and traditions handed down from generation to generation. Using Grandmother's wisdom and applying it to scientific studies has shown the value and safety of many traditional remedies. Contrast time-honored Grandmother's advice with the increasing number of medications approved by the US Food and Drug Administration. Many of these medications were initially considered safe and effective, only to be recalled later because of serious side effects discovered once a large population had experience with the medication. Time is an excellent teacher.

As consumers become more aware of medication risks, they are self-educating and searching for safer alternatives. In recent years, CAM visits (in 1990, 427 million visits grew by 200 million in 1997) each year have skyrocketed while the number of Western medicine visits remains essentially the same. A major philosophical difference between conventional medicine and CAM practices is that the former treats or masks symptoms, while the latter appreciates symptoms as the body's natural alert. Western medications tend not to treat the root cause of disease, have potentially harmful side effects, and do not generally prevent recurrence of disease.

Examples of CAM modalities are homeopathy, herbs, dietary changes, and acupuncture. Homeopathy uses active ingredients in diluted amounts to provide a healthier balance for the immune system, for example: lycopodium, pulsatilla, and sulphur. There are hundreds of herbs used for allergy treatments such as euphrasia, hydrastis, nettle, ephedra, and scutellaria baicalensis. The herb echinacea is known for the treatment of rhinitis, but several studies have found no benefit to its use for this specific symptom. Specific foods can provoke sensitivity that is tolerable, but avoiding these foods reduces stress on the immune system and may reduce the impact of allergic reactions. However, some experts recommend spicy foods to thin mucus secretions which, in turn, clear nasal passages. Suggestions include cayenne pepper, hot ginger, fenugreek, onion and garlic. Based on the principle that stimulating points on the surface of the body can change or initiate physical reactions, acupuncture is thought to affect the immune system where allergic reactions begin.

Western medical practitioners sometimes explain any positive results from herbs, homeopathy, or other alternative therapies as being a placebo effect. But, if the so-called placebo is safe and effective, why not use it? However, it is vital to remember that even natural, homeopathic, or herbal remedies can be toxic. "Natural" does not ensure safety. If remedies are taken in incorrect doses, mixed inappropriately with prescription medications or used for the wrong reasons they can cause more harm than good.

Prevention and avoidance are critical in controlling allergies. This can be accomplished by simply eliminating a harmful irritant from the environment. Bt eliminating the irritant; the family cat, dust filled carpets, staying inside during allergy season, one can avoid many symptoms. But when complete avoidance is not practical, allergies can be managed by removing the irritant from the lining of the nose. The nose is the body's perfectly functioning filter, and effective nasal irrigation removes allergens before they have an opportunity to cause symptoms. The most effective nasal wash offers a buffered salt solution and controlled pressure and flow, that encourages the solution to exit the opposite nostril. Studies have supported that nasal washing is safe, tolerable, EFFECTIVE and economical for both children and adults, even during pregnancy.

It is time to begin to appreciate the wonders of nature and how we interact with natural processes. We can become proactive and avoid allergy symptoms without or reduced drugs if we learn to prevent the reaction altogether. Physicians and patients alike are learning to appreciate the wisdom of natural alternatives. Nasal washing can be embraced along with many other safe, effective modalities to complement Western medicine.

Be Well, Dr Hana
copyright April 2008
About the Author
Hana R. Solomon, MD, is a board certified pediatrician and serves as the president of BeWell Health, LLC. She graduated from the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Medicine in 1986 and completed the university's pediatric residency program in 1989. For 20 years, Dr. Hana practiced pediatrics at the Solomon Family Medical Clinic in Columbia, Missouri.
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