The word, allergy, was first used by Clemens von Pirquet, MD, an Austrian paediatrician, in the early 1900s. The expression originates from the Greek allos, for altered state, and ergon, connoting excess physiological reaction to substances in the environment. The fascinating idiom caught the fancy of the world. Today, allergy is the most overused term. It describes everything from sneezing bouts and skin rash to aversion to work or early mornings, or even certain people!
Yet, millions of people do suffer from real allergies. Nearly 30 per cent test positive for one or more allergens, or allergy-causing substances. And that number is only increasing. In the last 25-30 years, the incidence of allergic rhinitis [nasal allergy, or hay fever], asthma, food allergy, or sensitivity, and atopic dermatitis [eczema] has sharply escalated. Nasal allergy, for example, among all age groups, is reported by 45-50 people for every 1,000. The frequency reflects how common clinically diagnosed, easily established allergic conditions have become, although food allergy, or sensitivity, is not always as well recognised or appropriately treated.
There is more to allergy than what meets the eye, nose, respiratory system, skin, or gut. Below the lining of your skin, nose, eyes, gut and the lungs lie a set of mast cells. Mast cells are ‘smart’ entities. Their job is to destroy harmful intruders like parasites. They contain tiny ‘sacks’ crammed with chemicals which upon impact detonate such land mines. Among the substances released is histamine, a name that everyone suffering from allergy is only too familiar with. When histamine is released in tiny amounts, it causes irritation. In excess amounts, it causes skin rash, sneezing, characteristic of nasal allergy, and that dreaded asthma wheeze.
Mast cells are also filled with proteins called immunoglobulin-E [IgE] antibodies. IgE plays the role of a remote sensor like the antenna you have at home to receive TV signals. A person allergic to dust, for example, will have IgE antibodies that spot the dust particle, or allergen, just as your computer’s security system identifies a Trojan.
When dust triggers your sneezing reflex, the mast cells deposit IgE antibodies into the tissues causing the typical allergic reaction. It all depends, of course, on the substance that you are allergic to. The end result, however, is allergy. This may manifest in the form of a skin rash, watery eyes, sneezing, runny nose, sinusitis, cough, wheeze, or heightened, flagrant symptoms that end up in anaphylaxis [e.g., peanut allergy] — a lifethreatening form of allergic reaction.
Research has deciphered some of the likely, or cumulative, causes as to why the incidence or frequency of allergy has multiplied during the last 25-30 years:
Allergies can result from any, or every, substance. What you breathe in, or are exposed to — substances such as dust, house dust mites [HDM], pollen, mould spores or animal dander, certain plants, perfumes, cosmetics, preservatives, certain food, or conventional medications [e.g., aspirin], including blood transfusion, or insect stings, or bites — can all activate allergy.
What is alarming is the rising prevalence of food allergy or food sensitivity. The trigger for this kind of allergy is, as research points out, repetitive or excess consumption of certain foods — processed wheat and corn, food additives, artificial preservatives, colouring, flavour-enhancing agents, yeast and antibiotics. It is also observed that infrequent food rotation makes people inclined, or exposed, towards developing allergic hypersensitivities. Research also suggests that exposure to cow’s milk during the first three months of life is associated with high antibody and corresponding allergy levels — possibly up to eight years of age — more so, in children with maternal atopy, or a genetic tendency for allergic disorders.
The problem with food allergies is that there are a whole host of food-based allergic syndromes with symptoms other than ‘classical’ allergic indications. This is why these are most often misdiagnosed and/or medically mismanaged. A further complication is the delayed pattern of food allergy with symptoms often becoming apparent only after hours or even days, making it less obvious to spot. Nor is food allergy accorded the seriousness it warrants given that it plays a crucial role in conditions ranging from attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder [ADHD], migraine headaches, Meniere’s disease [an inner ear disorder that affects balance and hearing], asthma, atopic dermatitis [eczema] and urticaria [hives] to irritable bowel syndrome [IBS].
WHY DO ALLERGIES OCCUR?
The allergic tendency is inherited; it occurs in every 2 individuals out of 5.
If you have one allergic parent, for example, you have a 1-in-3 chance of developing allergy. If your mother and father have allergies, the risk is two-fold.
A new study shows that infants with low levels of cortisol, the stress chemical, have a low prevalence of allergies compared to children with higher levels of this hormone. Also protecting or keeping children away from certain foods during childhood puts them at a higher risk of allergies.
ARE ALLERGIES CAUSED IN THE MIND?
Allergies can often be psychosomatic. There is an interesting story.
A nineteenth-century US physician, Dr John Noland MacKenzie, wrote how one of his patients, a 32-year old woman, experienced allergy symptoms when exposed to the odour of roses. Her symptoms included a violent cold with watery eyes and runny nose, severe asthma attacks and high fever. The doctor, who suspected there was more than pollen at work, decided to conduct an experiment. He exposed his patient to a single rose during one visit. Not surprisingly, his patient began having a severe asthma attack within five minutes of exposure to the rose. What is truly fascinating is that the rose he used was just a clever paper copy of the real rose. He spoke about his ‘trick’ to his patient. Interestingly, when she returned to his clinic, a few days later, she buried her nostrils in a large fragrant specimen of a genuine rose and inhaled its pollen, without any of the ill-effects that had tormented her for over 15 years!
HOW DO WE DIFFERENTIATE BETWEEN A COMMON COLD AND AN ALLERGIC ATTAC K?
A common cold and a nasal allergy have a number of features which makes it sometimes difficult to differentiate between the two. Here’s how to tell which is which. A common cold usually has a gradual onset whereas allergies normally have a sudden onset, a history, or exposure to allergens. There may be fever and body ache with common cold. This may not be the case with allergies. Discharge from the nose is typically yellow in a cold; there is usually clear mucous in allergies.
HEALING WITH HOMEOPATHY
Homeopathy treats allergies safely and effectively. In fact, homeopathy actually pioneered the research and treatment of allergies. It was the British homeopath C H Blackely who suggested, in 1871, that seasonal sneezing and nasal discharges were triggered by exposure to pollen dust, over twenty years before conventional [allopathic] medicine developed allergen injections.
The treatment approach is holistic — for seasonal, acute or long-standing allergies of all types. In homeopathic clinical practice, we first treat the flagrant, acute allergic conditions that individuals develop during the allergy season. We, thereafter, prescribe a ‘constitutional’ remedy, a remedy that relates to the individual’s temperament or personality to desensitise the individual against the allergen and resolve allergies from the inside out during the symptom-free part of the year.
The immune system keeps all our systems in top gear — functioning at their best possible levels. When there is latent stress on the immune system, triggered by an external or internal offender, it leads to allergy.
When our body is strong, and in top gear, allergic problems which affect us the most during seasonal changes, are foreign to us and our system. Homeopathy enables us to achieve this state, naturally. It stimulates our natural healing processes by the use of micro-dosage remedies that closely match the specific, unique manner in which each of us responds to allergies.
Allergy, be it to dust or food, or anything else, is not a malady or infection. It is, as homeopathy evidences, the outward manifestation of a functional fault in the body. Homeopathy views food sensitivities too as external expressions of internal malfunction in the affected individual’s immune system.
Homeopathy treats allergies by the administration of minute doses of a homeopathic remedy that would in healthy persons produce symptoms similar to those of the allergic response. For example, a severe allergic reaction to bee sting is treated safely and effectively with Apis Mellifica, a homeopathic remedy, made from honeybee. Put simply, homeopathy treats not just the symptoms on the surface but the entire person at three levels: skin, respiratory and gastro-intestinal systems.
HOMEOPATHIC CLINICAL STUDIES
Homeopathic treatment of allergic rhinitis [nasal allergy] has been well-documented in scientific research. A study published in the British Medical Journal showed a statistically significant improvement in objectively measured nasal air flow for allergy patients treated with homeopathic remedies.
In another study conducted at the University of Glasgow, Europe’s largest medical school, [allergic] asthma patients, given small homeopathic doses of the substance to which they were most allergic, showed significant relief within the first week of treatment — with no side-effects. The researchers called this unique method of individualising medicines as ‘homeopathic immunotherapy.’ Over 80 per cent of patients, given this homeopathic treatment improved while only 38 per cent of patients given a placebo [dummy pill] experienced an equivalent degree of relief.
The important thing to remember is that allergy is a system-related problem so appropriate treatment is best provided by a professional homeopathic doctor at the clinic. This is because allergy, be it nasal [rhinitis] or skin, is a natural reaction that occurs when our immune system overreacts to substances that one may have inhaled such as dust, or eaten such as fish. It is also complex — allergic rhinitis, for instance, consists of seasonal allergic rhinitis [hay fever] and perennial allergic rhinitis which afflicts some people all year-round. While hay fever is precipitated by outdoor allergens, perennial allergic rhinitis is precipitated by household allergens — such as dust, mites, pet dander and mould. The disorder can affect people of all age groups, although boys tend to be more affected than girls.
THE ALLERGY CONNECT
Allergy has more to it than what meets the nose, skin, the gut, or respiratory system. It can result from any, or every, substance, or change of seasons, such as during monsoon, though the triggers in a majority of cases are common.
CAUSES OF ALLERGY
HRQL [HEALTH-RELATED-QUALITY OF LIFE] WITH HOMEOPATHY
Quality of life [QoL] is the degree of enjoyment or satisfaction experienced in everyday life. Health-relatedquality of life [HRQL] is an attempt to evaluate directly the impact of a disease or treatment on a patient’s ability to function in life. Allergies can have a significant impact on the quality of life of the patient resulting in anxiety, irritability, inability to function smoothly with everyday chores, fatigue, depression, etc. Homeopathy’s holistic approach towards allergy patients not only addresses their physical symptoms, but also works to improve their emotional state and give them a better quality of life.
HOMEOPATHY FOR SKIN ALLERGIES
Homeopathy offers the best treatment plan for seasonal skin problems including allergies. For over two centuries, homeopathy has successfully treated allergies flare-ups in winter with no side-effects. Other medical systems simply aim at symptomatic relief, or target the problem-causing factors. Homeopathy, on the other hand, aims to treat skin problems from the inside out — that is, from their root.
In a study published in The Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology, 82 per cent of skin patients who were treated with homeopathy for over a period of two years, showed significant improvement in their quality of life [QoL] and a significant reduction in their overall skin symptoms.
The skin is our largest organ. It forms a ‘barrier’ between our inner organs and our environment. It is the clearest mirror of our internal health. Even if you are one of those lucky ones blessed with a great, healthy skin, don’t let down your guard. Your skin still needs protection from the environment. It is now winter, a classic allergy season, so take care.
SOME USEFUL HOMEOPATHIC REMEDIES
Calcarea Sulphuricum is useful for dry, scaly, itchy winter dandruff
Arsenicum Album. For allergic or autoimmune skin disorders such as atopic dermatitis [eczema], which are most likely to get worse in winter due to dryness of skin
Petroleum is most effective for cracked heels, chapped hands and dry, fissured lips in winter
Berberis Aquefolium is a useful homeopathic remedy for acne [pimples], a common skin condition which may also have an allergic basis. It helps to prevent new lesions, heal existing lesions, and reduce blemishes, scarring and psychological awkwardness.