2009-04-24 / Columnists

Health & Harmony

Seasonal Allergies, Part I
Commentary By Dr. Nancy Gahles

This is the first of a two-part series on seasonal allergies. Part II will be published in the May 8 edition of The Wave.

Ah, springtime! How greatly we anticipate its coming after a long, cold winter! The bursting of green and budding of flowers appeal to our senses for their color, fragrance, and promise of new growth.

To the untrained eye, one hay fever case may look like another, but homeopaths know that each person's symptoms and story are different.

Yet each of us interprets information from our senses uniquely. One person may inhale the aroma of spring hyacinths and delight in their perfume — while the very presence of cut flowers in the room may send another person into fits of sneezing. One may revel in the first warm winds of March or April — while another may stay indoors hoping to avoid that puffy-eye, scratchy throat, runny nose reaction to windborne pollen.

Such differences are of great interest to homeopaths, since it is the unique way that a patient reacts to stimuli that can point the practitioner to a healing remedy.

'Tis the season?

Spring brings a steady stream of patients into my office complaining of "hay fever."

This moniker was originally used because people developed upper respiratory symptoms during haying season — usually late spring and early summer, when grasses were being cut and dried in the hayfields. The name stuck, but we now more accurately call such symptoms "seasonal allergies," as they can occur in spring, summer, fall, and even winter, in mild climates — whenever trees, grasses, and weeds blossom and emit their pollen. The tiny pollen granules of the birch tree, for example, are perfectly designed to blow in the wind and pollinate other birch trees. Dry, windy days, when pollen can move freely, are the worst for hay fever sufferers; a good rain can clear the air and keep the pollen counts down. Then again, too much rain or decaying matter can cause some people to react to mold and fungal spores. Although hay fever may not be life threatening nor last for more than a month or two, it certainly can drag a person down. A recent study noted that worker productivity declines during hay fever season because of time away from work.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, approximately 19 million U.S. adults suffer with hay fever, and the illness accounts for 11 million doctor visits each year. Add to that another 20-30 million people with allergic rhinitis from non-seasonal sources like house dust, animal dander, and air pollutants, and you have a lot of miserable people! You may feel the congestion in your head, nose, sinuses, or chest as your body mounts an inflammatory response to the allergen. Coughing, sneezing, headache, irritated eyes, sore throat, itching, and a runny or stuffy nose are typical. Most people run to the drugstore or their doctor for antihistamines such as Allegra, Benadryl or Zyrtec, decongestants such as Sudafed, or steroids such as Nasonex for relief. The frustrating part about this regimen is that it only addresses the symptoms, not the underlying problem.

You must take these medicines daily, they are often only partially successful, and they frequently come with unwelcome side effects (drowsiness, dizziness, insomnia, and worse).

Homeopathic treatment is different. It aims to boost the person's immune system and eliminate their propensity to hay fever and allergies in the first place. This typically requires careful prescribing by an experienced homeopath, and it may take several seasons to achieve. We aren't always successful (allergy cases can be difficult), but I have seen many patients whose lifelong hay fever tendencies have been greatly reduced or eliminated — and they are thrilled with the results! Home prescribers may take heart as well, because you can often help your hay fever symptoms yourself; that is, you might still get hay fever every year, but you can relieve symptoms without side effects with well chosen homeopathic remedies.

Consider the environment When a person with seasonal or other allergies comes to see me, I first ask them about their environment. It is often surprising what I learn. For example, a mother once brought her six-monthold baby to see me. The little girl had been diagnosed with severe allergies and was on several medications for her coughing and extreme congestion. The mom was fearful of giving her more, especially since none were really working. Before I ran to the homeopathic repertory to look for a remedy, I asked a few simple questions about their home: Is there an animal living with you? Sleeping with you?

Are there smokers in the house? Do you have carpeting? Have you recently painted or are you undergoing construction? The mom was surprised at my questions and told me that she and her husband were indeed putting on an addition to the house for the new baby. They had hung a plastic barrier between the addition and the existing house, but she did admit to dust, drafts, and chaos! It may be that this baby had a susceptibility to dust as an allergen. It is more likely, however, that her immature immune system was being overwhelmed with environmental exposure to contaminants.

The resolution was not a homeopathic remedy this time but moving the family to the grandmother's house until renovations were complete. This completely solved the baby's allergy.

As homeopaths we may think that all we have to offer is a well-chosen homeopathic remedy. But even Hahnemann, homeopathy's founder, exhorted people to pay attention to their environment and proper hygiene. He also used other thera- peutic approaches as called for by the case (Hahnemann's Organon, Aphorisms 286- 291). For those with a tendency to seasonal allergies, I often recommend basic lifestyle and dietary approaches to support a healthy immune system.

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