I’ve suffered from allergies all of my life – at least as far back as I remember. This year I finally thought about allergies, its relation to the immune system, and chronic illness. Now I’m seeing allergies in a new light.
What are allergies?
Simply put, an allergy is when your immune system reacts to a foreign substance, known as an allergen. It could be something you eat, inhale into your lungs, inject into your body or touch.
When you come into contact with a potential allergen, your body reacts. This could cause coughing, sneezing, itchy eyes, a runny nose and a scratchy throat. In some cases, it can cause you to breakout in rashes and hives or lower your blood pressure.
In the most severe cases it can cause breathing trouble, asthma attacks and even death.
Are Allergies a Chronic Illness?
As I mentioned earlier, it wasn’t until this recently that I started breaking down the logic of allergies and realizing that allergies are quite similar to my other chronic illness.
First and foremost, it’s an autoimmune response. Your body is responding to the perceived danger or threat.
Second, while there are medications available, there is no cure for allergies. All you can do is manage your allergies to the best of your ability with prevention and treatment.
Third, allergies like chronic illness are often overlooked.
Random Facts About Allergies
- More than 50 million Americans experience various types of allergies each year.
- Allergies are the 6th leading cause of chronic illness in the U.S.
Types of Allergies
You may or may not be surprised to learn about the crap ton of allergies there are. I know I was.
This list isn’t all-encompassing. I did my best to summarize and categorize them but for more detailed information I suggest you check out some of the resources they have at the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.
- Respiratory Allergies
- Seasonal (Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter), Hay Fever, Pollen, Mold, Dust, Pet
- Drug Allergies
- Medications, Aspirin, Penicillin
- Food Allergies
- Milk, Casein, Egg, Wheat, Nut, Fish, Shellfish, Soy
- Insect Allergies
- Bees, Wasps, Hornet, Fire Ants, Roaches, Dust Mites
- Skin Allergies
- Contact Dermatitis, Hives, Poison Ivy, Oak, Sumas, Cosmetics, Nickel, Latex, Fabrics
That list is crazy, right? Many people have multiple allergies. So I recommend going in for an allergy test to narrow down what you’re allergic to.
6 Treatments for Allergies
Allergy treatment is based on your medical history and the severity of your symptoms.
- Avoidance – This is probably common sense and goes without saying. But once you know what you’re allergic to you should do your best to avoid it at all costs. If you cant avoid your allergens, move on to the other treatments listed below.
- Over The Counter Medications (OTCs) – This includes antihistamines like Benadryl, Claritin or Zyrtec that work to block the reaction. However, be careful because some antihistamines cause drowsiness. Definitely don’t pop a Benadryl before getting behind the wheel.
- Decongestants can reduce the swelling in the nasal passages. Some OTCs come with a Decongestant added like Claritin-D or you can get a separate nasal spray. It’s been my experience that these are behind the pharmacy counter but no prescription is needed.
- Prescription Medications. If OTCs aren’t working for you, you can work with your PCP or Allergist (you all know I stan for specialists) for a prescription medication like steroids or special nasal sprays like Singulair.
- Allergy Immunotherapy – This is when you gradually increase your exposure to the allergen to build up your immunity.
- Epinephrine treatment. If your allergies fall into the severe category, you may want to invest in an emergency epinephrine shot (like an EpiPen) and keep one with you at all times just in case.
Natural Supplements for Allergies
Medications are cool and all, but I always like to explore other sources of treatment. Sometimes combining natural remedies with proper self-care and allergen avoidance (when possible) can give the best relief. , Here are a few supplements to add to your diet if you suffer from allergies.
Low VItamin D has long been associated with autoimmune diseases.
You can get a boost of vitamin D directly from the sun or in foods like fish, and egg yolks. They also offer fortified drinks like Tropicana No Pulp Calcium + Vitamin D Orange Juice in the grocery stores now.
Vitamin C boosts the immune system and acts as a natural antihistamine. It can be found in fruits and vegetables like bell peppers, kiwi, broccoli, strawberries, brussels sprouts, cabbage, and cauliflower.
Probiotics will boost your immune system and exert anti-inflammatory effects which may reduce the severity of symptoms. You can get a dose of probiotics via yogurts and fermented foods like tempeh, kimchi, and kefir.
Stinging nettle is a natural antihistamine. It can be found online and at health food stores.
Quercetin is an antioxidant found that can lessen the respiratory side effects of allergies by reducing inflammatory response in the airways. You can purchase quercetin as a supplement or add more quercetin-rich foods like apples and onions to your diet.
Bromelain is a compound most commonly found in pineapples, but you can also find it in supplement form. It’s said to be effective at treating respiratory distress and inflammation associated with allergies.
Butterbur is a marsh plant that might be effective in reducing the intensity and frequency of migraine attacks, but it may also be helpful in treating nasal allergies.
Chronic Allergy Takeaways
Thinking of allergies as a chronic illness has really changed alot for me, including how I plan on treating them moving forward. I will say that I’ve noticed as I’ve worked on healing my leaky gut and overall holistic wellness, my allergy symptoms have improved (even seasonally). I look forward to weaning myself off OTCs and into more natural options this year.
Do you suffer from allergies? How do you handle them? What’s your treatment plan like?