With springtime approaching, most of us are looking forward to longer days, warmer weather, and a return to outdoor life. Many, however, are also dreading allergy season. As many as one in four Americans suffer with seasonal allergies, and parents of children with allergies are facing new concerns following major changes in industry guidelines regarding the use of over-the-counter cold and allergy medications in children under six. As the mother of a five-year old with moderate allergies, I recently set out to find a solution. Can allergy symptoms be prevented?
What are Allergies?
Allergies are caused by an overreaction of the immune system when it is exposed to an otherwise harmless substance known as an allergen. People have a wide range of sensitivities, though pollen and ragweed are common examples. When an allergic reaction occurs, the body produces an antibody called IgE to fight the allergen. These antibodies attach to mast cells, which are plentiful in the airways and the gastrointestinal tract where allergens tend to enter the body. Finally, the mast cells explode and release excess histamine, which causes inflammatory symptoms such as watery eyes, itching, and runny nose.
Are Allergies Preventable?
Understanding how allergies work makes it a little easier to see how they might be prevented. Many in the healthcare community feel that taking steps to boost your immunity may prevent or lessen the effects of seasonal allergies. Edmond pharmacist Stephanie Harris recommends increasing fluid intake during cold and allergy season to keep mucous membranes moist, which may prevent airborne allergens and bacteria from attaching to mucosal tissue. “As far as prevention goes, hydrating the mucous membranes is a great first step.”
“We’ve been getting great feedback on some of the saline nasal rinses available, such as Entsol,” notes Harris. These products work by reducing nasal swelling and increasing ciliary flow to clear sinus passages. Another popular irrigation product is the Neti pot, which has gained increased media attention in the last year following a mention on the Oprah Winfrey Show. A Neti pot looks like a small ceramic teapot, which holds a saline solution. The solution is poured through the nasal cavity.
Oklahoma City mom Sarah Lucas recalls the previous spring. “I was pregnant, my allergies were pretty bad, and I didn’t want to resort to medication if I didn’t have to.” She started using a Neti pot and found immediate relief. “It took a little practice to get the hang of the positioning, but it really cleared my sinuses. I also used a warm gel pack on my forehead to relieve the pressure.”
Supplements may also offer benefits. Antioxidants such as Vitamin C help to cleanse the body of toxins and increase immune function, which can help with allergy symptoms. Probiotics are another very valuable supplement during cold and allergy season, and are recommended by many pharmacists and physicians. A probiotic is a microbe, or “good bacteria” that protects its host and prevents disease by crowding out potentially bad bacteria. Recent studies have shown regular use of probiotics may help to reduce the effects of allergies and eczema by reducing inflammation in the body and boosting the immune system.
Lucas swears by probiotic therapy as well, and has been using them as a regular supplement since shortly after the birth of her infant daughter. “We started giving them to Sydney months ago because of her eczema. When she recently had a bout of cough and congestion, I doubled her dose a few days after the allergy symptoms started. Since there are no side effects, I figured it couldn’t hurt to try, and I have some friends who have had success with probiotic therapy in their own kids. Sure enough, within a day, the drainage had dried up considerably!” Sydney is back to being a smiling, cheerful 8-month-old, and mom is sold on the benefits.
Rest assured, if you or your child suffers from seasonal allergies, relief is available. The solution may be much simpler than you think, and there are more choices available to ease and prevent symptoms than ever before, even without medication. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist about treatment options. I, for one, am going to get my daughter a glass of water.
Shannon Fields is a freelance writer and a Certified Pharmacy Technician at Innovative Pharmacy Solutions.