By Mary Lello
Is your nose running? Are you having sneezing spasms? Are your eyes red and itchy and your throat feels like there’s something stuck in it?
Allergy season. It’s late summer for some folks with the ragweed blooming, spring for others with the tree pollen, or year ‘round for some with dust and pet dander. No matter what causes your reaction, an allergic response is never much fun.
Allergies occur when your immune system reacts to a foreign substance, or allergen. An allergen can be the flower or tree pollen or some other airborne debris, certain foods or the venom of a bee sting. This reaction may not occur in other (or most) people. The reason it occurs is because our immune system produces substances known as antibodies. Some antibodies protect us from unwanted invaders such as viruses or bacteria that cause illness or infection. But when you have an allergic reaction it’s because your immune system is making antibodies that identify the allergen as harmful, even though it isn’t, and begins producing histamine.
Histamine is a substance that dilates blood vessels and plays a major role in your allergic reaction. It is the histamine that will inflame your skin, sinuses, airways or digestive system.
The severity of allergies varies from person to person and can range from minor irritation to anaphylaxis, which is a potentially life-threatening emergency.
We can become allergic to a substance at any point in our life. Last spring you didn’t react to the white pine pollen that was all over your car, but now, all of sudden, you are sneezing and sniffling every time you go out there. And most allergies cannot be cured once the immune system has decided it needs to protect you from that pollen. But there are treatments that can help relieve your allergy symptoms.
There are many over-the-counter drugs that are antihistamines. Antihistamines work by preventing the release of histamine from certain cells (mast cells), thereby blocking the allergic reaction for a short period of time. Antihistamines can come with not-so-pleasant side effects to include: drowsiness, impaired thinking (that foggy feeling), dry mouth, dizziness, constipation, blurred vision or urinary retention, to name a few.
An alternative to taking drugs could be acupuncture. Acupuncture is known to be very effective in reducing the symptoms of an allergic reaction. According to a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, researchers looked at 422 people with pollen allergies and related symptoms of runny nose, itchy eyes, and post nasal drip. Some participants received 12 acupuncture treatments, some took antihistamines as needed, another group got “sham,” or fake, acupuncture, while others did the acupuncture and the antihistamine medications. After two months the participants receiving the acupuncture treatments demonstrated a much greater reduction in the severity of their symptoms than the “sham” acupuncture and just the antihistamine groups. Those taking the antihistamine and receiving the acupuncture were able to reduce the amount of allergy medications needed to relieve their symptoms.
However, these benefits of the acupuncture disappeared within two months after treatment. Thus, if your allergies are bad or have more than one season you may want to consider seeking regular acupuncture treatments throughout the year.
Another thing to consider is receiving acupuncture before your allergic season hits. This allows the benefits of acupuncture to build in your system, helping to reduce the inflammation and calm the over-reactive immune system response to the allergen before the allergen is even present. I have many school teachers coming to me throughout the school year for sinus rhinitis that may be brought on by mold and mildew in their school building. Thus, if you are a teacher who experiences this you may want to consider seeking acupuncture now, during the summer months, to best be ready for “back to school” that isn’t about new shoes or supplies but about your health!
Mary Lello holds a master’s degree in acupuncture (MAc), is a licensed acupuncturist (LAc) and a diplomate of the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM). Her practice is located at 101 Main Street in Farmington. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 866-266-5549. Lello is currently accepting some insurance with Anthem, Aetna, and Cigna.