Here's what hay fever season is like: There are times when I have gone to the pharmacy and shelves have been wiped clean of antihistamines. In a talk with Dr. Barry Elson, M.D. of Northampton Wellness Associates, I learned it’s possible to step away from the medications and in most cases, be rid of hay fever, period.
What is hay fever?
While many of us are familiar with the symptoms of hay fever, sneezing, itchy, runny eyes, congestion etc., what causes the allergic reaction is our immune systems' inability to process pollens and molds. Men and women (and butchers, bakers, candlestick makers, Philadelphia electricians, and roofers) are susceptible to hay fever equally. Some people have seasonal allergies, such as to ragweed in late summer/early fall, others suffer year-round. Sometimes hay fever is a reaction to molds in soil or rotting wood, especially when the season has been especially wet.
Intradermal allergy testing
Elson, who has been practicing medicine for 30 years, explained intradermal testing as the injection of small quantities of the suspected allergen under the skin. The area is then observed for about 20 minutes to note the reaction. “The intradermal test not only tells us more about the allergy, but just how sensitive a person is to the allergen,” said Elson.
Treatment for hay fever after testing
“Once we determine how sensitive the person is we start a neutralizing therapy (made up of small quantities of the allergen). We give the patient the choice of drops they place under the tongue, or shots they can have here or at their physician’s office,” said Elson. Elson said that his patients usually start to see results in two to four weeks. “We re-train the person’s immune system to respond in a positive way (to the allergen),” he said. According to Elson, several hundred doctors around the country practice this form of allergy therapy. Elson said that if a person were looking to find a Dr. who uses this method of treatment to go to the website for the American Academy of Environmental Medicine.
Dietary help for hay fever
Elson said that if a person also has food allergies, that adding hay fever to the mix creates what he termed “the rain barrel effect.” Or put another way, when there are too many allergens overwhelming the system the reaction to pollen or mold puts you over the top. Elson said he uses a RAST test, which is an allergen-specific blood test first. Once or if it is determined the patient is allergic to certain foods such as wheat or corn, removing them from the diet often resolves the immune system’s reaction to pollen or mold (i.e. hay fever).
Nutritional therapies for hay fever
Some of the nutritional therapies Elson recommended include:
Quercetin, a bioflavonoid found in fruits, vegetables, and grains that can be purchased in capsule form and acts similar to an antihistamine, but with no drowsy side-effects. Hesperidin, another capsulized bioflavonoid that helps the body process vitamin C. The supplement helps boost the immune system and reactions to allergens. Stinging nettle, an herb which can be taken in capsule or by tincture and acts as an antihistamine, also without drowsiness.
Elson said that nutritional and herbal treatments vary in effectiveness from person to person and when trying nutritional remedies to use the recommended dosage on the label.