An allergy is an exaggerated reaction of the immune system in response to bodily contact with certain substances which the body recognises as foreign. Known as allergens, these substances may be anything that provokes an allergic reaction in a susceptible person and the most common are respiratory (pollens, dust mite, moulds, animal and bird dander) and food allergies. The well-known symptoms of allergy such as runny nose, red itchy eyes, itchiness, sneezing, and congestion are familiar to us in conditions such as hayfever, asthma and allergic eczema.
Allergic responses are very complex and involve many inflammatory substances such as histamine, mast cells (basophils), eosinophils, cytokines, and IgE antibodies amongst others. Some people are born with high levels of IgE antibodies and mast cells making them more susceptible but we can acquire allergies at any stage of life. Conventional treatment of allergies either blocks the immune response (anti-histamines), or in more severe cases, seeks to suppress immune function with steroids, applied internally and externally. Herbs can be used to treat chronic allergies; giving relief from symptoms, sparing the adrenal lands (often exhausted in long-term allergy sufferers) and balancing the immune system.
A Herbal Approach
Allergies can be greatly reduced and over time may even be eliminated by herbal support. For example, herbs are very effective in the treatment of children with asthma and as always the medical herbalist’s approach is multi-faceted; bacterial and catarrhal infections which are common in asthma are reduced in their frequency and strength; the child’s emotional self is gently supported, reducing anxiety; digestion is strengthened (up to 80% of asthma sufferers have low levels of stomach acid) and coughs and wheezing are soothed. There are excellent herbal broncho-dilators which can be prescribed by a medical herbalist but which are not available over the counter.
It is important to know that asthma is potentially a life threatening condition both in its juvenile and adult forms and that you should never stop using asthma medications without consultation with your healthcare providers. It is also important to get immediate medical attention in the event of exposure to allergen(s) known or suspected to precipitate an anaphylactic reaction in a susceptible individual.