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Coping with allergies

Published:Saturday | March 27, 2010 | 12:00 AM
Micah Mckitric, then a 12-year-old Kentucky resident in this 2007 photograph, was put on the drug Xolair to relieve severe allergic asthma. MCT

Heather Little-White, Contributor

At this time of the year, when flowers spring into bloom and pollen floats in the balmy breeze, there are many complaints about allergies and sinusitis. What are allergies, anyway?

Allergies are exaggerated reactions by the body's immune system responding to bodily contact with certain foreign substances. According to, these foreign substances are known as allergens, and the body reacts in an abnormal way to normal, everyday, harmless substances which cause no allergic reaction in other people.

The term 'allergy' is derived from the Greek words 'allos', meaning different, and 'ergos', meaning work, or action. In essence, allergy is really 'altered reaction'. It was first used by Austrian paediatrician Clemens Pirquet from the 1800s when he diagnosed the harmful hypersensitivity as an allergy. The body's immune system is designed to provide defences against foreign substances, particularly infections. In an allergic reaction, antibodies are produced in response to foreign substances such as pollen or dust mites.

Common allergens

Allergens are everywhere, and they may be inhaled, eaten or swallowed, applied to the skin or injected into the body either as medication or by a bee sting. The air we breathe is loaded with allergens. Common allergens include pollen from trees, grasses and weeds; dust mites, mould spores under the sink, in the bathroom and dark places in the home; animal proteins, dander, skin and/or urine and cockroach parts. When any of these come into contact with the body, it causes the immune system to develop an allergic reaction in some persons.

  • Smoking

Anybody, including children, can develop an allergy which may manifest itself as asthma or sinusitis. Allergic reactions may be hereditary. An environment which causes repeated exposure to the allergens will cause the allergy to develop, for example, if a child constantly plays with dogs or cats, he/she may develop an allergic reaction to the dander. Other conditions, like smoking, pollution, infection and hormones, may influence an allergic reaction.

  • Reaction to foods and medication

Some foods, like cow's milk, shellfish, fish, chocolate, peanuts, soy, tea, coffee, chicken, dairy products, smoked and pickled foods, and wheat, are allergens in and of themselves. Excessive consumption of refined and processed foods made with chemical additives, preservatives and artificial flavourings may also trigger allergic reactions. When these foods are ingested, allergens enter the bloodstream and enter cells in the skin or nasal membranes and may travel to the gastrointestinal tract, creating physical discomfort. Food allergies may start with swelling of the throat and tongue, followed by tingling, nausea, diarrhoea or stomach cramps. Medication, like antibiotics and aspirin taken orally, can also create allergic reactions.

  • Topical allergens

When topical allergens touch the skin, a rash similar to that of poison ivy develops. These allergens include latex, dyes, chemicals, cosmetics and plants like poison ivy.

Signs and symptoms

The parts of the body more likely to respond to allergens are the eyes, nose, lungs, skin and stomach. Allergies may also affect different organs of the body, causing recurring headaches, migraine, dizziness, irritability, conjunctivitis (pink eye), shortness of breath and swelling of the face and eyes.

Allergic rhinitis:

Reaction to allergens may come as allergic rhinitis, or hay fever, commonly caused by pollens. Year-round hay fever may be caused by dust, animal dander and mould. The nasal tissues become inflamed, as well as adjacent areas like the ears, sinuses and throat. Reactions include:

Runny nose

Stuffy nose


Nasal itching

Itchy ears and throat

Postnasal drip, resulting in constant clearing of the throat


Asthma is difficulty in breathing because of inflammation of bronchial tubes, narrowing the air passages, thus limiting the flow of air in and out of the lungs. Asthma is commonly aggravated by allergens. Common symptoms include:

Shortness of breath



Tightness of the chest

Allergic eczema

Also known as atopic dermatitis, this reaction to an allergen is a rash not caused by skin contact with the allergen. The condition is commonly associated with allergic rhinitis or asthma. Symptoms include:

Itching or redness of the skin

Rash on the face

Rash around the eyes, in the elbow creases and behind the knees


These are allergens like food or medicine which cause skin reactions that appear as itchy swellings on any part of the body. Symptoms include:

Raised, large red welts

Intense itching

Allergic shock:

This is a life-threatening reaction (anaphylactic shock) to an allergen, usually food or injected venom from a bee or insect. Allergic shock can affect more than one organ of the body at the same time. Some symptoms include:

Hives or reddening of the skin

Swelling of the throat

Difficulty breathing

Nasal congestion

Stomach pain, nausea, vomiting

Shortness of breath, wheezing

Low blood pressure or shock (insufficient circulation of blood)


Abstinence: The best way to prevent the discomfort of allergies is to avoid food and other allergens that will trigger an allergic condition.

Enhanced nutrient intake: Taking doses of nutrients can prevent and treat allergies. Vitamin B5, or pantothenic acid, taken in liberal amounts, helps with allergies because of its anti-allergic properties. Vitamin C, in mega doses, protects the body from allergens and moderates the inflammatory response.

Spicy foods: These are a great way to thin out mucus, which often causes annoying congestion. Cayenne peppers and ginger are particularly effective in clearing air passages.

Castor oil: Five drops of castor oil in half a cup of any fruit or vegetable juice or water and taken on an empty stomach first thing in the morning is recommended for the intestinal tract, skin and nasal passages.

Omega-3 foods: These foods help fight inflammation. (Allergy Journal)

Lime: Half a lime squeezed into a glass of warm water sweetened with a teaspoon of honey is effective for any kind of allergy. It can be taken at any time and works as an antibiotic and anti-allergic agent to rid the body of toxins. However, persons allergic to citrus should use other remedies.

Chamomile: Helpful for puffy, watery, itchy eyes if you apply cotton buds soaked in cool chamomile tea. Drink the tea for relief of runny and itchy throat.

Honey: Locally produced honey can help with outdoor allergies because the pollen in the honey boosts the immune system.

Bananas: Eat one or two per day if you are allergic to certain foods resulting in skin rashes, digestive disorders or asthma.

Vegetable juices: Combine 300ml of carrot, 100ml beet and 100ml cucumber juices and take twice daily.

Fresh juices: These boost the immune system and a fast on fresh juices for five days is recommended.

The bioflavonoid, quercetin: Found in apples, berries, grapefruit, onions, cabbage, tea and red wine.

Acupuncture has had success in reliving allergy symptoms.

Salt water: inhaled in the nostrils can flush the sinuses (International Archives of Allergy and Immunology 2009)

Covering up by wearing long-sleeve shirts and pants if you will be outdoors for any length of time.

Homeopathic remedies through a naturopathic doctor can provide relieve for allergies.

Other techniques: Yoga, relaxation, exercise, meditation and mind control are techniques that will help to reduce stress, which is capable of impairing the immune system, putting you at greater risk for allergen attacks.

Heather Little-White, PhD, is a nutrition and lifestyle consultant in Kingston. Send comments to