Dr Sarah Brewer April 28, 2014

The number of people with allergies has tripled over the last 20 years, with many people in their 40s and 50s now experiencing hay fever and other allergies for the first time in their life.

What is an allergy?

In scientific terms an allergy is an exaggerated immune reaction to any substance that doesn’t normally effect other people. The reaction happens when a type of antibody called an ‘IgE’ binds to certain immune cells and triggers the release of histamine. This powerful chemical produces inflammation with symptoms such as swelling, increased mucus secretion, sneezing, coughing, watery eyes and even vomiting or diarrhoea. All sorts of things can cause an allergic reaction but the most common are:

Indoors:

- Dust mites

- Smoking

- Foods

- Pets

- Latex gloves

- Nickel

- Cockroaches

Outdoors:

- Pollen

- Moulds

- Exhaust fumes

Allergic reactions are actually becoming more common. The reason why is somewhat unknown but some have put it down to over cleanliness, thriving dust mite populations, climate change, reduced intakes of omega 3 and over consumption of omega 6 vegetable oils.

If you think you may be allergic to something, it is important to see your GP in case you need referral for skin prick or blood tests (to measure your level of certain IgE antibodies).

How to cope with allergy season

Allergy treatments such as antihistamines or corticosteroid sprays may be recommended – either on prescription or over-the-counter. It is important to use these regularly, according to instructions, to keep on top of your symptoms.

If you have a severe life-threatening allergy, you may need to carry an adrenalin auto-injector with you at all times. Wearing a MedicAlert or Medi-Tag medallion or bracelet is also a good idea so first aid responders are aware of your allergy in an emergency.

In an emergency, a pharmacist can dispense an adrenaline injection pen without a prescription.

Tips to help with allergies

Anti-allergy diets

Believe it or not an anti-allergy diet may help to reduce your symptoms by adjusting your levels of inflammatory chemicals.

It’s best to follow this kind of diet under the advice of a nutritionist who will usually suggest cutting back on added sugars, eating more fruit and vegetables, choosing healthy oils such as olive, coconut and avocado, opting for lean meats, and upping your intake of oily fish, unprocessed foods and wholegrains.

Drink green tea as it provides powerful anti-inflammatory chemicals – as does dark chocolate containing at least 70% cocoa solids. Redbush tea (rooibos) made from the leaves of a South African shrub also appears to have anti-allergy activity.

It goes without saying you should avoid even healthy foods to which you are sensitive.

Helping herbs

Many spices are known to have anti-inflammatory actions, and are worth including in your diet to complement the effect of anti-allergy medications.

Garlic has been shown to have a positive impact on the inflammation of airways due to allergic reactions (i)

Ginger has natural antihistamine and anti-inflammatory actions that help to suppress allergic reactions (ii, iii)

Turmeric contains curcumin, a powerful anti-inflammatory substance that inhibits release of histamine. It may help to reduce symptoms associated with allergy and asthma (iv, v).

Cinnamon has also been show to suppress some aspects of allergic reactions (vi).

Pycnogenol a bark extract from the French maritime pine, helps to decrease the release of histamine and therefore helps with the symptoms of hay fever and asthma, leading even to a reduction in the need for inhalers (vii).

Lastly, follow these simple steps to reduce allergies

• Avoid triggers such as cigarette smoke and other air pollutants

• Limit outdoor activity during peak pollen times (7 - 9 am, 3 - 7pm)

• Wear sunglasses to minimise eye symptoms

• Lose any excess weight

• Exercise regularly

• Apply a barrier balm inside the nostrils

• Consider taking a probiotic (friendly bacteria) supplement and omega-3 fish oils

• Vitamin C acts as a natural antihistamine to damp down inflammation

• Magnesium has a role in reducing muscle spasms in the lungs in asthma

• Selenium has an important role in reducing inflammation in the lungs and small airways

• Vitamin D boosts the body’s immune system and lessens the response to triggers such as dust mites

(i) Kim JH et al. A comparative study on the antioxidative and anti-allergic activities of fresh and aged black garlic extracts. Int J Food Sc Technol 2012;47(6):1176-1182

(ii) Chen B H et al. Antiallergic potential on RBL-2H3 cells of some phenolic constituents of Zingiber officiale (ginger). J Nat Prod. 2009;72:950-3.

(iii) Ghayur M N et al. Ginger attenuates acetylchline-induced contraction and Ca2+signaling in murine airway smooth muscle cells. Can J Physiol Pharmacol. 2008;86(5):264-71

(iv) Kurup VP, Barrios CS. Immunomodulatory effects of curcumin in allergy. Mol Nutr Food Res. 2008;52(9):1031-9

(v) Karaman M et al. Anti-inflammatory effects of curcumin in a murine model of chronic asthma. Allergol Immunopathol (Madr). 2012;40(4): 490-7

(vi) Hagenlocher Y et al. Cinnamon extract inhibits degranulation and de novo synthesis of inflammatory mediators in mast cells. Allergy. 2013;68(4):490-7

Nothing beats a healthy, balanced diet to provide all the nutrients we need. But when this isn’t possible supplements can help. This article isn’t intended to replace medical advice. Please consult your healthcare professional before trying supplements or herbal medicines.

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