I was in the line at the grocery store the other day and the man behind me struck up a conversation,
"It's beautiful day, are you going to the park today?"
I wondered at how he knew... and then realized I was still wearing my dog's leash across my chest. It's the highest point of spring here and the wild flowers are beautiful in the morning sunlight. I told my line-friend all about the new blooms and how gorgeous the hillsides are this time of year.
He told me that he has bad allergies, so he'll be staying inside for the next few weeks.
We carried on with our grocery-getting and bid a fine farewell, but I got to thinking about allergies. Just in case your allergies are keeping you inside, here's a little bit about what they are, what causes them, and what you can do for the peskiest of problems.
What is an Allergy
Having an allergy just means that your body reacts to something in an unusual way. That's really all it is, but it can definitely be a pain because being hypersensitive to any kind of allergen causes the body to produce a histamine reaction.
Histamine, the essential chemical released in an allergic reaction, is created by the immune system and stored in mast cells. Mast cells, also known as histamine bombs (okay, I made that up, but that's basically what they are), are found in our connective tissues and are the immune system's soldiers for fighting off potentially harmful foreign agents.
When the immune system senses that an allergen is present in the body, it triggers the release of the histamine bombs to help push out the invading allergen.
When that histamine bomb goes off, it dilates the capillaries in the area of the reaction, increasing blood flow and causing heat and inflammation to rise. Shortly there after, your body responds with an increase in digestive secretions and the contraction of smooth muscles—basically your body tightens up vulnerable places and opens up ways to expel the allergen.
What does that actually look like? Sneezing, running nose, coughing, vomiting, diarrhea, tear production, inflammation, etc.
Going even deeper into the immune system reactions here, even though there are different ways for the body to react to allergens and every allergen is different, there is one antibody in particular that instruments allergic reactions. That antibody is called IgE.
What is IgE?
IgE is an immunoglobulin (or antibody) that exists in very small amounts in the body, but plays an absolutely vital role in identifying allergens.
The researchers that discovered it suspect that IgE started as a parasite-specific antibody and evolved with our species to play a key role in early recognition of foreign material more generally.
Every time a new potential allergen is introduced to the body, an IgE antibody is created specific to that allergen.
That IgE antibody binds to the mast cells and when the same allergen is reintroduced into the body, the antibody recognizes it, tells the mast cells it's there (and that it's a potential threat), and the mast cells release the histamine bombs to expel the allergen. Like a tiny game of sneezy-telephone.
Reactions to potential allergens can stem from being genetically predisposed to allergy, overexposure to a specific pathogen, or exposure while a person’s immune system is compromised.
There are four ways to be exposed to a potential allergen
Inhaling an allergen like pollen, pollution, dust, and mold.
Ingesting something that you shouldn’t eat, like a food or a medication.
Touching things like poison ivy, latex, and certain metals that can cause a reaction.
Injecting something into the body, like a medication or getting stung.
3 Stages of Response
1—Initial Stage: How an Allergen is Created
The body is exposed to an allergen and it goes through the process to produce the IgE antibodies specific to the allergen.
The new antibodies bind themselves to special receptors on the mast cells.
The body is now sensitive to that specific allergen and each time the body is exposed to that allergen, more mast cells with the specific IgE will be deployed and cause the allergic response.
2―Early Response: the Immediate Allergic Reaction
This response happens within an hour of exposure to the specific allergen after the body has been sensitized to it. The mast cells with the specific IgE antibodies bind to the allergen and explode, allowing the histamine chemical to work its immuno-magic (see? histamine bombs).
3―Late Response: the Long Term Reaction
This stage starts at the same time as the early response but it takes the body longer to show this reaction and longer for it to clear out.
It can last for 24 hours and can be more severe than the initial response. This long-term reaction involves other parts of the immune system and can look more like a chronic illness. Chronic asthma and inflammation are common long-term allergic reactions.
Long-term and Short-term Herbal Allys
If the body is exposed over and over again to an allergen, the consistent reactions can cause damage to the tissues that are involved.
What's more, each time the body is exposed, the reaction to the allergen can be more intense than the last.
While these reactions aren't curable, they can be controlled with anti-histamine type herbs and medications. Although medications are sometimes a necessary evil, especially when an allergy gets severe, there are a few herbs that can be super helpful for general allergy symptoms and potential hypersensitivities.
Nettle causes a strong reaction when you touch it, this friend will literally sting you, but it is well known to help with allergy symptoms!
Nettle actually works as a fast-acting anti-histamine. I have heard stories of adults and children working with an acute dosing strategy with an infused vinegar. That works something like this:
You know you're going to the park in the morning so before bed, add a one-ounce shot of the infused vinegar to your water. When you wake up, do the same thing. Take the infused vinegar on the hike with you and take a half a fluid ounce every hour or so while you're outside (this helps with the early response reaction), and then add another ounce into your water before/with dinner (to help with the later stage reaction.)
Of course, the best way to work with this is over time so that you don't need to take so much of the vinegar each time you want to go hiking. Typically, after a week or two of this acute dosing strategy, people are able to slowly taper off and maintain a low allergy response.
Chamomile is part of the ragweed family and can cause reactions in very, very sensitive people but for most people, it is really soothing for a histamine reaction, especially if you're using it topically.
This is an ally that helps lessen the effects of an allergic reaction moreso than help preventing them, but it's crucial to know the friends that soothe because reactions do happen.
This isn't just an invasive weed that takes over the sides of the highways, Fennel is an effective long-term tonic for allergies because it's high in a natural antihistamine known as quercetin.
Quercetin is a pretty well-known antioxidant—you can actually buy it pure in capsules—that helps to calm irritation and inflammation.
Adding fennel to your daily tea blend could quell the severity of your allergic reactions over time.
It's an herb used in food more than anything else, but it's making a come back in the herbal world too.
Research has shown thyme to be highly antiseptic, killing off harmful bacteria, along with being a natural anti-inflammatory herb. It also helps increase digestive secretions, and has a wonderful opening effect on the lungs airways—which is why it's in almost all of our Respiratory Products
Our Recommendations for Allergies
If you're like my new line-friend, you want a solution that doesn't involve allergy medicine every time he wants to see the wild flowers. It can take a bit of time, and some exposure to the outdoors but here's what you can do, starting today, to improve your reaction to potential allergens over time. It's great to start with an immune strengthening detox if you're feeling overwhelmed with allergies, but if you're just working on your long-term strategy, try this:
In the morning. Start the day with a some warm (not hot) water with a tablespoon of Sanandi's Respiratory Honey mixed in.
Before Meals. Take a tablespoon of Bitter Detox Elixir before lunch and dinner.
Throughout the Day. Something delicious that's easy to carry with you, the Throat-Plus Extract boasts bee propolis and honey along with echinacea to help support the immune system and work with allergies effect your lungs and throat.
Before Bed. Rub your chest with the Respiratory Balm—this is especially helpful if you find that you're plagued by nighttime allergies.
Note: If you're taking allergy medication or using an inhaler regularly right now, we don't suggest stopping right away, the body can easily be dependent on allergy medications so you may need to work with an herbalist or a natural path to slowly remove those from your day.