A look at why allergies are becoming increasingly prevalent and how we can treat (and perhaps prevent) them!
Allergies in children:
Anyone who has spent a sleepless night blowing their nose and rubbing their already blood red eyes, drinking tea and taking every medication, Western or Eastern, know that allergies can have a very drastic effect on your life. Furthermore, they can cause great anxiety for a child who has allergies as well as the parents of the child. There are many treatment options available for allergies and I would like to review some of them for you so that you are able to make the best decision for your child.
Between 1997 and 2007 the CDC estimates that food allergies have increased by 18% among children under the age of 18. There have been many speculations as to why there has been such a drastic increase in prevalence of allergies. Among the theories; vaccines, environmental toxins and GMO foods seem to be the most prominent. While we need to continue to research the cause of allergies to help alleviate their discomforts, I am going to focus on the options that are available to help your suffering today.
Chinese Medical Perspective of Allergies:
Bob Flaws discusses diet as a major cause of pediatric allergies. The theory is that when foods are introduced too early into a baby's diet it will cause indigestion and the child will develop an allergic reaction to that food. By introducing foods one at a time it will allow the parents to observe if there is any sort of reaction to a particular food. It is also important for parents to limit the amount of sugar and dairy that is in a child's diet.
In Chinese medical theory both sugar and dairy lead to phlegm and dampness, which will give rise to damp heat in the intestines that in turn can lead to an over growth of yeast and fungi in the intestine (known as dysbiosis). Dysbiosis can lead to many health issues. Essentially an overgrowth of bad bacteria in the gut will lead to a higher level of gut permeability. Once there is Leaky Gut Syndrome then the bacteria and food particles that leak out of the intestines will cause the immune system to respond. This is how food allergies end up "multiplying". It can also explain the systemic inflammation that often occurs with food allergies. Another cause of dysbiosis is antibiotics. Often you will see that children develop an allergy after a course of antibiotics. It is important that antibiotics are taken with care as to prevent further antibiotic resistance and to help prevent dysbiosis. A child should be given probiotics after a course of antibiotics to help prevent an imbalance.
Chinese herbal formulas can be used in conjunction with dietary intervention to effectively change the body’s reaction to the allergens. A clear bland diet is recommended to help heal the digestive tract. Since children's spleens have not yet been fully developed, cooking foods will help the child’s ability to digest the food. Rice is considered hypoallergenic so it is a good food source. Sugar and dairy, again, should be avoided. Chinese herbs that are prescribed by an herbal practitioner will be given based on the child's "pattern of health" at the time of the visit. As someone who has taken every single steroid and allergy medication that has come onto the market between 1983 and 2010 I can tell you that changing my diet and taking Chinese herbs has provided me greater results than my myriad of Western medications ever did, and without the side effects; without any side effects.
Western Treatment Options for Allergies:
Instead of focusing on underlying causes of inflammation, Western medicine looks towards trying to alleviate the symptoms. Antihistamines are some of the most commonly used medications on the market and they are very effective at alleviating the histamine response common with allergies. Some of the lesser known side effects of antihistamines include: impairment of thinking, depression, anxiety, altered taste and smell, low libido, increased appetite, infertility in women, and long term health issues. (Jared Sheikh, M.D., Harvard Medical School.) Other commonly used pharmaceuticals include various types of steroids. Steroids work extremely quickly and effectively. Again though, they have numerous side effects that make them less attractive as an option.
Last but not least, there are the ever-popular allergy shots. Allergy shots are used to desensitize a patient to the allergen. Patients may get shots with a small amount of the allergen every week for one to three years. The frequency of the shots may decrease with time. While various studies indicate that these are effective (particularly for bee stings, pollen allergies, dust mites, mold and pet dander) the evidence of the effectiveness (particularly long term) for food or drug allergies is still unclear.
While the ability to "cure" allergies seems somewhat elusive for both Western and Eastern medicine, there is some very promising research going on currently. Current research on a Chinese herbal formula known as FAHF-1 and FAFH-2 has shown great promise in alleviating food allergies in particular. Also, new research done on immunotherapy for multiple food allergies was highlighted in the New York Times article: The Allergy Buster: Can a radical new treatment save children with severe food allergies? This research is showing some impressive results for immunotherapy but requires further research and long-term study.
My personal belief is that the best results come by looking at the lifestyle and health overall and making changes on a case-by-case basis. There is no one answer to allergies, but bringing your body into balance is the best start for any condition.
If you are interested in speaking with a practitioner at Urban Herbs about your child's allergies and what we can do here at the clinic, give us a call! (720) 638-6622.