Your A to Z of Complementary Health & Healing


What is an Allergy?

An allergy is an overreaction by the immune system to substances that are normally harmless. The irritants or allergens that trigger allergies vary from person to person and the symptoms experienced depend upon the type of allergy. For example, air born allergens like pollen, house dust, pet hair and mould may cause a runny nose, sneezing and chest congestion, whilst food allergies and certain medications may cause upset stomach, diarrhoea, swollen lips and skin rashes. 

Hay fever or allergic rhinitis is an allergy caused by the pollen of trees, grasses and weeds which is spread by the wind. The symptoms include nasal congestion, a clear runny nose, sneezing, itching of the eye and nose and excess tear production in the eyes. Loss of the sense of smell is common, and loss of taste sense occurs occasionally. Nose bleeding may occur if the condition is severe. Allergic rhinitis can leady to sinusitis and asthma.  

Dermatitis is a general term for a skin rash that is caused by an allergic reaction occurring when a substance comes into contact with the body other than the skin. For example, eating strawberries may cause hives. The skin may also react badly to contact allergens like detergents, deodorants and soap. 

Several drugs are used to stop the action of allergic triggers and ease the symptoms. They include antihistamines, cortisone, adrenalin (epinephrine), theophylline and Cromolyn sodium which can play an important role in the immediate recovery of someone suffering from anaphylactic shock caused by bee stings, peanuts, nuts and shellfish.  

The reason why the immune system reacts to certain allergens is not known, but it is believed that genetics may play a role. Other predisposing factors include poor nutrition, exposure to environmental pollutants, overuse of decongestant nasal sprays, hormonal imbalances during pregnancy, the use of oral contraceptives and thyroid problems.
Ginger and peppermint are herbal antihistamines and natural decongestants. Sipping teas made from these herbs can relieve the symptoms of hay fever. Rooibos Tea lotion can be applied to the skin to sooth skin allergies and calendula lotion is also beneficial for soothing itchy skin. 

Avoid common foods that may cause allergies like wheat, dairy, citrus and eggs. Be aware of pollen counts, and try to stay indoors with the windows closed whilst they are high.  Clean carpets and bedding regularly to prevent a build up of dust and dust mites and replace feather pillows with synthetic ones.  Make a note of any medications, chemicals and external factors that cause a reaction so that they can be avoided. 

Please consult with your Doctor if you’re unsure about any of the above.