In allergies, the immune system reacts as if “exasperated” by “something” it has come into contact with (through the air we breathe, foods consumed, substances and objects coming into contact with the skin); the disconcerting fact is that this… “something”… called an allergen, whereas it may be completely harmless for most people, for some other, allergic people, it turns out to be harmful. What needs to be clarified is that allergies are never a purely localized phenomenon but always point to a systemic problem, therefore involving the whole body, whatever the allergen involved and whatever the part of the body it first has access to (mouth, nose, skin…), and whatever the organ or tissue revealing the exasperated reaction.
As a matter of fact, several studies have proven that although symptoms of an allergy might be localized (allergic conjunctivitis, atopic dermatitis, rhinitis, asthma, etc.) and only apparently unrelated to each other, allergies actuallalways have systemic origin and this forms the basis for all its manifestations.
This is a key point to understand why, for instance, a child with atopic dermatitis in very early childhood (with symptoms appearing within the first year in 60 – 70% of cases) can show symptoms of asthma at a later phase– around 4 – 5 years of age, right when cutaneous hyperactivity seems to be solved.
Moreover, understanding the systemic basis of allergies is fundamental to realise that, just like an erythematous cutaneous reaction can be triggered both by contact with an environmental allergen and by a foodstuff, similarly also symptoms related to asthma, rhinitis and conjunctivitis can be connected to a problem of sensitisazion towards inhalant allergens as well as towards allergens coming into contact with the organism in areas that have nothing to do with the respiratory mucosa directly. This particular, so-called cross-reactive reactivity, is a feature strictly related to the fact that allergies are the outcome of a systemic problem.
The background scenario: an imbalanced immune system
Allergens induce the immune system to produce a particular class of antibodies: type E (IgE) immunoglobulins. IgE – mediated hypersensitivity is, in fact, a typical feature of all allergic disorders.
Underlying this particular immune behaviour is an imbalance in the differentiation of cells functioning as “registers” of the defensive response, namely T helper lymphocytes. T helpers (Th) are divided into two subgroups with specific functions, namely Th1 and Th2, their antagonists. The cornerstone of immune efficiency, and therefore of the individual’s good health, lies in the balance between Th1 and Th2.
For a variety of reasons (lack of or little breastfeeding, vaccinations, use of drugs, particularly antibiotics, a diet rich in sugars and animal proteins, etc.) this balance can be jeopardized, with one immune reaction prevailing over the other. Immune imbalance towards Th2 is a feature predisposing the individual to become allergic. Th2 are, in fact, connected to the activation and differentiation of B-type lymphocytes, producers of IfE, the antibodies of allergies.
The “secret march” in the allergic individual’s body
Clinical pictures of allergies often tend to show a characteristic chronological progression. Initial symptoms of allergies usually present erythematous skin lesions (the typical atopic dermatitis), appearing in very small children, often in the first months of life.
Apart from these forms, other precious manifestations of allergies can include some gastrointestinal symptoms, such as diarrhea, vomiting and abdominal pain; respiratory symptoms, instead, usually appear at a later stage, even if rhinitis and wheeze, signalling that the respiratory is affected, may appear in very small children, too.
At any rate, atopic dermatitis is the very first symptom appearing in chronological order, in the sequence of clinical events that can possibly lead to bronchial asthma. Atopic dermatitis therefore seems to represent the main risk factor in this type of evolution. In fact, in around 80% of children affected by atopic dermatitis, respiratory allergies – bronchial asthma in particular, tend to appear at later stages. Moreover, 80 – 90% of subjects with atopic dermatitis present high levels of total IgE present in the bloodstream (RAST test), with Skin PRICK tests showing positivity towards inhalant allergens (in addition to food allergens).
These and other clinical evidence suggest that it is as if the allergy “moved” around the organism, shifting reactivity towards tissues at a deeper level, as in a kind of march…
This progression, amply demonstrated and recognised, has therefore been defined “the march in the allergic individual”. The “allergic march” refers to the development, almost in stages, of different allergic manifestations during the early years, which go hand in hand with the progressive sensitization of different organs and tissues (skin, intestinal mucosa, conjunctiva, respiratory and bronchial mucosa).
Treatment of allergies using conventional medicine
Increase in allergy cases has been accompanied by a rise in the number of individuals receiving pharmacological treatment. Regretfully, one of the greatest “flaws” of modern medicine is the constant presence of more or less annoying secondary side-effects caused by medicines, therefore potentially dangerous for the patient’s health. In particular, consequences of continuous intake can be enormous for the individual’s general health condition in chronic diseases such as allergic affections.
Furthermore, the official approach is mainly concerned with containing symptoms, but without dealing with the root causes actually leading to the individual’s allergic hyperactivity: this entails a non resolution of the health disorder and to the use of many medicines in the attempt to cure the many symptoms appearing.. with the result of having multiple side effects!
Classes of medicines most frequently used in this sense are antihistamines, membrane stabilisers, β2 stimulants/adrenergic agents, cortisone preparations and antileukotrienes. Both first and second generation antihistamines present numerous side effects: sedation is one of these, limiting the patient’s quality of life considerably; another, very common side effect is the so-called “rebound” effect once treatment is interrupted.
Other side effects are: stomach pain, dryness of mouth, nasal mucosa and throat, dizziness, nervousness, restlessness and weight gain, not to mention the risk of developing arrhythmia, that may evolve and become the so-called torsade de pointes, a potentially lethal form of arrhythmia.
Membrane stabilisers also cause a number of side effects, ranging from bronchospasm, cough, wheeze, laryngeal edema, swelling and joint pain, angioedema, headache, skin rashes, nausea, bad taste in the mouth, besides being insufficient to actually contain symptoms if used alone and therefore require association with cortisone-based drugs and/or antihistamines.
Adverse effects of β2 stimulants/adrenergic agents are such and so many that they should really be used only when strictly required. Among major side-effects that can be expected when taking such medicines: euphoria, tachycardia, insomnia, nervousness, agitation, anxiety; to which the following, much more serious effects need to be added: nausea, vomiting, headache, increased blood pressure, stroke and cardiac infarction (in particular, heart disease patients should take these medicines with great caution).
Cortisone-based medicines, unfortunately widely employed owing to their efficacy in “masking” symptoms, generate water retention, swelling of the face, increase of hair, insomnia, increased appetite.
Prolonging treatment can lead to weight gain, reduced muscle mass, hyperglycemia, osteoporosis, gastric ulcers, psychosis, cataracts, glaucoma, sodium retention and loss of potassium, arterial hypertension, mycosis and infections. Not any less dangerous are antileukotrienes, recently launched on the market, which seem to be directly connected to behavioural changes involving anxiety, depression and, ultimately, suicidal tendencies (for this reason they have been monitored by FDA since March 2008).
Allergen Specific Immunotherapy (ASI) requires special mentioning. The principle applied is that the allergic patient is administered increasing doses of the allergen in order to induce tolerance or to desensitize the subject toward the allergen itself. Administration must be effected for a very long period, from 3 to 5 years! ASI, however, does not eradicate all of the allergy’s symptoms and, once the procedure has been completed, the patient will need to continue taking medicines “for good”, even though in lower dosages.
Among other things, this would give greater credit to the latest discoveries in the immunological field, according to which repeated one-way imbalances (in this case towards Th2) apparently lead the system to a chronic inflammatory status (and this would explain its inefficacy in terms of definitive solutions). A new, faster immunotherapy has recently been introduced, called RUSH ASI, requiring only 15 days but involving a much higher quantity of allergens, making it more dangerous (risk of anaphylactic shock!).
Simultaneous administration of omalizumab, a medicine antagonist of IgE, has proven to be not as safe as initially thought, as it increases chances of contracting allergic reactions; for this reason, early in 2007 FDA sent out a warning regarding this risk, more likely to occur during the first month of treatment, but which could possibly arise also after several months of therapy.
On this basis, it is vital to offer an alternative approach, comprising natural remedies and a healthy lifestyle with the aim to diminish the organism’s reactivity and its chronic, systemic inflammatory state (connected to the imbalance towards Th2) on the one hand; on the other, to generate direct, local action in order to avoid the uneasy symptoms related to the inflammatory process (triggered by contact with the antigen); all this without involving any contraindication or side effect whatsoever.
Nature can help you in case of allergy