The UK has one of the most allergenic climates in the western world, and with so many people suffering from seasonal allergies at this time of year, it is important to look at the different treatments that are available to you.
Lots of allergy sufferers with hay fever, asthma, eczema, hives or reactions to dust mites, moulds or animal dander, have resigned themselves to the medications, nasal sprays and inhalers that are available in pharmacies and doctor surgeries, but there are lots of alternative remedies available too.
With the help of some experts, we take a look at common symptoms of allergies and the various treatments that are available to you as well as the medications that you can buy over the counter.
Common symptoms of allergies
- Itchy eyes/ throat/ nose
- Sneezing, blocked/runny nose
- Watering, red eyes (allergic conjunctivitis)
- Headaches, blocked sinuses
- Shortness of breath
- The sensation of mucus running down the back of the throat, which can also be a symptom, is called ‘post-nasal drip’.
- Interference with sense of smell
So what are the alternative allergy treatments?
Research published on the Integrative Healthcare website has found that regular and sustained massage sessions can improve immune system function and strengthen your immunity to combat allergies.
This means that if you suffer from allergies, then you should consider going on weekend spa breaks as this could help refresh you and have a positive effect in reducing your allergic response. Some massages that are great for people suffering from allergies are:
- Champneys 50-minute massage. Swedish massages, like our 50 minute massage, are well-reputed for encouraging relaxation and reducing stress. This helps reduce the effects on the immune system and can help with the side effects of allergies.
- Champneys aromatherapy massage. The aromatherapy massage is a deeply relaxing massage that uses aromatherapy oils to enhance your mood. Some oils are particularly good for those with symptoms of allergies. Cedarwood oil is relaxing for the bronchial area and slows down rapid breathing in asthma, calms allergic reactions and helps relax chest muscles to open the lungs. Lavender oil has an anti-inflammatory effect and is useful for allergies as it reduces stress and calms symptoms of inflamed areas. Chamomile essential oil is soothing and can help reduce the effects of allergic skin reactions.
Dr Di Cuffa, founder and GP at Your Doctor says massage is a great alternative treatment for those being affected by seasonal allergies. He adds: ‘Stress can often aggravate allergies and so massage may be a good option to alleviate stress, help reinvigorate the immune system and increase lymphatic drainage. Massage is not recommended for severe allergies that require medical attention, but it can act as an effective complementary treatment for milder symptoms caused by seasonal allergies.’
Dr Apelles Econ, an allergy specialist at Allergy Medical UK, recommends some sufferers to use air purifiers as these can reduce your symptoms. He adds: ‘If your symptoms clear when you are on holiday in a warmer part of the world, you can be sure that your allergy is caused by factors in the air.
‘In this case an air purifier can reduce the prevalence of these allergens at home (where we spend a third of our life) and in the car.’
Acupuncture is also known to help allergy sufferers and by visiting some of our health spa retreats this could be beneficial.
Your Doctor’s Dr Di Cuffa, talks about the benefits of this ancient Chinese practice: ‘There are some trials which have reported favourable results of using acupuncture to treat allergy symptoms including runny noses, sneezing and itchy eyes. It is postulated that acupuncture may help to improve the body’s functions by stimulating the nervous system. It encourages self-healing through the stimulation of specific acupuncture points on the body most commonly through the painless insertion of fine, sterile needles into the skin.’
Allergy proofing your home and work space is a great way to avoid suffering from allergies during peak season.
If you suffer from allergies, Dr Di Cuffa recommends looking at your bedding, flooring, curtains, pets, furnishing and clutter. If you are an asthma sufferer he says it is important to research the expected pollen count and plan your day accordingly.
Consultant ENT and head & neck surgeon, Mr Mark Draper at BMI The Saxon Clinic explains how you can manage symptoms for the most common allergies; hay fever, house dust mites and pets.
Managing Hay fever
Dr Mark Draper, a consultant ENT surgeon, shared the following tips for hay fever sufferers.
- Keep an eye on the pollen forecast. If possible stay indoors or by the coast when the pollen count is high. When returning home, change your clothing and wash your hair.
- Keep windows closed, especially early in the morning (when pollen is released) and in evenings (when pollen particles are falling back to ground level).
- Use a saline nasal wash.
- Avoid mowing lawns yourself.
- Avoid drying washing on clothes lines when pollen counts are high.
- Think about fitting a pollen air filter for your car.
Managing house dust mite
Mark Draper says that it is impossible to completely destroy house dust mite, but the following tips can reduce the levels.
- Limit carpets, curtains and soft furnishings within the house and change to hard floors where possible.
- Declutter to reduce the number of surfaces for dust to settle onto and to make dusting easier.
- Change to hypoallergenic bedding and pillows.
- If possible, ask someone else to do vacuuming and dusting.
- When dusting, use a duster dampened in warm water to limit the amount of dust thrown into the atmosphere.
- Change to a vacuum with a hepa filter.
- Vacuum the bed mattress weekly.
Managing pet allergy
Pet allergies are very common and Mark Draper from BMI Healthcare says that the allergic-causing particles (from cats especially) can remain in the home environment to some degree for up to two years after a pet has left the home, but there are ways to manage these allergies.
- Furry pets are more likely to cause allergy in a sensitive individual.
- If buying a new pet, consider a ‘lower allergen’ pet such as labradoodle or other similar breeds of dog.
- Keep bedrooms, and especially beds, pet-free, as you could be exposed to allergic particles for many hours when you sleep.
- Keep carpets and soft furnishings to a minimum and vacuum regularly.
Amy Rothenberg is a Naturopathic Physician in Enfield CT and she recommends making dietary changes as it can help reduce allergy symptoms.
She says: ‘A teaspoon a day of local honey can help reduce sensitivity to pollen. If you’re sensitive to dairy, gluten, eggs or other foods, limit consumption especially during allergy season. For many people there is an “allergic load” phenomenon, where the body can take just so much assault. If you reduce some of the things that you can control that you are sensitive to such as certain foods you eat, you may well find you are less sensitive to other exposures such as pollen, which by all accounts is more challenging to control.
‘Help to diversify gut flora which works to balance immune function. You can do this by taking a probiotic and including cultured foods in the diet like miso, kefir and kim chi. This will also, over time, make people less sensitive to allergens.’
Dr Apelles Econ agrees and says: ‘If you suffer during June and July (the time grass pollens are prevalent), you can reduce the severity of your symptoms by avoiding foods related to grass – grains (members of the family of grass) and dairies (cattle feed on grass).
‘A significant proportion of these problems may actually be caused by simple sensitivities (not allergies) to common foods and food chemicals, not airborne allergens. They are also amenable to some modern treatments.’
Dr Di Cuffa from Your Doctor says eating a healthy balanced diet is a great way to alleviate symptoms.
He says: ‘While any food can cause an adverse reaction, eight types of food account for about 90% of all reactions: eggs, peanuts, nuts, fish, shellfish, wheat, soy and dairy. Eating a healthy balanced diet full of vegetables and fruit will help build a healthy immune system.’
Popular allergy medications
- Antihistamines. Antihistamines are the best known type of allergy medication and are readily available from pharmacies throughout the UK without prescription. Allergy UK says that there are a number of different types of Antihistamines with some being improvements on old drugs, while new Antihistamines are being developed all the time.
- Immunotherapy. BMI Healthcare’s Mark Draper says Immunotherapy is another treatment given to those suffering from allergies. He added: ‘Immunotherapy was traditionally given by a series of injections, but this form of potentially curative treatment can now be given by a pill or drops under the tongue. This therapy needs to be given daily for either 6–12 months of the year (depending on the preparation used) for 3 years before cure is achieved (although symptoms may improve well before then). Although not suitable for every patient, your GP or ENT specialist may guide you as to whether this therapy is appropriate.’
- Decongestants. Decongestants are commonly used as a short-term treatment for a blocked nose caused by an allergy. The different types of decongestants can be taken as tablets, capsules, liquids and nasal sprays, but as medical professionals will vouch, it is important that you do not take decongestants for longer than a week as this can have an adverse impact on your health.
- Steroids. Some allergic reactions cause inflammation and often your doctor would advise you buy steroid medications. These can come in nasal sprays, creams, inhalers or tablets. Sprays, weak steroid creams and drops can be bought without a prescription, but stronger steroid creams, tablets and inhalers are only available on prescription from your GP.