Allergies will soon be in full swing and drug companies are happy to help -- to the tune of $15 billion a year in sales. But many allergy sufferers are tired of that expense and the side effects of drugs and want a more natural alternative.
Dr. Susanne Bennett, a full-time natural allergy specialist in Santa Monica, Calif., has logged in more than 100,000 patient visits over the past 24 years, ranging from children to working moms, auto mechanics to movie stars.
Sometimes they suffer from traditional symptoms, like hives, sneezing, and headaches. Other times, her patients, like many people with unexplained symptoms, aren't even aware that their joint pain, bloating, digestive problems, weight gain and insomnia are allergy-related.
Reducing Toxic Load
If you sneeze a lot, feel stuffed-up, have itchy eyes and a tickle in the back of your throat, you're probably allergic to something. Usually you reach for an antihistamine, or go a step further and visit the allergist for shots.
But according to Bennett, allergy drugs can create a whole new set of problems.
"If you take an antihistamine, you can get really tired." she said. "If you're a child, it can be the opposite: you can get really hyper. You can't sleep. I mean there are so many different side effects."
Others include raising your blood pressure or causing urinary problems, dizziness, or mental or mood changes such as restlessness or confusion.
That's why Bennett helps her patients the natural way, with treatments like Vitamin C, Quercetin and Pine Bark Extract (also called Pycnogenol), which have no side effects.
In addition to those, Bennett helps her patients identify and reduce the amount of allergens they are exposed to, therefore, reducing their overall toxic load.
Usually this process takes a little detective work! But with a little investigating and patience, allergy sufferers can find relief for good without having to depend on pharmaceuticals.
We're constantly bombarded with all kinds of things we might be allergic to, from things we eat to things we breathe in our homes.
But the more of these allergens we can get out of our lives, the better equipped we'll be to fight the ones we can't.
In her book, The 7-Day Allergy Makeover, Bennett explains how to figure out your allergies and reduce your overall toxic load.
"I want you to do everything naturally because natural things, nutrients and food, and changes you can make in your environment, that's easy stuff, it really is," she explained. "You've just got to do them one by one. It's much easier than you think."
Bennett said many people are surprised to learn that what they thought was a pollen allergy, turned out to be an allergy to something else.
"I always look at nutrition as our number one way to get rid of allergies," she said. "And you're going to say, 'Well, I've got nasal allergies, what does having something to eat have to do with my nose?'"
"Some people don't realize they might be eating, let's say, a peanut butter sandwich, and then they start getting a runny nose or a little tickle in their throat and have that post nasal drip," she continued. "Well they don't realize it's from the peanut butter and jelly!"
There are six main food allergies: dairy, gluten, sugar, peanuts, eggs, and mold.
Bennett instructs her patients to give them up, one at a time, for two weeks, and see if they feel better.
For example, give up dairy products for two weeks, and if you don't notice any difference, go back to eating dairy and move to the next type of food, say gluten.
Give up gluten for two weeks. If you feel much better going without gluten, then you probably have gluten intolerance and should stay away from it.
Then test your reaction to going without the other food groups, one at a time, and adding the food group back to your diet if you don't feel a difference after two weeks. Some people are allergic to more than one type of food.
Many people notice a variety of improvements when they eliminate dairy from their diets, even improvements in behavior.
"What you're going to notice is that you're going to have a lot less post-nasal drip and a lot less of the sinus congestion that a lot of people get," Bennett explained. "Also gas and bloating will go down. A lot of the itchy rash and ezcema."
"Dairy can even cause hyperactivity in children," she added. "Casein, in cheese, is an excitotoxin. It interferes with brain function."
Sugar and Molds
Like dairy, gluten is another food group that is surprisingly problematic for millions of people. When people go without all types of wheat, as well as barley, rye, and oats, they are often stunned at how much better they feel!
When you give up sugar, make sure you include things like high fructose corn syrup and refined carbohydrates, such as white flour, which turns into sugar as soon as it enters your body.
"You really want to reduce the amount of sugar. And the reason is, sugar actually causes more histamine release in our body," Bennett explained. "Sugar throws off our ph balance."
"What sugar does is it makes us more acidic, and if we're more acidic, we're more allergic," she continued. "So you want to have a lot of vegetables because vegetables keep our body alkaline. And then of course you want to reduce the sugar. The sugar that's acidic is causing us more allergies."
Food molds include fungi, like blue cheese, mushrooms, and yeast. But it may surprise you to know that invisible food molds lurk in many processed foods such as bagged produce.
"Molds can grow in packaged items like nuts, granola or dried fruits, anything that comes in a bag, wrapper because mold can start growing in it," Bennett explained. "Even restaurant salads have mold."
"When you've been exposed to mold and you don't know it, there's a tell-tale sign: that causes an itchy, scratchy throat -- sometimes even soreness," she said. "And what you can do is take some vitamin C to cut that itchiness. I use Vitamin C powder."
Bennett also recommends soaking fresh produce in a mixture of water and Vitamin C powder for 10 minutes to kill any invisible mold on your fruits and vegetables. As a bonus, it also kills bacteria.
Dust Mites and More
Once you eliminate allergens from your diet, focus on getting rid of the ones in your home.
Many people mistake seasonal allergies for allergies to dust mites, which are microscopic bugs that feed on our dead skin, which is all over our bed, sofa, carpet, even our kids' stuffed animals.
Get a handle on dust mites by covering your mattresses and pillows with dust mite covers. Also, wash your bedding in hot water once or twice a week.
Throw away old stuffed animals, and put the ones you simply can't part with in a room other than a bedroom. Get that dust off your furniture, even ceiling fans. And make sure to vacuum often.
In addition to dust mite, other indoor allergens include mold and pet dander.
"You want to take your loving animals out of your bed," Bennett advised, "because that also is a slew of allergenic antigens that will cause allergic reactions and respiratory issues."
A good air purifier can help to clean the air of any residual dust, mold, bacteria, and chemicals.
"What you want to do is use an air purifier that has a HEPA filter," Bennett said. "Not just that, get one that has charcoal filtration system, as well. What charcoal will do is it will absorb the indoor chemicals that we are constantly breathing in. Indoor air quality can actually be more damaging than outdoor air."
It's also important to get your air ducts professionally cleaned about once a year.
"When you do that, you get the mold, dust, dust mites, anything that collects in the vents, you're going to remove as well," she said.
Allergen Hot Spots
The kitchen is a primary source of allergens and toxins, of which many people are unaware. For example, your local tap water may contain fluoride, chlorine, uranium, and arsenic, among other things, depending on where you live.
Check with your local government to find out what's in your water. Bennett recommends using a reverse osmosis filter for your kitchen tap, or you can buy bottled water that has been filtered with reverse osmosis.
Our skin is porous, so the things that come in contact with our skin sink into our bodies. Therefore, Bennett recommends considering a reverse osmosis filter for the water in which we shower and bathe.
Furthermore, she advises her patients use extreme caution when choosing the products we use on our bodies.
"We lather on things all the time," Bennett explained. "Makeup, healthcare products, body care products, shaving products for men - most of them are chemical-based."
Instead, Bennett advises using non-chemical products on the market, not only for our personal hygiene, but for our house cleaning, as well. For many patients, going chemical-free makes a huge difference in the way they feel.
The kitchen can be a hot-spot of allergens and toxins, starting with the refrigerator.
"Refrigerators are loaded with bacteria and fungi," Dr. Bennett noted. She recommends a cleaning solution of half water, half vinegar.
Since some people are sensitive to metals like nickel, aluminum, and stainless steel. Bennett recommends replacing those pots and pans with enamel, glass or porcelain. She also advises her patients with such sensitivities to use wooden cutlery.
She also says to steer clear of plastic containers.
"So there are a lot of things that you don't know about that are in the kitchen that can be the culprit to your allergies" she said.
Although we might not be able to reduce the amount of pollen outside, we can reduce the amount of pollen that we breathe inside our homes.
First, close your windows. Next, take off your clothes and shoes immediately after entering the home. Leave your shoes by the door so you don't track pollen in the house.
Put pollen-covered clothes in a large, zip-lock bag to prevent it from getting all over your house until those clothes are washed.
Take a shower and shampoo your hair as soon as possible after coming inside, certainly before getting into bed.
You can protect yourself from pollens and other allergens while you're in the car by using the air conditioning, or for trips shorter than two hours, press the "recirculate" button.
So, if you are one of the millions of allergy sufferers and are longing for relief the natural way, get to the root of the problem by figuring out what you're allergic to. Then work to avoid it while simultaneously getting rid of as many universal allergens you're exposed to, such as dust and mold, to reduce your overall toxic load.