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Seasonal Allergies From the Inside Out

If your seasonal allergies are causing you to spend more time indoors than out, you may be tempted to try an air filtration system, which many say can remove irritating dust and pollens from your personal space, and in the process improve seasonal allergies. But according to a recent report from the Agency for Health Care Research and Quality, while these sometimes-costly units may clear the air, once an allergy is in progress they don't appear to have much impact on symptoms.

What may work somewhat better, however, is donning a paper dust filter mask when outdoors in high pollen conditions.

In addition to whatever natural treatments you try on your own, you may also find significant relief visiting a practitioner of the ancient Chinese medical practice known as acupuncture. Based on the idea that stimulating points outside the body can change or initiate reactions inside, in this case treatment is thought to affect the immune system, where allergic reactions begin.

In a small but significant study of 26 hay fever patients published in the American Journal of Chinese Medicine, acupuncture reduced symptoms in all 26 -- without side effects. A second study of some 72 people totally eliminated symptoms in more than half, with just two treatments.

"Acupuncture can be particularly useful if you are suffering from multiple allergies, since it works to quiet the areas of the immune system that are overstimulated by exposure to multiple irritating factors," Dillard tells WebMD.

Though many nontraditional treatments can be extremely helpful, allergist Marianne Frieri, MD, cautions that natural doesn't always mean better -- or safer. She points out that it's possible to overdose on even the most seemingly mild preparations, and it's important to remember that almost anything in nature's pharmacy could cause a toxic reaction if you use too much.

More important, she says, is never to mix alternative treatments with traditional drugs without your doctor's approval.

"If, for example, you are taking the allergy drug Allegra -- an antihistamine -- at the same time you decide to try a natural substance with antihistaminic properties, you can end up with far too much antihistaminic activity -- which can result in some significant problems," says Frieri, chairwoman of the department of allergy and immunology at Nassau University Medical Center in East Meadow, N.Y.

In addition, both Hardy and Frieri caution that if allergies are moderate to severe, you should not self-treat -- even with seemingly benign natural products -- without checking with your allergist first. When you are ready to try some alternative care, Hardy says one key to success is starting treatment before allergy symptoms kick in. The ideal time to begin, she says, is "three weeks before allergy season is scheduled to start."

WebMD Feature

Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on December 29, 2008
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