Allergies - An Ayurvedic Approach
Austrian pediatrician Clemens Pirquet (1874-1929) first used the term allergy in 1905 to describe the adverse reactions of children who were given repeated shots of horse serum to fight infection. He referred to the harmful hypersensitivity as "allergy". The word allergy is derived from the Greek words "allos", meaning different and "ergos", meaning action. Allergy roughly refers to an "altered reaction".
- It is estimated that 50 million North Americans are affected by allergic conditions.
- Hay fever affects about 35 million Americans, 6 million of whom are children.
- Asthma affects 15 million Americans, 5 million of whom are children.
- The number of cases of asthma has doubled over the last 20 years.
- Allergy involves a misguided response of the immune system.
- The immune system is the body's organized defense mechanism against foreign invaders, particularly infections.
- Allergens are substances that are foreign to the body and can cause an allergic reaction.
- IgE is the allergy antibody.
- Allergies can develop at any age.
- Your risk of developing allergies is related to your parents' allergy history.
One aim of the immune system is to mobilize its' forces at the site of invasion and destroy the invader. One of the ways it does this is to create protective proteins called antibodies that are specifically targeted against particular foreign substances known as antigens. These antibodies, or immunoglobulins (IgG, IgM, IgA, IgD), are protective and help to destroy a foreign particle by attaching to its surface, thereby making it easier for other immune cells to destroy it. The allergic person however, develops a specific type of antibody called immunoglobulin E, or IgE, in response to certain normally harmless foreign substances, such as tree pollen. The IgE secreting cell attaches to mast cells which are most prevalent in the respiratory tract, GI tract and skin.
The mast cells cause the release of mediator chemicals called histamine, leukotrienes and cytokines producing:
- Inflammatory swellings
- Swelling and irritation of nasal and respiratory mucus membranes
- Bronchial constriction
- Hyper secretion of mucus
- Watering of the eyes
- Dark swellings under the eyes: "allergic shiners"
Common Causes or Allergens
- House dust
- House mites
- Air pollution
- Industrial chemicals
- Animal dander
- Latex (causes IgE and non-IgE reactions)
- Plants (poison ivy, oak, nettle rash)
- Metals (nickel)
These causes can lead to eczema, contact dermatitis, asthma, hives, hayfever, perennial rhinitis and/or digestive intolerances.
- Nose, throat: runny nose, itchy nose, mouth, throat, headache
- Lungs: wheezing, coughing, difficulty breathing
- Eyes: tearing eyes, burning or itching eyes, red eyes, conjunctivitis, swollen eyes
- Skin: hives, skin rashes, itchy skin
- Digestion: stomach cramps, vomiting, diarrhea
Allopathic Diagnostic Techniques
- Skin testing: the most common method of allergy testing. This may include intradermal, scratch or patch tests.
- Blood test: also called RAST (radioallergosorbent), this measures the levels of allergy antibody, IgE, produced when blood is mixed with a series of allergens in a laboratory. If you are allergic to a substance, the IgE levels may increase in the blood sample.
- "Elimination" tests: suspected items are eliminated and/or introduced while the person is observed for response to the substance. This is often used to check for food or medication allergies.
- Eyelid: Occasionally, the suspected allergen is dissolved and dropped onto the lining of the lower eyelid as a means of testing for allergies.
- Reaction to physical stimuli: application of heat, cold, or other stimulation, and then look for an allergic response.
Pharmaceutical Medication for Treating Allergic Reactions
- Antihistamines: Act on H1 receptor sites by preventing histamine from attaching to these sites and theoretically preventing the body from responding to allergens. They are used to relieve mild to moderate symptoms but can cause drowsiness. An example is diphenhydramine.
- Longer-acting antihistamines cause less drowsiness; fexofenadine (Allegra) and cetirizine (Zirtec).
- Nasal corticosteroid sprays are prescribed for those whose symptoms are not relieved by antihistamines alone. These prescription medications include fluticasone (Flonase), mometasone (Nasonex), and triamcinolone (Nasacort AQ).
- Decongestants Nasal spray decongestants constrict the blood vessels feeding the mucus membrane lining of the nostrils, thus preventing so much fluid leakage. They should not be used for more than several days, because they can cause a "rebound" effect and make the congestion worse. For example, the stagnation causes a 'dam' like effect which, in turn, causes a flood.
- Sodium cromoglicate is available as a nasal spray (Nasalcrom) for treating hay fever. Eye drop versions of cromolyn sodium and antihistamines are available for itchy, bloodshot eyes.
- Leukotriene antagonists montelukast (Singulair), zileuton, zafirlukast are used to help control asthma and to help relieve the symptoms of seasonal allergies.
Risks Associated with Antihistamines
- Abnormal heart rhythms
- Learning disabilities in children.
Allergy shots (immunotherapy) are occasionally recommended if the allergen cannot be avoided and symptoms are hard to control. Regular injections of the allergen are given, with each dose slightly larger than the previous dose. Allergy shots keep your body from over-reacting to the allergen. They do not work for everybody and require frequent doctor's visits.
Severe reactions (anaphylaxis) require epinephrine, which can be life saving when administered soon after exposure by patients themselves.
Ayurvedic Perspective On Allergies
The regulatory function of the body's ability to accept or reject ingested substances causes or prevents allergies. Satmya is tolerance, referring to substances to which the body is accustomed. Asatmya is intolerance, referring to substances to which the body is unaccustomed.
Nidana (Causative factors)
- Agni (Digestive fire)
The state of agni determines your body's ability to 'digest' what it experiences. Agni protects our immunity (vyadhi kshamatva) by generating sufficient prana, tejas and ojas that can protect and nourish the body. If agni is low, unmetabolized toxins known as ama can orm in the body. Dhatu-agni metabolizes the specific nutrients required by each dhatu. If the tissues are invaded by an antigen then prana, created by agni, motivates tejas and ojas to neutralize the toxin. If there is strong dhatu-agni an allergy is virtually impossible.
- Ama (Toxins)
Rasa ama: Poor rasadhatu-agni results in unprocessed food Mala ama: Poor elimination Ama dosha: ama mixed with imbalanced doshas Mano ama: mental toxins from low sadhaka agni being unable to process life's experiences. This results in unresolved emotions and mental stagnation.
- Prakriti (Constitutional tendencies)
The individual prakriti will determine how the response to that ama manifests. The unique idiosyncrasies will depend on which dhatu the ama is in and which dosha is predominant. Disease is merely an expression of a potential tendency and our prakriti is that inherent nature.
- Vikriti (Imbalanced tendencies)
A further factor involved in the manifestation of allergies is the current state of imbalance circulating within the tissues. How much excessive vata, pitta or kapha is within the body-mind will also influence the response.
For example, if kapha is balanced then exposure to a kapha allergen will be minimal. If kapha is high then exposure to a kapha type allergen may be excessive.
The type of allergen will also influence the response; there are vata, pitta and kapha types of allergens. The quantity of that allergen is also critical in determining the response to it. If there is a large volume of allergen it will overpower even the strongest agni.
Cause (Nidana): Vata aggravating diet and lifestyle, nightshades, bitter foods, fear Prodromal symptoms (Purvarupa): feeling sensitive to cold, hot and cold, shivering, frail, poor appetite, gas, bloating, muscular tension, insomnia, anxiety, increased fear Symptoms (Rupa): headaches, gas, bloating, constipation, burping, food intolerances, wheezing, dry cough
Diagnostic test (Upashaya): give warm and unctuous treatment
Treatment (Chikitsa): warm, oily, nourishing, calming, sweet, pungent
- Herbal formula:
- Triphala guggulu 2 parts (Trikatu/Triphala and Guggulu)
- Dashmula 1 part (famous collection of 10 roots)
- Trikatu 1 part
- Take with ginger tea.
If you prefer using tablets consider Triphala Guggulu, Trikatu and Stress Ease.
Nidana: Pitta aggravating diet and lifestyle, too much sun, insect bites, contact with chemicals Purvarupa: aversion to heat, thirst, feeling hot, gnawing hunger Rupa: rashes, redness, skin inflammation, itching, vomiting, severe reactions, headaches
Upashaya: give cooling and clearing treatments
Chikitsa: cooling, light, cleansing, sweet, bitter
- Guduchi 1 part
- Kalmegh 1 part
- Coriander 1 part
- Shatavari 2 parts
- Take with aloe or fresh cilantro juice.
If you prefer using tablets, consider Liver Formula.
Nidana: kapha aggravating lifestyle, wet weather, low agni, high ama Purvarupa: feeling tired, heaviness, stagnant, slow digestion Rupa: runny nose, nasal congestion, sneezing, asthma, edema
Upashaya: give hot and drying treatment
Chikitsa: warming, drying, lightening, decongesting, pungent, bitter
- Sitopaladi 2 parts
- Trikatu 1 part
- Vasaka 1 part
- Take with hot honey water.
If you prefer using tablets, consider Trikatu and Lung Formula.
Avoid the cause and modify the environment Agni vardhanam - Strengthen agni and intestinal integrity Ama pachana - Clear ama and reduce toxic overload Dosha shodhana - Purify the body of any excessive dosha accumulation Rasayana - Rejuvenate the whole system, increase ojas
Respiratory Allergies and Hayfever
As the agni of rasadhatu is weak kapha accumulates. It overflows into its seat in the lungs and respiratory system flooding out of the nose and lungs. The reason that this type of hayfever occurs early in the spring is that as the warmth of spring increases it causes the kapha that has built up over the winter to melt. Like spring floods, the rivers burst their banks, and excess mucus flows out of the body.
There may also be concurrent inflammation due to the irritation of the invading allergen causing pitta to accumulate in rasa and also overflow at the kapha sites.
Kapha rupa: Sinus congestion, watery eyes, copious mucus, itchy nose
Pitta rupa: Red eyes, itchy eyes, inflamed nose and mucus membranes, headache
- Herbal Formula
- Trikatu 2 parts
- Vasaka 2 parts
- Punarnava 3 parts
- Calamus 1 part
- With hot ginger water and honey
- If you prefer using tablets, consider Lung Formula and Trikatu.
- Triphala 1-2 teaspoons per day
- Nasya nasal oil
- Steam of Tulsi
- Agni increasing treatments
Ashwagandha superb for allergic rhinitis.
- Herbal Formula
- Equal parts of:
- In aloe vera juice
- If you prefer using tablets, consider Liver Formula with aloe juice.
- Avipattikar churna 1-2 teaspoon at night
- Also consider other anti-inflammatory-allergenics: neem, turmeric, bhringaraj, boswellia, bhumiamalaki, guduchi
These herbs can be found in varying combinations in Liver Formula, Lung Formula, Joint Support and Blood Cleanse.
- Agni balancing treatments
Please note: Articles appearing in the Banyan Vine do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Banyan Botanicals. This information is intended to apprise qualified health practitioners of possible Ayurvedic approaches. It is not intended as medical advice.