Many people identify spring and summer with allergy season. Allergies come in different forms and vary in severity from mildly bothersome to life threatening. While there are many types of allergies with an assortment of causes, it is respiratory allergies that make millions of people suffer each spring.

Conventional Approach
by Dr. Brown
& Alternative Approach

by Dr. Dillard
The causes of respiratory allergies include pollens from ragweed, grasses, and other plants that are spread by the wind. Those affected by this type of allergy experience itchy eyes, nasal congestion, coughing, sneezing, and scratchy roof of mouth or throat. While there is no cure, you may be able to prevent the onset of allergic symptoms by avoiding allergic "triggers"-that is, minimizing your exposure to pollen, dust, animal dander, etc.

The following tips can stave off some allergens:

  • Avoid smoke and other irritating fumes
  • Keep heating and cooling system filters clean
  • Limit alcohol consumption if it aggravates the condition
  • Minimize carpeting
  • Avoid outdoor activities that aggravate the condition
  • Reduce mold exposure

Over-the-counter remedies
Seasonal allergies are usually treated with over-the-counter antihistamines. These fight histamine, the substance your body releases that causes allergic symptoms. Older antihistamines caused drowsiness, but a new generation of prescription antihistamines can reduce your symptoms without this side effect.

Prescription medications remedies
More severe episodes may require your doctor to prescribe cromolyn or corticosteroid nasal sprays. New synthetic cortisone sprays are designed to relieve swelling in the nose. The newest prescription antihistamines are non-sedating and can be taken in low doses. So, if you're still relying on an over-the-counter remedy that isn't working or makes you drowsy, it may be time to see your doctor.

Ronald C. Brown, MD, FACP, is the Vice President of Medical Programs for Oxford Health Plans. He is a graduate of Yale University School of Medicine and was trained in internal medicine at Roosevelt Hospital in New York City. Dr. Brown is a board-certified internist.
  Allergies occur when the immune system overreacts to foreign materials. When treating allergies, you can either modify the allergic immune reaction, or you can decrease your body's inflammatory response. Allergies are one of the health conditions for which I believe conventional medications are much more effective than complementary and alternative remedies, but certain alternative approaches may help relieve some allergic symptoms.

Diet remedies
A vegetarian-based diet with plenty of deep-water fish can decrease your level of inflammation. With more severe allergies, some people find that fish fat capsules can offer relief.

Vitamin remedies
Foods containing vitamin E have been shown to help with some allergies. Incorporating extra magnesium and decreasing the salt and sugar intake in your diet can also make a difference. Some studies suggest that vitamin C is a "natural antihistamine," and thus, a natural cure for allergies, though this theory is not proven.

Traditional Chinese medicine remedies
Licorice, skullcap, cordyceps, and perilla have been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties. The guidance of an experienced practitioner of traditional Chinese medicine is strongly recommended with this alternative medicine practice.

Aromatherapy remedies
To relieve nasal congestion, try mixing one drop of lavender oil and one teaspoon of a carrier oil, such as sweet almond or sunflower oil; massage into the skin around your sinuses once a day. Eucalyptus, cedarwood, and peppermint oils also act as decongestants. Massaging these fragrant oils around your nostrils or inhaling them from a cloth can quickly relieve congestion.

Acupuncture remedies
Although research does not strongly indicate the benefits of acupuncture in treating allergies, some people seem to find allergy relief with acupuncture.

James Dillard, MD, DC, CAc, is the founding Medical Director for Oxford Health Plans' Complementary and Alternative Medicine program and is chairman of the Oxford Chiropractic Advisory Board. He is a board-certified medical doctor, a doctor of chiropractic, and a certified medical acupuncturist.

This column is offered for your interest and information. It is not intended as advice and should not replace your doctor's recommendation or treatment plan. Comments on this column can be e-mailed to or mailed to:

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