At least 20% of American have allergies due to unknown causes, but women who are going through the various stages of menopause experience increased allergies due to hormonal imbalances. As women get closer to reaching menopause, they may notice an increase in allergic reactions or simply have a complete new set of allergies that they have never experienced before. Disruptive symptoms, such as hot flashes, night sweats, depression, irritability and loss of libido can be extremely tolling on your body, physically and mentally, and increases your stress levels.
When your body experiences stress, your energy levels are shot down and your body begins to slowly shut down, which reduces the immune system’s effectiveness in fighting off allergens. Due to these hormonal changes, menopause can often cause the immune system to react in a different way when exposed to different allergens that were once harmless in the past.
How Allergies Work
Chemical messengers, known as hormones, govern many changes within the body, including menopause and allergies. Hormonal fluctuations can create an imbalance, causing the immune system to suffer and causing a woman to be more likely to experience allergies.
As menopause develops, a woman’s body prepares itself to stop the menstrual process. The hormones estrogen and progesterone decrease significantly in order to enable her monthly cycle to cease. However, these fluctuations can increase the incidence of allergies and allergy symptoms, most often including hay fever, asthma, and dermatitis.
Hormonal fluctuations can cause a rise in histamine, causing an increase in hot flashes as well as allergic reactions. For this reason, women who have never suffered allergic reactions may develop them.
Link between Menopause, Adrenals and Allergies
After years of chronic stress, the adrenals become depleted and are no longer able to respond adequately to the ongoing pressure many of us experience. Inadequate adrenal function can produce symptoms such as sleep disruption, fatigue and anxiety. It can also lead to increased sensitivity to various foods and elements in the environment. This increased sensitivity can ultimately express itself as allergies.
Many people have underlying food sensitivities that have never been diagnosed, and as a result, may worsen over time. In addition, there is the problem of chronic exposure to chemicals in the workplace and at home in the form of cleaning agents, new carpets and paint, solvents, molds, artificial lighting, computers and electronics, and many other toxin exposures. This cumulative toxic burden along with the overstressed adrenals and the hormonal fluctuations of menopause becomes an overload for many individuals. This overload can manifest as new allergies.
There can be other causes of allergies such as pre-existing allergies or certain lifestyle choices. Components such as your diet, medications and stress levels can also have an impact on your allergies. Allergies are also known to be hereditary so if just one of your parents had allergies you are 30% more likely to have allergies as well.
Symptoms of Allergies
The symptoms of allergies range in severity and are unique to the individual. Symptoms range from mild to severe with mild being itchy eyes, sneezing and rashes. Moderate symptoms are considered to include itchiness and difficulty breathing. The most severe symptoms are swelling that makes breathing and swallowing difficult, cramps, abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, mental confusion and dizziness.
Most people experience symptoms that are somewhat similar to that of a common cold such as runny nose, itchy eyes, sneezing and headache.
Types of Allergies
According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, 50 million Americans have some type of allergy. Allergies can be grouped by the nature of their symptoms and by the allergen that provokes the symptoms. There are respiratory allergies (Hay Fever and asthma), Skin allergies (Hives, Eczema, and Dermatitis), Food allergies, Medication allergies, Insect Venom allergies and Environmental Allergies. The most common allergens are fur, dander and pollen. Some other common allergens include: eggs, fish, milk, peanuts, shell fish, soy sulfites, trees, nuts and wheat.
1. Hay Fever is a seasonal caused by inhaling pollens, trees and grasses and is often worse in the spring and fall seasons, when pollen and airborne particles are at their highest. Hay Fever results in inflammation of the delicate linings of the eyes and nose.
2. Asthma is a chronic condition that involves episodes of inflammation and tightened airways that make breathing difficult, since the airways spasms. Asthma can be worsened if exposed to common allergens, such as animal dander, pollen and dust mites.
3. Allergic Eyes or seasonal allergic conjunctivitis (SAC) is the most common type of eye allergy, with grass and pollen being the triggers. It creates an inflammation of the tissues that cover the eye.
4. Allergic Eczema is a condition in which the skin gets an allergic rash which is usually associated with Asthma or Hay Fever.
5. Caused by histamine, Hives are a type of rash that appears as swollen and itchy bumps that can look like a flat raised welt caused by a bug bit. Hives can combine into an expansive hive area, as the allergic reaction progresses.
6. Anaphylactic shock is a life-threatening allergic reaction because the symptoms can develop rapidly, often within seconds or minutes. It is known as an acute systemic allergic reaction, since it affects the entire body. This condition is typically caused by a sting or when the allergen is injected and it can be life-threatening.
The first step in managing allergies during menopause is to identify the things that trigger them. Lifestyle changes are the best place to start in your search for a treatment for your allergies. Try to change your lifestyle in a way that eases the symptoms of allergies. For instance if you typically get allergies because of dust in your home then get an air purifier and vacuum regularly.
Daily Lifestyle Changes
* Use the air conditioner/fan in your house, office and car
* Stay indoors on days when the pollen count is extremely high
* If allergic to dogs or cats, keep the dander-producing animals outside of your home
* Wash your sheets and blankets in hot water
* Remove carpets in your house
* Use air filters and dehumidifiers
* Use hypoallergenic pillows
* Vacuum and dust on a daily basis
* Rake leaves outside of your home to avoid mold allergies
* Get rid of any indoor plants, as they may promote mold growth
* If you have insect allergies, don’t wear too bright of clothing when the weather is hot and humid, as it may attract insects.
Allergies Treatment at Menopause
Vitamin C helps reduce histamine release from cells and helps histamine break down faster once it is released. Calcium helps the body regulate its acidic balance in tissues and reduces histamine production. Magnesium, also known as the anti-stress mineral, has been used to treat symptoms caused by nasal allergies, but recent studies have shown that it also helps relieve bronchospasm, or constricted airways in one’s lungs. The recommended daily value of magnesium is 400 mg. Copper is crucial to the formation of T-cells and is an antioxidant that fights free radial damage to the mitochondria. Selenium protects cell membranes and stimulates immune function, which enhances the function of Vitamin C within the body. Beta-carotene, Vitamin E, and other antioxidants all help to neutralize free radicals and protect healthy molecules from harm.
Meditation, yoga, Chi gong, Tai Chi, massage and other healing practices are important components in reducing stress and inflammation related to allergies.
Can you think yourself allergy free? Perhaps not entirely, but hypnosis may help relieve your symptoms when it is used in conjunction with other allergy treatments. In a 2005 Swiss study, allergy patients were trained to achieve a hypnotic trance and then imagine themselves in a "safe place" free of allergens (a pristine beach, for example, or a snowy mountain). Those who underwent hypnosis reported a reduction of about a third in congestion during allergy season; objective tests confirmed the self-reports.
The liver is the main detoxification organ, also becomes overtaxed and needs support during heightened allergies. Supplementing with liver supporting nutrients and herbs, along with safe chelating and binding agents to help eliminate toxins, is central to clearing allergies, balancing inflammation responses, and reducing toxic burden.
If your body is out of balance from allergies and menopause you need to cool your body off. Foods that are cooling to the body include:
* Salads Vegetables – lettuce, radish, celery, cucumber, broccoli, most leafy vegetables and tomatoes.
* Green, blue and purple vegetables and fruits contain the most cooling properties.
* Foods that are cooked quickly and lightly i.e. stir-fried food.
* Cooling spices include – fresh ginger, cilantro, marjoram, white peppercorn, lemon balm and peppermint.
* Beverages – herbal teas, vegetable broths, fruit and vegetable juices.
* Grains – barley, millet, wheat and amaranth.
Chinese medicine has been applied as a long-standing treatment for many menopausal issues around the world. Acupuncture is a technique that involves inserting fine needles into key points of the body. Acupuncture has been used to treat allergies because it is said to signal the brain to release endorphins that reduce pain and create a sense of well-being. Those afflicted with allergies and asthma may experience a more relaxed state and calmer breathing.
One of the most commonly used herbal remedies is Black Cohosh, a perennial plant that is a member of the buttercup family. It provides powerful phytoestrogens that mimic the hormone’s effects and bind to hormone receptors in the uterus and other parts of the body, alleviating hot flashes. Black Cohosh is also known to relieve hot flashes efficiently and is a good alternative to HRT. It is also used effectively for treating PMS, arthritis and lowering blood pressure. Red Clover, Dong Quai, Ginseng, Kava and evening primrose oil can be used as natural therapies, although there are some risks involved. Herbal supplements are not as closely regulated as prescription drugs and the amount of the herbal product, quality and safety may vary between brands.
There are many other herbal remedies, which have been used with great success over the years to help treat and prevent menopausal allergies. Chamomile is used to reduce duration of hay fever attacks; Nettle extract is used to reduce sinus inflammation; St.John’s Wort is used to relieve sinus headache; Eucalyptus is used to inhale in steam to ease congestion; Ephedra is used to help relieve congestion; Ginger is used to reduce inflammation. Two of the most common types of herbs that can be used for preventing and alleviating menopausal allergies are phytoestrogenic and non-estrogenic herbs. Some of the most common phytoestrogen herbs are Saint Johns Wort, Black Cohosh and Dong Quai – all which contain estrogenic components produced by plants and replace some of the missing estrogen hormones experienced as a result of menopause. Although these herbs are known to maintain the balance of key neurotransmitters in the brain, they can also make your body less responsive to producing its own hormones, causing a further decrease of one’s hormone levels. Non-estrogenic herbs are known to nourish one’s hormonal glands into producing its own natural hormones. By stimulating one’s own hormone production, non-estrogenic herbs, such as Macafem. Macafem is grown in the Andes of Peru and has achieved great success in naturally increasing one’s hormone levels.
Other Natural Remedies
Neti Pots. What could be simpler than rinsing away allergens with saltwater? Neti pots, small vessels shaped like Aladdin’s lamp, have been used in India for thousands of years to flush the sinuses and keep them clear. It is an idea that takes some getting used to for most Westerners, but it is a bit like using nasal spray. A little douse of saltwater can rinse away those prickly pollen grains and help treat allergies and other forms of sinus congestion.
Just last year, an Italian study published in the International Archives of Allergy and Immunology found that nasal flushing was a mild and effective way to treat seasonal allergies in children, and markedly reduced their use of antihistamines.
You could simply use your cupped hand instead of a neti pot to rinse sinuses, but netis are inexpensive, and many people find them much easier to use. To flush your sinuses, mix a quarter to a half teaspoon of non-iodized table salt into a cup of lukewarm water and pour it into the pot. (You can adjust the amount of salt, depending on what feels most comfortable.) Lean over a sink with your head slightly cocked to one side, then put the spout of the neti into one nostril and allow the water to drain out the other nostril. Use about half of the solution, then repeat on the other side, tilting your head the opposite way. Gently blow out each nostril to clear them completely. Neti pots are widely available online and at natural food stores. Use your pot about twice a day during allergy season, especially in the morning and after spending time outdoors. You also can use a neti pot before bed to prevent snoring caused by allergies and promote optimal overnight breathing.
Quercetin. A natural plant-derived compound called a bioflavonoid, quercetin helps stabilize mast cells and prevents them from releasing histamine. Quercetin also is a natural antioxidant that helps mop up molecules called free radicals that cause cell damage, which can lead to cancer. Citrus fruits, onions, apples, parsley, tea, tomatoes, broccoli, lettuce and wine are naturally high in quercetin, but allergy sufferers will most likely need to use supplements to build up enough of this compound to prevent attacks. The recommended dosage is about 1,000 milligrams a day, taken between meals. It is best to start treatment six weeks before allergy season. Those with liver disease shouldn’t use quercetin, so please consult your doctor before using this or any other supplement — especially if you are pregnant or nursing.
Stinging Nettle. If you decide you need an antihistamine but want a natural option, stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) behaves in much the same way as many of the drugs sold to treat allergies, but without the unwanted side effects of dry mouth and drowsiness. Nettle actually inhibits the body’s ability to produce histamine. It is a common weed in many parts of the United States, but the most practical medicinal form is a freeze-dried extract of the leaves sold in capsules. Studies have shown that taking about 300 milligrams daily will offer relief for most people, although the effects may last only a few hours. You also can make your own tinctures or teas with stinging nettle. Contact with the stinging hairs on fresh nettle can cause skin inflammation, so wear protective gloves when handling it.
Butterbur. Derived from a common weed in Europe, butterbur (Petasites hybridus) is another alternative to antihistamines, though it may be hard to find in the United States. In the days before refrigeration, its broad, floppy leaves were used to wrap butter during warm spells, hence the name butterbur. A Swiss study, published in British Journal of Medicine, found that butterbur was as effective as the drug cetirizine, the active ingredient in Zyrtec. Even though cetirizine is supposed to be a non-sedative antihistamine, researchers reported that it did cause drowsiness, though butterbur did not. Participants in the study took 32 milligrams of butterbur a day, divided into four doses. A word of caution though — butterbur is in the same family as ragweed, so it could worsen allergy symptoms in some cases. Effects of taking butterbur over a long period of time also are unknown.
Here is how decongestants work: Allergies make the lining of your nose swell. Decongestants shrink swollen blood vessels and tissues. That relieves the congestion. However, decongestants cannot help with sneezing or itching. Decongestants come in pills, liquids, nose drops, and nasal sprays. Many are available without a prescription. Common decongestants include:
* Afrin, Dristan, Vicks Sinex (oxymetazoline)
* Sudafed PE, Suphedrin PE (phenylephrine)
* Silfedrine, Sudafed, Suphedrin (pseudoephedrine)
Some over-the-counter decongestants -- those with pseudoephedrine -- are found behind the pharmacy counter. Many medicines combine an antihistamine and decongestant, like Allegra-D, Benadryl Allergy Plus Sinus, Claritin-D, and Zyrtec-D. Do not use nasal sprays longer than three days. Using them longer can actually make your nose more stopped up.
Relieves the symptoms of allergic rhinitis, including Antihistamines (Zyrtec, Allegra), Steroid nasal sprays (Nasonex and Nasocort) and eye drops containing Cromolyn (Nalcrom). Also, one can choose allergy injections which are known to desensitize your immune system to the allergens that cause problems.
Antihistamines have been used for years to treat allergy symptoms. They can be taken as pills, liquid, nasal spray, or eye drops. When you are exposed to an allergen -- for example ragweed pollen -- it triggers your immune system. People with allergies demonstrate an exaggerated immune response. Immune system cells known as "mast cells" release a substance called histamine, which attaches to receptors in blood vessels, causing them to enlarge. Histamine also binds to other receptors causing redness, swelling, itching, and changes in secretions. By blocking histamine and keeping it from binding to receptors, antihistamines prevent these symptoms.
Over-the-counter (OTC) antihistamine eye drops can relieve red itchy eyes, while nasal sprays can be used to treat the symptoms of seasonal or year-round allergies. Examples of antihistamines include:
* Over-the-counter:Allegra, Benadryl, Claritin, Chlor-Trimeton, Dimetane, Zyrtec, and Tavist. Ocu-Hist is an OTC eye drop.
* Prescription: Clarinex and Xyzal are oral medications. Astelin is a prescription nasal antihistamine spray. Prescription antihistamine eye drops include Patanol and Elestat and Optivar.
Examples of prescription steroid nasal sprays include Beconase, Dymista, Flonase, Nasacort, Nasarel, Nasonex, Rhinocort, Vancenase, Qnasl, Zetonna, and Veramyst. Two sprays, Nasacort Allergy 24HR and Flonase Allergy Relief, are available over the counter. These drugs decrease inflammation within the nasal passages, thereby relieving nasal symptoms.
Specific immunotherapy, otherwise known as allergy shots, has been used widely to inject patients with diluted doses of certain allergens to help build immunity over time. However, allergy shots can take three to five years to be effective, and a small percentage of people suffer severe reactions to this treatment.
While in the United States, it's usually done by injection, in southern Europe, 80% of immunotherapy patients get a needle-free treatment called SLIT, in which you place tablets or drops of allergen extract under your tongue
Hormone Therapy Treatments (HRT)
For more severe cases of menopause, women may seek surgical or pharmaceutical treatments, although it is important to keep in mind that there are many studies showing hormone replacement therapy (HRT) increases a woman’s risk of elevated blood pressure, endometrial and breast cancers, strokes, blood clots and gallbladder disease. It is advised to speak with your doctor or healthcare professional regarding the negative side effects before you begin treatment.
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