Laurie Menk Otto, ND, MPH

Naturopathic Medicine | Portland, Oregon


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Alternatives to antihistamines safer, equally effective

SLIT Allergy TreatmentWith spring allergies in full swing and summer allergies on the way, many turn to over-the-counter (OTC) medications for relief. Antihistamine use, however, often comes with undesired side effects such as drowsiness, loss of libido, increased appetite, and depression. Additionally, recent studies suggest that common allergy drugs with antihistamines may have more severe impacts on health, creating additional risks for allergy sufferers. I can help with options for allergy relief when OTC medications raise concerns.

Caution with antihistamines

Researchers at the University of Oregon discovered that muscle recovery and muscle gain after exercise may be blunted by over the counter drugs commonly used for allergy and acid reflux. After rigorous exercise, thousands of genes activate to help the body recover. But with elevated antihistamine levels, nearly 30 percent of genes don’t respond as effectively.
It turns out that histamine, the bodily substance most often associated with allergy symptoms, is also important for helping blood vessels relax, increasing blood flow, and ensuring the body recovers. Antihistamines, therefore, could create problems for those who exercise often or competitively.

Antihistamines have also been identified as problematic for people with restless legs syndrome, a condition that affects nearly 12 million people in the US. OTC medications such as Benadryl, taken to relieve allergies, or sleeping pills with antihistamines, can make the symptoms worse. This creates added difficulties during allergy season and the need for alternatives for sleep aid and allergy relief.

Another recent study from the University of Washington’s School of Pharmacy links diphenhydramine use (common for allergy relief) to increased rates of dementia. Tracking 3,500 men and women over the age of 65 for an average of seven years, the study found that the use of anticholinergic drugs, including some antihistamines and antidepressants, resulted in an increase risk for dementia. Findings indicated that, “Taking an anticholinergic for the equivalent of three years or more was associated with a 54% higher dementia risk than taking the same dose for three months or less.” This finding adds to a growing body of research that says these drugs are not intended for long-term use.

Alternatives to antihistamines

Patients seeking alternatives to antihistamines for allergy relief have options at Heart Spring Health. I offer comprehensive allergy evaluation and testing followed by allergy treatment with a customized prescription of allergy drops tailored to address your specific allergic reactions. Also known as sublingual immunotherapy (SLIT), allergy drops are noninvasive, cost-effective, and convenient. No shots or antihistamines are necessary, and SLIT therapy is effective for people of all ages.

Over time, use of SLIT results in a decreased sensitivity to your allergens, decreased symptom severity, and decreased medication use when exposed to the allergens in the environment to which you are sensitive. SLIT works in a similar way to allergy shots, uses the same FDA-approved antigens, and is recognized internationally as safe and effective. By taking drops under the tongue, they are also easier to administer and result in fewer office visits.

If you are new to allergy drops, here’s how your treatment would begin:

  1. Initiate a comprehensive allergy evaluation to assess symptoms and exposures
  2. Complete allergy testing with skin prick or blood tests
  3. Begin using your customized prescription of liquid allergy drops, taken under the tongue
  4. Plan for long-term use for maximum relief (2-5 years)

Call 503-956-9396 to schedule with me for allergy evaluation and treatment today.

More reading

Sublingual Immunotherapy Allergy Treatment
Immunotherapy FAQs
When is the best time to start immunotherapy?


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Beyond Allegra and Flonase: Naturopathic Tips for Portland’s Allergy Season

Allergy treatment from Dr. Laurie Menk OttoYou know that feeling…the little itch in your nose or eyes. That’s when you know allergy season is on its way. Last year in Portland we had what felt like a very long allergy season. Did you know that you don’t have to suffer from allergies forever?

Immunotherapy is the only treatment for allergy that changes the way immune system reacts to allergens, ultimately leading to fewer or no symptoms after treatment. In other words, immunotherapy re-trains your body to stop reacting. I use sublingual immunotherapy or “allergy drops” to treat allergy. This treatment is very convenient—it’s as easy as taking drops under your tongue each day, and it does not require frequent office visits or shots. Relief can be felt as early as several weeks into treatment.

Your allergy drops are mixed specifically for your allergy. This is important, because drops allow you to receive treatment for all of your environmental allergens. Treating for just one or two allergens would not bring about strong symptom relief. If you are allergic to trees, dust, and dogs, you can be treated for all of them at the same time.

Is this different from taking an antihistamine?

Yes. Antihistamines and nasal sprays are often recommended to control allergy symptoms, but many people don’t like the side effects or don’t want to rely on medications forever. That’s where I can help develop treatment that is very specific to your symptoms.

What else can be done?

Identifying what you are allergic to, controlling your environment to reduce exposure, and starting immunotherapy are your best bets to feel lasting relief and stop symptoms for good.

First, allergy testing is used to identify exactly what you are reacting to. It’s an easy test that takes one hour, and you have results by the time you walk out the door. You will leave the appointment that day with a list of actions that you can take to remove allergens from your environment, which alone will help to reduce symptoms. But it doesn’t stop there. Diet or other changes can help to reduce symptoms further, and if you are looking for alternatives for symptom control, I can help you with other options.

When should I start?

Ideally, start the process of identifying your allergies with skin prick or blood tests about three months before your allergy season. Allergy evaluation and immunotherapy, however, can be started at any time.

Make this your year to start treatment to end your allergies. Stay tuned for future installments on my blog to learn about naturopathic allergy treatment options, or give me a call to schedule a consultation.

 


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When is the best time to treat allergies using immunotherapy?

Birch tree catkin is a common allergen.

Birch tree catkin is a common allergen.

People often ask me this question when discussing treatment for allergies. Any proactive steps towards treating allergy and reducing associated inflammation is a good time. Treatment can be started at any time, however, there are certain times that are ideal for starting immunotherapy, especially for seasonal allergies to tree, grass, or weed pollens. The rationale is that you will experience fewer allergy type symptoms if you start when the allergens are not in large doses in the air.

To avoid making allergy symptoms worse, immunotherapy should be started at least 3 months before your peak allergen season hits. If you have completed allergy testing and identified what you are allergic to, you will know the general season in which your symptoms flare. Then, you can plan to start immunotherapy 3-6 months earlier. Trees, grasses, and weeds pollinate the spring, summer, and fall, respectively, with windows of overlap, leaving many feeling miserable for a few months, especially in the case of multiple allergies. To get a head start without increasing your symptoms, starting immunotherapy during the early winter months is a good bet.

If your allergies are to dust, mold, or pets, which are present year-round, treatment can be started at any time. Medications and supplements used to alleviate allergy symptoms can still be taken while taking allergy drops.

Dr. Laurie Menk Otto does skin prick allergy testing, and sublingual immunotherapy, or “allergy drops” at her practice at Heart Spring Health. With winter approaching, it is a good time to make an appointment for an allergy evaluation and to discuss your symptom picture. Wouldn’t it be nice to get through your next allergy season with less sneezing, runny nose, and itchy eyes?