Beyond The ‘Achoo’ Effect

Words: Dr Narayan C DESHPANDE

Q: I’ve been always perplexed and fascinated with the universal expression called allergy. I tend to have allergic rhinitis [nasal allergy], or quite something like it, at least twice a year. My friends are no exceptions. Yet, I find the illness complex and confusing. Could you separate the chaff from the grain?

GJ, Pune

A: There is an interesting story. A nineteenth-century US physician, Dr John Noland MacKenzie, MD, wrote how one of his patients, a 32-year old woman, experienced allergy symptoms when exposed to the odour of roses. Her symptoms included violent cold, with watery eyes and runny nose, severe asthma attacks and high fever. The doctor, who suspected there was more than pollen at work, decided to expose his patient to a rose during one visit.  Not surprisingly, his patient began having a severe asthma attack within five minutes of exposure to the rose. What is truly fascinating is that the rose he used was just a beautiful paper copy of the real rose.  He spoke about his ‘trick’ to his patient. Interestingly, when she returned to his clinic, a few days later, she buried her nostrils in a large fragrant specimen of a genuine rose and inhaled its pollen, without any of the ill-effects that had tormented her for over 15 years.

This is allergy for you — a system-related problem.

A new study shows that infants with low levels of cortisol, the stress chemical, have a low prevalence of allergies compared to children with higher levels of this hormone. Also — protecting, or keeping, children ‘away’ from certain foods during childhood, as studies indicate, puts them at a higher risk of allergies. What is also alarming is the rising prevalence of food allergy, or food sensitivity.

  • Allergies are probably the oldest of conditions affecting our immune system
  • The most common forms of allergy are environmental and food allergies — the systems commonly affected are respiratory, gastrointestinal and skin
  • Allergies can range from mild-to-severe; they can even be life-threatening.

What are the common symptoms of nasal allergy?

Sneezing, runny nose, congested nose, itchy eyes, scratchy feeling in nose and throat are commonly seen during an allergy attack. At times, there may also be difficulty in breathing, or wheezing episodes.

How do we differentiate between a common cold and an allergic attack?

Common cold and nasal allergy have a lot in common. It is sometimes difficult to differentiate between the two. However, a few pointers could make the picture clear. Common cold usually has a gradual onset, whereas allergies often have a sudden onset, a history, or exposure to allergens [allergy-causing substances]. There may be fever and body ache with common cold. This may not be the case with allergies. Discharge from the nose is usually ‘yellow’ in a cold; there is usually ‘clear’ mucous in allergies.

Allergies & Depression

Although a good deal of research has been done to understand the ‘root causes’ of depression, there are still some unknown triggers.

One possible cause of depression has been linked to allergies. Some clinicians believe the link between allergies and depression is more significant than previously thought.

The accepted theory about depression is that it’s caused by flagging levels of feel-good chemicals serotonin and norepinephrine in the brain. According to the most commonly accepted hypothesis, depression arises when low serotonin levels promote low levels of norepinephrine.

Norepinephrine may be related to alertness and energy as well as anxious feelings, attention, and interest, or lack of interest in life. Serotonin is linked to anxiousness, obsessions, and compulsions. Dopamine is tied to attention, motivation, pleasurable feelings, and reward, as well as interest in life.

Some scientists believe histamine, a chemical released during an allergic episode, may impact certain brain and nervous-system receptors.

It is proposed that histamines may cause the body to reabsorb its natural feel-good chemicals before they can do their normal functions. Yes, you guessed it right — following an allergic episode there may be a period of feeling blue, or depressed.

When the allergies are cleared up with professional medical treatment, depression too is often relieved.

Dr NARAYAN C DESHPANDE, BSc, MD [Hom], is Author & Ambassador, ThinkWellness360. He’s formerly Officiating Professor & HOD, A H Medical College, Bengaluru, Professor Emeritus, and former in-charge Principal, Government Homeopathic Medical College & Hospital, Bengaluru, former PG Guide, Rajiv Gandhi University of Health Sciences, Karnataka, former PG Examiner, Mangalore University, MGR University of Health Sciences, Chennai, Health University, Salem, and former Health Expert, Karnataka Public Service Commission, Bengaluru. A recipient of the prestigious Nadaprabhu Kempegowda Award for his 35+ years of commendable service to homeopathic education and alternative healthcare, Dr Deshpande lives in Bengaluru, India.

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