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Why Are My Allergies Getting Worse?

Those of us living in the Pacific NW know the absolute dread that can accompany the winter months here. When the sun finally begins to show itself and the days get longer, most of us cannot resist the call of the great outdoors.

For some of us, the start and end of summer are glorious and we stroll about like the world is our oyster. It is not until you make eye contact with a fellow nature lover and see their blood shot eyes, tissue-stuffed pockets, and look of determined masochism that you realize, allergy season is upon us.

I’m one of the lucky ones who has never experienced allergies in the way that most do. A sniffle here and there, some congestion in the morning, but that’s it for me. My brothers, on the other hand, feel sick all allergy season long and have noticed this past year has been worse than ever.

So why is this, what makes allergy symptoms worse one season and not the next? (Aside from it being the year after 2020, more on this later.) Our immune system is in a delicate balance, fluctuating between different responses based on the types of exposure it and you come across.

It's helpful to imagine immune responses on a see saw. Allergies, or the T-helper cell-2 (Th-2) response, always sit across from the T-helper cell-1(Th-1) response. In a perfect world this see saw would be balanced at all times. This is obviously not the case.

When your body comes in contact with bacteria or virus, it stimulates the Th-1 response which releases specific chemicals called cytokines to attack and protect the body.

Similarly, when your body comes across worms or parasites, it will release cytokines specific for fighting those creatures. However, most of us live in a “clean society”, meaning, we aren’t exposed to many worms or parasites these days. This has caused our Th-2 response to become highly sensitive to other things, some of which are not a threat i.e. pollen.

Furthermore, when we are quarantined and not being exposed to bacteria or viruses from other people, our immune response becomes even more elevated in the Th-2 direction. When this happens our allergy response can worsen and our symptoms might last longer, may develop sooner, and may be worse than ever.

Luckily, those of you who are observant noticed an additional response in the middle of that teeter totter pictured above, the T-regulatory cell response. This response can be seen as the most modifiable factor in this equation and can help alleviate symptoms and bring the immune system back into balance.

The T-reg response is largely tied to gut health, so supporting the gut along with other treatments to dampen the Th-2 response can be very beneficial for allergy sufferers.

In general, prior to the months of allergy season, supporting your immune system with foods or supplements that inhibit histamine release (a cytokine in the Th-2 response), stabilize mast cells (a Th-2 specific immune cell), and bock inflammatory pathways can lead to dryer eyes, less congestion, and more time outside.

Contact me for a personalized treatment plan.

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