My Quest for a Natural Allergy Solution, Part 1

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This is a three-part series.  I’ll post Part 2 on Wednesday and Part 3 on Friday.  If you or loved ones are suffering from allergies, make sure you don’t miss out on any pieces of the puzzle!

November 9, 2009

This is the third time I’ve been to the ear, nose, and throat doctor this year.  All for the same ailment…sinus problems, which I’ve been getting every couple of months for about 2 ½ years.  In case you’ve never experienced one–lucky you–these are the lovely symptoms:  inflamed nasal cavities, intense sinus pressure and soreness, migraines, incessant sneezing, and mucus flow akin to Niagara Falls.  Not cute…or fun.  I try to visit the doctor ASAP because my life-long history of ear problems make them susceptible to infection.  I’ve been searching for an answer to my sinus woes.  I’ve found holistic methods to keep infections at bay (or short-lived when I get them) by using a neti pot, therapeutic oil 1, oil 2, homeopathic nasal spray, Vitamin C, and olive leaf supplements.  Nonetheless, I am experiencing way too many to be acceptable.  On this visit, I’m happy to hear that my ears are unaffected.  She is actually surprised and says whatever I had done, worked (yay holistic remedies!).  But there was still that nagging question of how to eliminate my sinus infections altogether.  I ask the doctor if allergies could be instigating my sinus flare-ups.  She replies absolutely and that I should have a skin allergy test.  I feel hopeful that perhaps the mystery will be solved.

The technician comes in and swabs both undersides of my forearms with alcohol, then marks on my right arm “A” (top) and “B” (bottom), and labels my left forearm “C” (top) and “D” (bottom).  She then brings out a six-pronged apparatus tinged with brown liquid and sticks in into my skin in the “A” section.  It feels like one of those round, prickly brushes being pressed into my skin.  The same method is used for the other sections, using three more apparatuses, each one containing different allergens.  I don’t ask which one is which, just in case my mind has the power to mess with the results (you never know!).  She warns me that if I have a reaction, I will get welts on my skin and intense itching, but I’m not allowed to scratch.  The technician sets the timer for 15 minutes and leaves me to await my fate.

Photo #1

Within five minutes, welts appear (photo #1) in the section marked “A”…

Photo #2

and only get slightly bigger (photo #2) over the next 10 minutes.

Photo #3

Nothing happens in the other sections (photo #3).

I have a sneaking suspicion of what allergen “A” is because I had recently been seeing the same kind of welts appear on my eyelids on more than a few occasions.  So what am I allergic to?  I was tested for pollen, dust mites, and mold, but I react to the…

Hutch (R) laying on Starsky (L) who is not amused

cat hair, crap, I was right!  We have two big, beautiful 3 ½ year old cats named Starsky and Hutch, and my husband and I consider them to be our children.  I had never experienced sinus infections before adopting them.  They are “domestic shorthairs,” which only means their hair is short in length, not in quantity.

Hutch giving us some Bette Davis eyes

Don't be fooled...Starsky is a BIG boy!

Starsky’s coat is so thick, a brushing session requires me to clean his brush twice and still be able to pick up more hair!  It doesn’t help that I like to bury my face in their soft coats…hence the eyelid welts.  But I didn’t have these reactions to them all the time, so I wasn’t sure if my symptoms were due to the critters.  Anyway, getting rid of them is not an option, but neither is having to suffer for the next 12 or so years of their lives.  “What am I supposed to do?” I ask the doctor.  She says I can take the OTC drugs X or Y to control my allergies.  I really don’t like the idea of depending on drugs, especially for such a long time, so I ask her if she knows of any possible natural remedies.  She immediately recommends I try quercetin, which is a flavonoid found in certain fruits and vegetables.  Encouraged by her suggestion, I set out in search of the supplement.  There are many options, some with various added supplements.  Not sure which kind is best, I choose a liquid form with nothing added.  Since I’ve started taking quercetin, I am happy to report that I have had no allergic episodes (I continue to use the neti pot a couple of times a week–I’ve read that chronic sinus sufferers may have cilia in the nasal and sinus cavities that don’t perform well).  Let me repeat that last statement:  I have had no allergic episodes…none!  Recently, I had had some sort of episode every other day! This is HUGE!  Maybe I can live a normal, happy life in my home with my big, furry bundles of cuteness!

There are two lessons I have learned from this whole experience:

  1. Ask your doctor specific questions.  First do your own “scientific research”/detective work on what’s ailing you, and bring your findings or possible theories to your doctor.  Perhaps there is something you never thought to tell them before or the doctor never thought to ask.
  2. Ask for what you want.  If you want a more natural solution to your ailments, ask your doctor if he or she could recommend a holistic option.  My doctor happens to have an interest in homeopathy and is the one who suggested I use a neti pot in the first place, but she wouldn’t have told me about quercetin if I hadn’t asked.  If more patients request natural remedies, perhaps more doctors will seek holistic options to satisfy our demands.  No one is going to look out for you better than you!

Update ~ Since you might recall this is an allergy series, you may have already guessed that this is not the end of my story.  While the quercetin did work for a couple of weeks, I noticed that its power started to diminish and began experiencing allergic symptoms once again.  I take quercetin supplements–along with Bromelain and extra Vitamin C–when I feel I need some extra support for my sinuses, but it’s not the final solution for my allergy problems.  In Part 2, I will share what happened next.

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