There’s no doubt that the prevalence of both allergies and autoimmune diseases has been increasing in developed countries since the 1950s. Allergies are a heightened or altered reactivity of the body’s immune system to external substances (“allergens”) while autoimmune diseases arise from an abnormal immune response against substances and tissues normally present in the body.
At the same time, the incidence of many infectious diseases has been declining in these countries, thanks to vaccines, antibiotics, improved hygiene and rising socioeconomic conditions. Some researchers believe this health trade-off is no coincidence and suggest that the decrease in acquiring natural infections has caused the increase in allergies and autoimmune disorders.
The theory is that people have much better health these days and the body’s immune system doesn’t have a lot to cope with, so goes into “overdrive” in response to normally harmless substances. In the past the numerous infections that a child’s immune system had to fight off simultaneously built up resistance to allergens.
Other possible contributing factors for allergies include pollution in the atmosphere and the use of chemicals in food, medicine and household products.
The most common allergens are pollens, animal dander, house dust, house mites, moulds, some drugs and some food stuffs, (such as fish, eggs, milk, nuts, etc.). Insect stings may cause allergic reactions, with fatal results in rare cases. Additionally, feathers, wood, dyes, cosmetics, and perfumes may act as an allergen. Common conditions that can be caused by allergens include eczema, allergic asthma, hives, hay-fever and many other conditions.
An allergic person’s immune system considers allergens to be a danger and so produce a special type of antibody (IgE) to attack the invading material. This leads to the body releasing further chemicals (including histamine) which together cause the symptoms of an allergic reaction.
Perhaps the greatest misunderstanding about allergies is the assumption that the allergen is the problem. Actually, the allergen is simply the trigger, while the allergic person’s immune system and response is the loaded gun.
Many people are genetically predisposed to allergies – this is known as atopy and you often see allergies such as eczema, asthma and hay fever running in families. Rather than just treating symptoms or avoiding the allergen, the best course is to take action to strengthen the body’s own immune and defense system.
Conventional medical treatment for allergies usually consists of antihistamines, steroids, and desensitization shots. In obstinate cases, laser surgery may be used. At best they provide temporary relief of symptoms, and at worst, they create side effects which can be worse than the allergies themselves.
Homeopathic medicine aims to stimulate the body’s own defense system to cope with exposure to allergens, rather than suppressing the allergic symptoms. Homeopaths instead prescribe a “constitutional medicine”; a homeopathic remedy that is individually chosen based on the totality of symptoms that the person is experiencing, not just the allergy symptoms.
Constitutional treatment may involve looking at aspects of the person’s lifestyle, eating habits, medical history and state of mind to achieve a complete picture of the individual. The objective of constitutional treatment is to strengthen the immune system so that the body does not overreact to the allergen.