Fighting allergies the natural way

Posted Sunday, Mar. 31, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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Every spring, allergies made Amy Baker miserable.

Her throat drained, her eyes burned, sinuses clogged and breathing became labored.

Baker, a commercial real estate broker, tried everything: injections, over-the-counter drugs, inhalers, nasal sprays, steroids. Still, she suffered from six or seven sinus infections a season, each requiring antibiotics.

On a friend's recommendation, Baker visited an acupuncturist who prescribed a regimen of Chinese herbs. Initially skeptical, Baker was stunned when the herbs quickly cleared her head.

"I realized I was putting so much stuff into my body, and I was still getting sick," said Baker, of Fort Worth. "The herbs work, and I feel great."

An estimated 50 million Americans suffer from allergies, and for many, the nearest drugstore promises fast relief. But some, like Baker, are seeking alternative and natural remedies to the sneezing, wheezing, sore throat and itchy eyes.

In Arlington, a recent class taught people to use essential oils to combat allergies, among other ailments. At the Center for the Healing Arts in Fort Worth, an acupuncture and massage clinic, record numbers are seeking alternative relief for allergies. A Web search provides dozens of sworn-by remedies and tips: raw, local honey; apple cider vinegar; the herb butterbur; grapeseed extract; stinging nettles; and Quercetin.

But allergists warn that many of these treatments have little or no scientific grounding.

"Is eating a tablespoon of honey a day going to help alleviate allergy symptoms?" said Dr. Rene Leon, a physician with the Texas Regional Asthma and Allergy Center in Southlake. "No, I don't think so. But it certainly won't hurt you."

Debbie Tomerlin of Granbury had never considered alternative medicine. But when seasonal allergies left her battling a sinus infection for four straight months and antibiotics did not work, she was desperate for relief. A doctor suggested acupuncture, which involves inserting extremely thin needles into the skin at strategic points.

Tomerlin visited the Center for the Healing Arts, where she underwent acupuncture and cupping, in which a suction is created on the skin to mobilize blood flow and promote healing.

Almost immediately, she felt better. Tomerlin now receives weekly treatments.

"Acupuncture is a hidden gem," said Tomerlin, a real estate manager. "It has been a blessing. I was just as surprised as anybody, but it really works."

Studies on acupuncture and allergies have shown mixed results. But in a recent study published in the journal Allergy, patients who received acupuncture three times a week for four weeks showed significantly greater relief than patients who received a sham procedure or nothing.

Kim Perrone, a pharmacist who owns the Center for the Healing Arts, said that in recent years more people have sought alternatives to pharmaceuticals for chronic conditions such as allergies and aches and pains.

Each month, about 200 patients seek relief for hay fever at the clinic.

Patients tend to fall into one of two categories, Perrone said. Some are holistically minded and try to avoid over-the-counter drugs. Others do not like the side effects of certain allergy drugs.

Baker, whose 5-year-old daughter also suffers from allergies, recently began giving her Chinese herbs instead of over-the-counter drugs, which gave her a dopey or foggy feeling.

"The herbs have no side effects," said Baker, who receives treatment at Southside Acupuncture in Fort Worth. "They just make you feel good and healthy."

Krista Grant of Arlington was introduced to natural remedies when she was pregnant with her first child and a doctor suggested peppermint oil to relieve headaches. When that worked, Grant began exploring other uses for essential oils.

She discovered that a combination of lavender, peppermint and lemon essential oils provided fast relief for her lifelong allergies. Every morning, she squeezes two drops of each oil and a little honey into a small cup of water and swishes the mixture in her mouth for 30 seconds.

For sudden attacks, she dabs lavender oil on the inside of her mouth.

Grant, who now teaches classes on essential oils, said natural medicine is gaining momentum.

"People are starting to recognize all the stuff we're putting in our bodies is not healthy," she said. "More and more people are going the natural route."

Sarah Bahari, 817-390-7056

Twitter: @sarahbfw

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