In developed countries, allergies are the most common cause of chronic illness—and they’re on the rise. As many as 40 percent of the world’s people suffer from at least one allergic condition, and in some countries allergies have increased by as much as 50 percent over the past decade.
Researchers have warned that environmental changes such as air pollution and rising temperatures will continue to propel allergy levels to “epidemic proportions with reduced quality of life for patients, lower productivity, and increasing medical costs.” And the medical costs are nothing to sneeze at. Between medications, doctor visits and sick days from work, allergies cost Americans more than $3 billion each year. Worldwide, people spend $8 billion a year on allergy drugs alone.
For allergy sufferers who don’t want to rely on medications for relief, however, chiropractic care offers a drug-free approach to treating allergy symptoms. Below is a look at why and how chiropractic can help with allergies.
How Allergies Work
What we call allergies are actually “a constellation of clinical diseases” that whip the immune system into an exaggerated frenzy over normally harmless substances, says medical researcher Dave D. Ninabahen. Allergies occur when the immune system encounters an irritant and mistakes it as harmful, attacking it with far more ferocity than needed. The five most common allergies include:
- Dust mites
When the irritant is inhaled, eaten or touched, the body produces specific antibodies called immunoglobulin, which trigger the release of histamines. Once released, histamines begin ravaging the body. Blood pressure drops, nearby blood vessels dilate, and the spaces between surrounding cells fill with fluid.
This inflammatory response launches a cascade of miserable symptoms, from itching and sneezing to nausea and vomiting. When the reaction occurs across the entire body, it can even be life threatening.
Allergies, Stress and the Immune System
Doctors still don’t fully understand exactly how the mechanism behind allergies works. But they have determined that stress plays a role.
“Excessive psychological stress and allergic disorder have been linked together in clinical practice for centuries,” Ninabahen said. “Many allergic conditions have long been considered psychosomatic disorders which had worsened outcomes in patients with high levels of psychosocial stress.”
The nervous system and immune system are closely linked; the study of how they intersect is known as psychoneuroimmunology, which explores the relationship between perceived stress and the body’s corresponding immune changes. Researchers have found that stress and allergies provoke similar inflammatory responses—and that stress exacerbates the immune system’s already hyperbolic response to allergens.
Chronic stress also wears out the adrenal glands, which produce the anti-inflammatory hormone cortisol. Without enough cortisol to subdue the allergic response, symptoms can become even more severe.
How Chiropractic Care Can Help
The close relationship between the nervous system and immune system is good news for chiropractic patients. By improving the communication between the brain and spinal cord, chiropractic care can help regulate and coordinate the body’s reaction to allergens.
A doctor of chiropractic can:
Strengthen the immune system. Misalignments in the spine—particularly the neck—can disrupt the brain’s lines of communication with the rest of the body. Irritation in the upper cervical joint, for example, may compromise immunity and amplify allergic symptoms. By manipulating the joints and soft tissue, a chiropractor can restore the body’s alignment and re-open essential pathways between the brain and spine.
Regulate stress hormones. Many allergy sufferers also have weakened adrenal glands, which means their bodies have a harder time moderating allergic reactions. Since the adrenal glands are fed directly by spinal nerves, a properly aligned spine can help regulate the amount of cortisol the body produces. This can help mitigate the severity of allergy symptoms.
Support the respiratory system. Like the immune system, the respiratory system depends on an unimpeded flow of information to and from the brain. Chiropractic care keeps the pathways open, fortifying the respiratory system to better withstand allergic attacks.
Recommend dietary and lifestyle changes. Certain foods and other factors in the environment can either ease or exacerbate allergy symptoms. A doctor of chiropractic can recommend changes that boost the patient’s health and comfort.
By improving communication between the immune, nervous and respiratory systems, chiropractic care can help patients weather allergy season—without relying on medications.