Relieving Your Allergies
When people say they are allergic, they mean that they experience some sort of aversive reaction to something that they have contacted in their environment. This may be a food substance, an inhaled particle, a topically contacted chemical. But what is an allergy, really? Is it some sort of inborn error whereby your system can't handle pollen and mine can't handle makeup and someone else's can't handle peanuts? It is far more complex than that. First of all, it is often difficult to determine what, exactly, the allergen is. It turns out that many strawberries carry a mold that causes some folks to react--but this is, you see, different than being allergic to strawberries. Also, true allergy must be discerned from the sort of reaction some folks get to milk. Often they do not know if they are actually allergic to the proteins in milk, or just short of the enzyme, lactase, that helps to digest lactose, the sugar in milk, thus causing symptoms. Allergies are complicated and confusing, and can be debilitating to those who suffer from them. You seek medical help and are thwarted by the difficulty of making a correct diagnosis, and the expense of the treatments, and the many restrictions upon your lifestyle which typical allergy regimes demand of you. You wonder if there is a better way.
Allergies and Your Immune System
Upon a closer look, we can discover something about the process that we label "allergy". It is a flaw in the working of your immune system. Your immune system exists to seek out and destroy foreign substances that might be harmful. It has to be a finely tuned system to distinguish food, that is, after all, not an integral part of your body, from other foreign substances that might harm you. It is supposed to react adversely to spoiled food, though, or to bacteria. It is supposed to evict irritants from your lungs using a variety of uncomfortable processes such as sneezing, coughing, and mucous production, and kill those pesky mutant cells that will grow into tumors if not sought out and destroyed. It is in charge of scavenging damaged cells that were once useful parts of you or cells that have been infected by viruses as well as replacing or repairing damaged protein molecules. So the task of the immune system is multi-leveled and complex. And, from what you see around you, easy to lead astray. Nearly everyone complains of some allergy or another!
So now the question is, what to do about those annoying allergies. Sometimes it is simplest just to avoid the allergen. In other cases you may take antihistamines and steroids to reduce the reaction. There are also desensitization procedures to reduce reactivity. In extreme cases, you may be offered a therapy that temporarily destroys your immune system in an attempt to get it to stop its mistaken attack on you and the foodstuffs you need to live! None of these things is a cure--just a way to help you avoid discomfort and potentially dangerous adverse reactions.
Retraining the Immune System
A peek at current research on the immune system and how it relates to other systems in your mind/body complex can help us arrive at a potential solution. Just as the kneebone is connected to the legbone, etc., so is the immune system connected to the endocrine system and the nervous system and the limbic system. So, to begin, you can reduce stress in your life and take some of the pressure off of these various systems! Avoid unnecessary aggravation and even excessive physical stress. Relax more. But to approach actually curing allergies, we need to be willing to learn exactly what an allergy is: it is your immune system wasting precious resources attacking stuff that cannot hurt you!
So, how do you get your overactive immune system under control? There is some research that demonstrates the efficacy of imagery and hypnosis to do this.1 While this work is relatively new, some people have seen amazing results from the use of imagery and hypnosis. The concept is simple. The idea we are after is to enhance the ability of the immune system to attack harmful stuff and depress the inclination to attack neutral or even necessary stuff. We do know from research that various stressors can alter immune function.2 Interestingly, some things enhance it, while others depress it. Research has also clearly demonstrated that aspects of the immune system can be changed by imagery.3 Another thing that research and experience have demonstrated is that the autonomic nervous system is reactive to imagery. Imagine a big, gooey sundae in all its high-caloric glory. Do you see it? Do you feel hungry? Does your mouth water? So it is possible that you can use imagery and hypnosis to get your immune system back on track and to reduce your reactivity not only to allergens but also to other stressors so that it stays on track.
Dr. Carol Low, the clinical psychologist at the Center for Conscious Living is trained in clinical hypnosis and the use of therapeutic imagery. She can work with you to use self-hypnosis with images tailored to you to quiet your immune system. Additionally, she may recommend a soothing massage to help get those overactive systems quieted. Dr. Low has also produced an audio tape to help you gain control over your immune response. Please feel free to contact the Center for Conscious Living to learn how we can help you to control or even eliminate your allergies
1) Shafer, D. (1997). Hypnosis and the treatment of ulcerative colitis and Crohn's Disease. American J. of Clinical Hypnosis, 40, 111-117.
2) Rice, J, Speicher, C, Stout, J, Kiecolt-Glaser, J. (1986). Stress depresses interferon production by leucocytes concomitant with a decrease in natural killer cell activity. Behavioral Neuroscience, 100, 675-678.
3) Olness, K, Culbert, T, Uden, D. (1989). Self-regulation of salivary immunoglobulin A by children. Pediatrics, 83, 66-71.