For almost 200 years homeopathy’s effectiveness has been challenged by conventional medicine. Some say homeopathic remedies are no more than sugar pills. But last year in a study headed by David Reilly, FRCP at the University of Glasgow and Glasgow Royal Infirmary in Scotland, he found “that homeopathy differs from placebo in an inexplicable but reproducible way.” Twenty-eight patients with allergic asthma were divided into two groups: one bunch received a homeopathic remedy, the other group took a placebo or fake medicine. While a little more than one-third of the placebo group got better after one week, over 80 percent of those on homeopathic remedies improved and stayed well for eight weeks (The Lancet, 1994, vol 10). In other words, homeopathy works for conditions like airborne allergies and we can prove it!
Approximately 50 million Americans suffer from allergies or asthma, so you’re probably acquainted with the sneezing, stuffy dripping nose, itchy and red eyes of airborne allergies. These allergies begin at any age and tend to run in families. The most familiar airborne allergy, called allergic rhinitis by doctors, is hay fever. This seasonal affliction arises whenever wind-borne pollen appears. If you’re allergic to oak or elm pollen, then spring is your time of misery. Summer-time and autumn bring out grass and weed pollens. Because different plants grow around the United States, moving can solve (or aggravate) hay fever.
If your stuffed-up nose never seems to clear up and hearing has diminished due to nasal obstruction, then you likely suffer from perennial allergic rhinitis–year-round airborne allergies. In this case the molds that reside in your damp basement, house dust, dust mites or even your pet cat and dog are making you sneeze. While not classified as allergic rhinitis, allergic asthma can be aroused by similar allergens. Asthma attacks–wheezing, coughing, shortness of breath and chest tightness–characterize this more serious condition.
Your immune system provides wonderful protection against all the bacteria and other foreign invaders that can harm you. But in the case of an allergy, it goes overboard and begins attacking harmless substances like pollen and dust. The B cells, a part of your immune system that dwell in your lymph nodes, spleen and respiratory tract lining, make antibodies–five in all. One type, immunoglobulin E (IgE), normally parasite fighters, are responsible for allergic reactions.
No one with allergies reacts to a first encounter with pollen or cat dander. It takes many exposures for a person to make enough of the IgE antibodies to cause an allergic reaction. Once made, your body positions these antibodies on mast cells, immune cells that coat your nose. When you inhale mold or pollen, the allergen acts like a key that fits into a lock, the IgE antibody. This union then releases strong biochemical substances called mediators that trigger symptoms like itching and swollen eyes. Your doctor can identify allergies with a prick test, where extracts of suspected allergens are injected into your skin. If a reaction occurs, then you know you’re allergic. Physical examination and a medical history confirm this diagnosis.
What is Homeopathy
While conventional medicine uses antihistamines, decongestants and allergy shots to treat allergies, more people are turning to homeopathic medicine. Instead of smoothing out physical complaints with drugs, this system uses minute amounts of plants, minerals or animal substances to cure a variety of ailments by promoting inner healing–what homeopaths call the vital force. Remedies are diluted so no side effects occur but healing does. In fact, the more dilute the remedy, the more potent it is. It’s believed that the vigorous shaking, or succussions, used to prepare these medicines help potentize them.
Because homeopathy is so different from conventional medicine, it’s important to understand its principles. The first law says “like cures like” meaning the substance used to treat the sick produces those same disease symptoms when given to a healthy person. For example, Allium cepa, or red onion, evokes red, watery eyes in someone who is well. Allium is ideal for someone with hay fever.
In classical homeopathy, the law of the single remedy says medicines be given one at a time based on current symptoms. Because the patient and disease are each seen as ever-changing, the remedy is altered as the symptom picture changes. Individual treatment requires careful documentation of physical symptoms, emotional and mental balance, food cravings and aversions, sleeping habits and other signs. These symptoms are then matched to one of over 2000 remedies at an appropriate dose.
Homeopathy to the Rescue
The best way to beat a recurring allergy is by using constitutional or long-term homeopathic treatment–best done with an experienced homeopathic practitioner. If that’s not possible, you can turn to acute remedies, homeopathic medicines given in lower potencies. These remedies are given more frequently and are based on the symptoms of a specific condition rather than a person’s overall health. Anyone can use acute remedies with a little bit of knowledge and a small stock of homeopathic medicines available from a health food store.
Unlike over-the-counter allergy drugs, acute remedies must fit your symptoms exactly. So pay attention to the color of your nasal discharge, the redness in your eyes, how tired you feel. If symptoms change, you should reassess your case and remedy.
While there’s no scientific explanation of homeopathy, several studies during the last 10 years validate its success. Children suffering from frequent upper respiratory tract infections were the subjects of Dr. ESM de Lange de Klerk’s study at the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam. The youngsters receiving homeopathic medicines were slightly better off than those administered fake pills, with fewer adenoidectomies, less antibiotics and more symptom-free days (British Medical Journal, 1994, vol 309).
Any positive results seen with homeopathic care is often explained away by critics as being a placebo-effect, a phenomenon where symptoms improve because a patient thinks he getting real medicine even though he’s not. David Reilly at Glasgow Homeopathic Hospital in Scotland set out to disprove the placebo theory. When he gave homeopathic preparations of mixed grass pollens to hay fever patients, symptoms greatly improved compared to the placebo group (The Lancet, 1986, vol ii(8512)).
If your match is very good, homeopathy can be as or more effective than conventional treatments, says Randall Bradley, ND a board certified homeopath from Omaha, Nebraska. “You need to think differently when using homeopathy and other natural treatments,” says Bradley. “Conventional medicines try to eradicate symptoms. Natural medicine honors them because symptoms are the body’s attempt to fight disease. Homeopathic remedies promote this healing process without side effects. That’s why it’s so important to match remedy symptoms to disease symptoms. The closer the match, the better a remedy works.”
If you don’t know what remedy to use for your allergies, try Allium cepa first, suggests Bradley, suitable for runny eyes and lots of clear, acrid nasal discharge. Euphrasia is good for watery, irritated eyes and a nose dripping bland secretions. For sneezing fits accompanied by red eyes, Bradley recommends Sabadilla. The more striking and unusual the symptoms, he says, the better acute homeopathy works.
Many companies offer combination remedies–homeopathic products containing several remedies–for specific conditions like hay fever. Besides the above mentioned remedies, combinations may include Sanguinaria for dry burning eyes, extreme thirst and a nose that is alternately dry and runny with an excoriating discharge. Arundo is fitting for allergy cases with itchy nostrils, eyes and soft palate. When your ears are stuffed, thick yellow gunk drips from your eyes and you want to cry at the drop of a hat, then look for a preparation with Pulsatilla.
Although combination remedies fly against the “single remedy” rule of classical homeopathy, they’re all right for acute conditions like hay fever, says Bradley. Using combination homeopathic remedies is like taking an over-the-counter drug, he adds, because you’re choosing the remedy based on your disease not your unique symptoms. “But I know they work for many people.” With so many remedies in one preparation, there’s a chance one might help you but it’s a hit-or-miss situation.
When choosing a combination product, stick with well established homeopathic companies that know what remedies work together, says Bradley. Certain remedies antidote one another, like Sabadilla and Pulsatilla, both good for hay fever. You shouldn’t use combinations for chronic conditions like asthma–although used during an asthma attack is OK. Combination remedies are palliative, they decrease symptoms, but are rarely curative. “Remember too,” says Bradley, “if a combination remedy doesn’t work, it doesn’t mean homeopathy doesn’t work because combinations don’t follow the laws of homeopathy.”
It’s also important that you take and handle homeopathic remedies properly. The most common way to take a remedy is orally, placing the pellets or liquid under your tongue and allowing it to dissolve. Some eye drops also contain homeopathic medicines like Belladonna, for dry red allergic eyes, or Euphrasia, where watery eyes spout irritating tears.
Never touch a remedy with your hands. If taking pills, shake them out into the cap of the container or onto a clean dry spoon. Don’t put spilled pellets back in the jar and don’t contaminate the container lid. Don’t drink or eat anything for 15 minutes before or after taking the remedy. Store your remedy closed and away from strong odors like perfume, cooking and paint
During treatment avoid compounds that may antidote or erase the effects of your remedy like coffee, camphor, drugs, routine dental work and repeated use of electric blankets. Even other natural therapies, such as botanicals, large doses of vitamins and minerals, or acupuncture, can interfere with homeopathic remedies.