Alternative therapies gain ground among allergy sufferers
April 16, 1999
From Medical Correspondent Rhonda Rowland
ATLANTA (CNN) -- Spring has sprung across the South, with azaleas and dogwoods and wisteria blooming across the region.
Along with those blooms, however, come record pollen counts. The situation has some allergy sufferers reeling.
Faced with a losing battle against sneezing, congestion and breathing difficulties -- and with little help from conventional allergy medications -- many are turning to alternative, natural remedies.
Sherri Caldwell's family has struggled with allergies ever since coming to the city.
"When we moved to Atlanta, in the first season, my husband ended up in the emergency room because of an allergy attack," she said.
But Caldwell, a distributor for an online nutrition store, read that grapeseed extract may work as a natural antihistamine. Hoping to avoid the side effects, such as drowsiness, of over-the-counter medications, she tried it.
"With the grapeseed extract, we just noticed that we haven't had essentially any problems in the three years we've been taking that," she said.
Allergists say more of their patients have been turning to herbal remedies such as quercetin and green tea extract for relief. But if patients have questions, conventional medical doctors often don't have answers. And there is little information available about side effects or potentially dangerous drug interactions.
"I research this regularly, and there's a lot of misinformation," said Dr. Renata Engler, who treats patients at Walter Reed Army Medical Center outside Washington, D.C. "An herb in one book will supposedly work well for allergies, and in another book, it's not mentioned."
Patients often get their information from alternative practitioners like Clark Hansen, a naturopath from the Arizona Institute of Natural Medicine. Hansen says he's sold herbal remedies to hundreds of allergy patients.
"I have patients I've treated for five years, and we use the grapeseed alone," he said. "We found that worked for probably 60 to 70 percent of them."
Hansen admits, however, that he has no scientific evidence to support that claim.
In the absence of hard facts, however, doctors say there are proven, common-sense steps allergy sufferers can take to limit their symptoms: stay indoors; run the air conditioner at home or in the car; keep pets outside, or bathe them often; and wear a filter mask if you have to work outside.
And doctors say patients using alternative therapies should let them know, so their physician can watch for any signs of danger.
Mayo: Ask the Physician -- Air filters and allergies
Understanding allergy - An adult's guide to relief
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