Ballard Naturopathic Blog | All posts tagged 'digestion'

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Stone Turtle Health Blog

Allergies, Asthma, Eczema, and Ear Infections

February 23, 2011

Many of my pediatric patients come to see me after their parents are frustrated with conventional medicine. These kids might have a history of asthma that is getting progressively worse or more frequent, they might be suffering from eczema that seems to have been around since they were babies, they may have chronic achey ears, or they may suffer from seasonal allergies that make them miserable six months out of the year. Chances are, many of them are on asthma inhalers, steroid creams, frequent antibiotics, and still be treating symptoms with over-the-counter meds. To a one, their parents have been frustrated over their increasing symptoms and lack of effective treatment options for the underlying conditions.

In medicine, both Western and more holistic forms, there is something called the "atopic triad", which consists of asthma, seasonal allergies and eczema. Doctors find that middle ear infections (or otitis media) are an also-ran, cropping up in a number of children who exhibit atopic symptoms. Naturopathic theory suggests that all of these conditions have a common cause, or etiology, where an insult to the system expresses itself in multiple ways, in an attempt by the body to get it addressed. Many times, this initial cause can be as simple as introducing a food into the diet that is either an allergen for the patient or simply introduced before the body has an adequate way to process it.

For example, suppose an infant received cow's milk at the age of 3 months. If the baby's digestive tract was not fully functional, the larger proteins can cross the gut barrier and enter the bloodstream. Normally, the gaps between cells lining the gut are too tight for this to happen but if inflammation is present or they are not fully matured, proteins that would normally need to be broken down can pass into the blood whole. In this case, the milk protein meets some circulating immune cells and they, correctly, determine that it is a foreign protein. Now, immune cells are supposed to determine between foreign or host proteins, not determine whether a foreign protein is a friend or foe. If they do their job properly, they will create antibodies to the foreign milk protein as if it were a virus. One of the main jobs of the immune system is to cause inflammation in an effort to isolate the intruder until the rest of the immune system can arrive and fight it off. This inflammation includes gut cells, meaning that the gaps between cells remains "leaky", allowing more foreign food proteins to cross into the bloodstream.

Asthma, allergies, and eczema all have a strong inflammatory component to them. If that same child, whose immune system is diligently protecting her from milk protein continues to consume dairy products, the body might break out in a rash (the skin, lungs, and digestive tract are all major organs of elimination). The baby's doctor might treat the rash with a cortisone-based cream, reducing the surface inflammation and preventing itching, but not allowing the body to express the allergy. In naturopathic theory, this is called suppression and drives the body to express itself in a more serious manner, such as developing asthma or chronic middle ear infections. These can also be complicated by the immune system's major defensive mechanism of promoting mucus production.

In many patients, when we work on eliminating asthma or chronic ear infections, we see a resurgence of eczema as the body no longer has to resort to such extreme measures (asthma attacks, ear infections) to address allergens. If we do see eczema or another, supposedly past, manifestion occur, we know we are on the right track with treatment and are not suppressing the body's need to expel allergens or toxins. Once we determine the substance that the patient is responding to, we can eliminate it from the diet or environment and work on repairing the lungs, skin, and digestive tract. In some cases, patients can eventually re-introduce allergens into their diet once we have healed the digestive tract and calmed the immune system response.