At least 20% of American have allergies due to unknown causes, but women who are going through the various stages of menopause experience increased allergies due to hormonal imbalances. As women get closer to reaching menopause, they may notice an increase in allergic reactions or simply have a complete new set of allergies that they have never experienced before. Disruptive symptoms, such as hot flashes, night sweats, depression, irritability and loss of libido can be extremely tolling on your body, physically and mentally, and increases your stress levels.
When your body experiences stress, your energy levels are shot down and your body begins to slowly shut down, which reduces the immune system’s effectiveness in fighting off allergens. Due to these hormonal changes, menopause can often cause the immune system to react in a different way when exposed to different allergens that were once harmless in the past.
What are Allergies
Allergies are abnormal reactions by a person’s immune system against substances that are normally harmless. When someone experiences an allergic reaction, the body mistakenly perceives a substance as being harmful to the body, so it develops an antibody to protect itself. The antibody that is created during an allergic reaction is called the IgE Antibody. The IgE Antibodies start a chemical reaction that causes histamine to be released into the blood stream. Histamine is a chemical neurotransmitter and an essential protein that is essential for our brain cells to communicate properly. Histamines act as a mediator in allergic reactions and are responsible for causing the inflammation symptoms, such as the sneezing, runny noses and itchiness.
Symptoms of Allergies
The symptoms of allergies range in severity and are unique to the individual. Symptoms range from mild to severe with mild being itchy eyes, sneezing and rashes. Moderate symptoms are considered to include itchiness and difficulty breathing. The most severe symptoms are: swelling that makes breathing and swallowing difficult, cramps, abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, mental confusion and dizziness. Most people experience symptoms that are somewhat similar to that of a common cold such as: runny nose, itchy eyes, sneezing and headache.
Mild Allergy Symptoms
- Itchy eyes
- Itchy nose
- Itchy throat
- Watery eyes
- Runny/clogged nose
- Post nasal drip
Moderate Allergy Symptoms
- Itchiness that turns into hives
- Allergic shiners – Dark circles under the eyes caused by increased blood flow
- Sneezing more than ten times a minute
- Itchy throat
- Conjunctivitis – an inflammation of the eye membrane
- Itchy throat and mouth
- Difficulty breathing
Anaphylactic shock is a life-threatening allergic reaction because the symptoms can develop rapidly, often within seconds or minutes. It is known as an acute systemic allergic reaction, since it affects the entire body. Often occurring to an allergen to which a person was previously sensitized to, the signs and symptoms of anaphylactic shock include the general symptoms of a common allergic reaction, alongside:
- Swelling of tissues, such as joints or lips
- Extreme shortness of breath
- Itchiness and swelling of the throat
- Abdominal pain
- Air swallowing
- Gas produced by bacteria
- Consumption of high fat meal
- Consumption of cabbage, onions, bread, apples, potatoes, broccoli
- Lactose intolerance
- Glucose intolerance
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome
- Crohn’s Disease
- Fructose intolerance
- Abdominal surgery
- Polycystic ovarian cysts
- Large intra-abdominal tumors
Different Types of Allergies
According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, 50 million Americans have some type of allergy. Allergies can be grouped by the nature of their symptoms and by the allergen that provokes the symptoms. There are respiratory allergies (Hay Fever and asthma), Skin allergies (Hives, Eczema, and Dermatitis), Food allergies, Medication allergies, Insect Venom allergies and Environmental Allergies. The most common allergens are fur, dander and pollen. Some other common allergens include: eggs, fish, milk, peanuts, shell fish, soy sulfites, trees, nuts and wheat.
- Hay Fever is a seasonal caused by inhaling pollens, trees and grasses and is often worse in the spring and fall seasons, when pollen and airborne particles are at their highest. Hay Fever results in inflammation of the delicate linings of the eyes and nose.
- Asthma is a chronic condition that involves episodes of inflammation and tightened airways that make breathing difficult, since the airways spasms. Asthma can be worsened if exposed to common allergens, such as animal dander, pollen and dust mites.
- Allergic Eyes or seasonal allergic conjunctivitis (SAC) is the most common type of eye allergy, with grass and pollen being the triggers. It creates an inflammation of the tissues that cover the eye.
- Allergic Eczema is a condition in which the skin gets an allergic rash which is usually associated with Asthma or Hay Fever.
- Caused by histamine, Hives are a type of rash that appears as swollen and itchy bumps that can look like a flat raised welt caused by a bug bit. Hives can combine into an expansive hive area, as the allergic reaction progresses.
- Anaphylactic shock is a life-threatening allergic reaction because the symptoms can develop rapidly, often within seconds or minutes. It is known as an acute systemic allergic reaction, since it affects the entire body. This condition is typically caused by a sting or when the allergen is injected and it can be life-threatening.
Causes of Allergies
A reduction in cortisol is another reason that allergies present itself in menopausal women. The body tries to compensate by producing more adrenalin, which causes inflammation, and an increase in allergic symptoms. Low progesterone levels can cause estrogen dominance, which is why it has been found that hormone replacement actually makes allergies worse.
There can be other causes of allergies such as pre-existing allergies or certain lifestyle choices. Components such as your diet, medications and stress levels can also have an impact on your allergies. Allergies are also known to be hereditary so if just one of your parents had allergies you are 30% more likely to have allergies as well.
- Food Allergies
- Latex Rubber
- Poison Ivy
- Bee stings
- Jellyfish stings
- Hot or Cold Temperatures
The first step in managing allergies during menopause is to identify the things that trigger them. Lifestyle changes are the best place to start in your search for a treatment for your allergies. Try to change your lifestyle in a way that eases the symptoms of allergies. For instance if you typically get allergies because of dust in your home then get an air purifier and vacuum regularly.
Daily Lifestyle Changes
- Use the air conditioner/fan in your house, office and car
- Stay indoors on days when the pollen count is extremely high
- If allergic to dogs or cats, keep the dander-producing animals outside of your home
- Wash your sheets and blankets in hot water
- Remove carpets in your house
- Use air filters and dehumidifiers
- Use hypoallergenic pillows
- Vacuum and dust on a daily basis
- Rake leaves outside of your home to avoid mold allergies
- Get rid of any indoor plants, as they may promote mold growth
- If you have insect allergies, don’t wear too bright of clothing when the weather is hot and humid, as it may attract insects
- Vitamins - Vitamin C helps reduce histamine release from cells and helps histamine break down faster once it is released. Calcium helps the body regulate its acidic balance in tissues and reduces histamine production. Magnesium, also known as the anti-stress mineral, has been used to treat symptoms caused by nasal allergies, but recent studies have shown that it also helps relieve bronchospasm, or constricted airways in one’s lungs. The recommended daily value of magnesium is 400 mg. Copper is crucial to the formation of T-cells and is an antioxidant that fights free radial damage to the mitochondria. Selenium protects cell membranes and stimulates immune function, which enhances the function of Vitamin C within the body. Beta-carotene, Vitamin E, and other antioxidants all help to neutralize free radicals and protect healthy molecules from harm.
- Alternative Medicine – Chinese medicine has been applied as a long standing treatment for many menopausal issues around the world. Acupuncture is a technique that involves inserting fine needles into key points of the body. Acupuncture has been used to treat allergies because it is said to signal the brain to release endorphins that reduce pain and create a sense of well-being. Those afflicted with allergies and asthma may experience a more relaxed state and calmer breathing.
- Black Cohosh One of the most commonly used herbal remedies is Black Cohosh, a perennial plant that is a member of the buttercup family. It provides powerful phytoestrogens that mimic the hormone’s effects and bind to hormone receptors in the uterus and other parts of the body, alleviating hot flashes. Black Cohosh is also known to relieve hot flashes efficiently and is a good alternative to HRT. It is also used effectively for treating PMS, arthritis and lowering blood pressure. Red Clover, Dong Quai, Ginseng, Kava and evening primrose oil can be used as natural therapies, although there are some risks involved. Herbal supplements are not as closely regulated as prescription drugs and the amount of the herbal product, quality and safety may vary between brands.
- Herbal Remedies – There are many different herbal remedies that have been used with great success over the years to help treat and prevent menopausal allergies. Chamomile is used to reduce duration of hay fever attacks; Nettle extract is used to reduce sinus inflammation; St.John’s Wort is used to relieve sinus headache; Eucalyptus is used to inhale in steam to ease congestion; Ephedra is used to help relieve congestion; Ginger is used to reduce inflammation. Two of the most common types of herbs that can be used for preventing and alleviating menopausal allergies are phytoestrogenic and non-estrogenic herbs. Some of the most common phytoestrogen herbs are Saint Johns Wort, Black Cohosh and Dong Quai – all which contain estrogenic components produced by plants and replace some of the missing estrogen hormones experienced as a result of menopause. Although these herbs are known to maintain the balance of key neurotransmitters in the brain, they can also make your body less responsive to producing its own hormones, causing a further decrease of one’s hormone levels. Non-estrogenic herbs are known to nourish one’s hormonal glands into producing its own natural hormones. By stimulating one’s own hormone production, non-estrogenic herbs, such as Macafem. Macafem is grown in the Andes of Peru and has achieved great success in naturally increasing one’s hormone levels.
- Decongestants – Decongestants are administered via spray or orally to relieve nasal congestion and unclog nasal.
- Prescription Drugs – Relieves the symptoms of allergic rhinitis, including Antihistamines (Zyrtec, Allegra), Steroid nasal sprays (Nasonex and Nasocort) and eye drops containing Cromolyn (Nalcrom). Also, one can choose allergy injections which are known to desensitize your immune system to the allergens that cause problems.
- Over-the-Counter-Drugs – Antihistamines are drugs that block the action of histamine. Short-activing antihistamines are available over-the-counter and often relieve the mild allergy symptoms. Loratadine, commonly known as Claritin, is available over the counter, as well as Benadryl.
- Hormone Therapy Treatments (HRT) - For more severe cases of menopause, women may seek surgical or pharmaceutical treatments, although it is important to keep in mind that there are many studies showing hormone replacement therapy (HRT) increases a woman’s risk of elevated blood pressure, endometrial and breast cancers, strokes, blood clots and gallbladder disease. It is advised to speak with your doctor or healthcare professional regarding the negative side effects before you begin treatment.