With Spring comes allergy season.
This month we are going to look deeply into the nasal and respiratory passageways and talk about effective medicinal and healthy strategies that are available to those who are dealing with spring allergies.
Allergies are caused by an oversensitive immune system. Our immune system protects us from the dangers of the environment. However, when immune system mistakes something like pollen as a threat, an allergy reaction results.
Let’s look at what happens when pollen is inspired into the nasal cavity. A special type of white blood cell, the mast cell, captures the pollen and releases chemicals called histamine and leukotrienes that cause the nasal blood vessels to become leaky. The nasal tissues swell, the sneeze reflex is triggered, and the mucous producing glands are stimulated into overdrive. This immune system overreaction is called “the allergy cascade.”
When allergies affect the nose, it is called allergic rhinitis. When it affects the lungs and lower airway, it is called asthma. Some individuals experience only allergic rhinitis or asthma, and then, some get both.
The offending agent in an allergy reaction is a protein called an allergen. Allergies can be seasonal or perennial. Seasonal allergies are due to pollinating trees in the spring, grasses in the summer, and weeds in the fall. Year-round allergies can be from dust mites, mold, or pet dander.
Ever wonder why sneezing is called sneezing?
As with so many etymologies, it’s difficult to definitively say exactly where the word ‘sneeze’ comes from, but it is generally thought that it started with the Indo-European word ‘penu’ – to breath. Eventually, this evolved into the Old High German word ‘fnehan,’ also defined as to breathe. Combining that with the the Old Norse word ‘fnyse,’ which meant to snort, brings us to the 1000 CE (also known as the ‘High Middle Ages’) and what we call “Old English.”
The resulting Old English word ‘fnēosan’ soon became ‘fnesan,’ meaning to snort, sneeze. Within a few hundred years, the leading ‘f’ was dropped and it became simply ‘nesan.’ By the late 14th century, the verb of the word became ‘nesing.’ By the middle of the 17th century, an ‘s’ was tacked on, among other slight modifications, and it became what we know it as today – ‘sneezing.’
Key Words for Allergies
When you think of allergy season you think of stuffy nose, itchy eyes, inflamed throat, sinus and lung challenges, irritated digestive tract, and urinary tract imbalance. Your body thinks that foreign substances like pollen and various allergens are threatening constituents and respond to that “perceived” danger in a very excessive way – spewing mast cells.
So What’s a Mast Cell? Mast cells are immune cells located throughout the mucous membranes of the eyes, nose, sinuses, mouth, throat and the lungs. They are also found in the digestive, lower urinary and reproductive tissues as well as in the skin. They play an essential immune protective role by being intimately involved in the defense against foreign microorganisms. Mast cells contain large amounts of a type of fatty acid that is converted into histamine and other pro-inflammatory molecules when they are irritated.
So what’s a Histamine?
You've probably heard of antihistamines. They're medicines that tame allergy symptoms. But what are histamines? They're chemicals your immune system makes. Histamines act like bouncers at a club. They help your body get rid of something that's bothering you -- in this case, an allergy trigger, or "allergen."
Histamines start the process that hustles those allergens out of your body or off your skin. They can make you sneeze, tear up, or itch -- whatever it takes to get the job done. They are part of your body's defense system.
When you have allergies, some of your triggers -- such as pollen, pet dander, or dust -- seem harmless. But your immune system sees them as a threat and responds. Your body's intention -- to keep you safe -- is good. But its overreaction gives you those all-too-familiar allergy symptoms, which you then try to stop with an antihistamine. Histamines Unleashed When you come across your allergy trigger, your immune system knows it and launches a chain reaction to defend you. First, it sends a chemical signal to "mast cells" in your skin, lungs, nose, mouth, gut, and blood. The message is, "Release histamines," which are stored in the mast cells.
When they leave the mast cells, histamines boost blood dementia flow in the area of your body the allergen affected. This causes inflammation, which lets other chemicals from your immune system step in to do repair work. Histamines then dock at special places called "receptors" in your body.
The result? If your nose was affected, say by pollen, histamines prompt thin walls, called membranes, to make more mucus. You can get a runny or stuffy nose. And you'll sneeze. The mucus can also bother your throat and make you cough. Histamines can make your eyes and nose itch.
Mast Cells to One Another – “Let’s Have A Meltdown!”
A mast cell is a type of white blood cell, a long-lived tissue resident. Specifically, it is derived from the myeloid stem cell that is a part of the immune system and contains many granules rich in histamine and heparin. Although best known for their role in allergies, mast cells play an important protective role as well, being intimately involved in wound healing and immune tolerance.
Mast cells are present in most tissues characteristically surrounding blood vessels and nerves, and are especially prominent near the boundaries between the outside world and the internal milieu, such as the skin, mucosa of the lungs, and digestive tract, as well as the mouth, conjunctiva, and nose.
Mast cells, which we now know, are part of the cast of characters in the immune system, and are the ringleaders of hypersensitivity reactions. Ordinarily they are peace loving. But when tissues are flooded with irritating compounds, mast cells become trigger-happy troublemakers, unable to distinguish friend from foe.
A grain of pollen comes along; the mast cell sees it as life threatening, melts down, and spews histamine everywhere. Tender tissues in the throat, nose, and sinuses become hot and swollen. Abundant mucus is produced as a defense. Eyes become red and itchy.
It wouldn’t be so bad if just a few mast cells were acting up. However, if they’re repeatedly triggered by pollen, food, or animal dander, they multiply by a factor of up to 10. When these specialized immune cells in your respiratory linings are triggered by pollen to release histamines, it spells trouble for your sinuses. Mast cells do not die or cease to function. They actually multiply continuously over our lifetime.
Allergies in a Nutshell Herbs Etc.
Mucus may be annoying when you're not feeling well, but your body needs it to keep you healthy. Mucus, also known as sputum, is a sticky, gelatinous material that lines your lungs, throat, mouth, nose, and sinuses. You may hear "mucus" and "phlegm" used interchangeably, but phlegm is actually a different mucus-like substance. Phlegm is produced by your lungs and respiratory system. Mucus is produced by membranes in the nose and sinuses known as the mucous membranes.
Your body always produces mucus, but you may notice it most when it changes as a result of a respiratory challenges. Mucus production is normal and serves many purposes, even when you're healthy. It protects the tissue that lines your lungs, throat, nasal and sinus passages, keeping it from drying out. It also works to trap unwanted allergens (such as dust or pollen), preventing them from spreading through your body and making you sick. Mucus even contains antibodies, or enzymes, designed to kill or neutralize these harmful materials.
Your body usually produces as much as 1.5 quarts of mucus a day, even when you're not feeling well. Most of this mucus simply slides down your throat. When you're sick, your body doesn't necessarily produce more mucus, you'll just notice a change in its consistency.
Bacteria or allergens can cause your mucous membranes to become more productive, but mucus exposed to these materials also contains a substance called histamine.
Histamine causes the tissue in your nasal passages to swell and produce more, thinner mucus. This usually leads to a runny nose, as well as sneezing, itching, and nasal stuffiness.
Your mucus may also become thicker or stickier when you're not well, meaning it won't simply slide down your throat. Instead, it may build up in your lungs and throat, causing congestion. Having thick mucus can make it seem like more mucus is being produced and can create problems, such as postnasal drip. Thick mucus is usually a sign that your mucous membranes are too dry, perhaps as a result of:
• A dry indoor environment (due to heat or air conditioning)
• Not drinking enough water or other fluids
• Drinking beverages such as coffee, tea, or alcohol that lead to fluid loss
If you think you might have allergies or a respiratory challenge, your health care practitioner may assess the quantity, consistency, and color of your mucus during your office visit.
2). Mucus Color
You may also notice a change in the color of your mucus when you're not feeling well or from allergies. Mucus is usually clear. But when you have a challenge such as a cold, your mucus may take on a greenish or other non-clear color (such as light yellow or beige).When you have a challenge, your body produces more white blood cells and sends them to your airways to fight the issue. Your white blood cells contain a substance called neutrophils, which can give your mucus a yellow or greenish color. Mucus may also appear to be green when it thickens. You may also notice a red or brown color in your mucus after you blow your nose. This is often a sign that there's blood in your mucus. Having blood in your mucus is generally the result of irritation and drying out of the tissue in the nasal passages due to excessive rubbing, wiping, or blowing your nose. A little bit of blood in your mucus is nothing to worry about. But if you experience excessive bleeding, talk to your health care provider.
How to Get Rid of Mucus
There are several ways to get rid of mucus, including the following treatments;
Decongestants: You can use an over-the-counter (OTC) nasal or oral decongestant to reduce the amount of mucus in your lungs or nasal passages. These clear up thick mucus but shouldn't be overused. Decongestants work by narrowing the blood vessels in your nasal passages, restricting blood flow and reducing the amount of mucus produced in the area.
Antihistamines: These are designed to block or limit the activity of histamine, a substance your body produces during an allergic reaction. Antihistamines are great for treating symptoms such as an itchy or runny nose.
Expectorants: Many medications contain expectorants, which make mucus thinner and easier for your body to get rid of. Guaifenesin is an example of a commonly used expectorant.
Nasal Irrigation: This is a natural method for getting rid of excess mucus. It can be performed using a netipot, a bulb syringe, or a squeeze bottle containing salt water.
All of these methods work by pumping salt water into your nostrils to loosen up the mucus in your nasal passages and flush it out. Use distilled, sterile, or boiled water for this process, and clean the irrigation device after every use.
Honey is a good mucus thinner. If you’re coughing up phlegm, try stirring some honey into a mug of tea. It wraps around the little particles in the mucus and helps your body clear it.
Add eucalyptus to hot water and breathing in the humidified air or eating spicy foods. Both can naturally break up a stuffy nose.
This month we’re going to explore the immune system and some of the interesting parts of this body system. First off, let’s talk about Mucus. So exactly, what Is Mucus? (courtesy of Herbs Etc.)