Inflammation inside the ear – frequent cause of earaches and periodic hearing loss – is often the result of an allergic reaction in the nose or throat. Airborne allergens – pollen, dust and the like – are the most common offenders, and the problem shows up most frequently in children with hay fever or asthma. But adults can be affected, too.

In one study, eight people with hay fever developed ear trouble after breathing ragweed or timothy grass pollen, common allergens to which they were allergic. (Their hay fever flared up at the same time.) But when they breathed pine pollen – to which none of them were allergic – their ears were fine.

In another study eleven out of twenty-five people with hay fever had ear trouble after exposure to rye grass pollen (Wellcome Trends).

Ear inflammation can also be caused by sinusitis, infections, enlarged tonsils or adenoids, nasal polyps or congenital defects. But, in any of those conditions, allergy can aggravate ear inflammation.

Decongestants and antihistamines can temporarily clear up an allergic ear inflammation. But unless all allergic factors are recognized and avoided, the problem may persist – and eventually cause permanent hearing loss. In fact, uncontrolled ear inflammation is the most common cause of deafness in children.

If ear inflammation is caused by an infection, your doctor may prescribe antibiotic ear drops. But if you’re allergic to antibiotics, the problem is likely to persist – or get a lot worse. A study in Britain found that out of forty adults who had ear inflammation for longer than a year, fourteen were allergic to one or more antibiotics in the ear drops they were using. Neomycin, framycetin, gentamycin and ciolquinol – four commonly used antibiotics – were to blame. The doctors reporting these cases recommend that people with persistent ear inflammation should be tested for possible allergy to antibiotics (Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine).

Medicated ear drops can also cause contact allergy on the outer ear. So can earrings, spectacle stems and perfumes.


A woman from Denver whom I met on a plane told me that she had had dizzy spells off and on for a couple of years. She’d be walking down the street, for example, when suddenly her head would start to spin. She’d begun to worry that she might have a brain tumour. But a thorough neurological exam, including a brain scan, failed to detect one.

An allergist eventually discovered that the woman was allergic to yeasts and moulds in foods – cheese, wine, mushrooms and so forth – and that they were the cause of her dizzy spells.

The woman told me that she still eats an occasional piece of cheese or drinks some wine at parties, but not very often and not very much. The biggest relief, she said, comes from knowing that she doesn’t have a brain tumour or some other life-threatening illness.

Dizzy spells can be pretty scary. So when a controllable cause is uncovered, doctor and patient alike are relieved. Allergy, however, is rarely suspected. And allergic causes are rare – but they exist. Dizziness from allergy to foods or inhalants results when they cause fluid retention in the inner ear that throws equilibrium off balance. You feel faint, or have the sense that you’re going to fall.

The allergen can be anything from an easy-to-avoid food to a hard-to-avoid chemical. Marshall Mandell, an allergist in Norwalk, Connecticut, tells of a ten-year-old girl who became quite dizzy when leaving the kitchen to walk to school every morning. (The kitchen had a gas stove.) She also became dizzy and nauseous in school every time freshly printed papers were passed around in class or when she was in the same room with a mimeograph machine. When Dr Mandell tested her for allergy to ethanol (a petroleum product in gas and copying fluid) and other environmental substances, the girl became very ill.

At Dr Mandell’s suggestion, the girl’s parents then replaced all gas appliances in the home with electric models and discarded any household cleaning materials that contained petroleum byproducts.

‘This environmental change was of considerable benefit,’ says Dr Mandell. ‘[The girl's] morning dizziness disappeared along with her fatigue’ (Dr Mandell’s 5-Day Allergy Relief System).


I remember some years ago when I was working as a junior resident assigned to the gynecology wards, nearing the end of the surgical admissions for theatre the next day. Things had been pretty routine that afternoon … a few patients in for curettes, one woman having a vaginal repair, and a couple of women listed for hysterectomies.

The final patient on my list was a woman in her late thirties who had been putting up with very heavy periods for a couple of years and conservative treatment just wasn’t controlling the bleeding anymore. The decision had been made to do a hysterectomy. When I walked in to see her, I found her sitting on the side of the bed quietly sobbing. I thought at first that she must be anxious about the operation the next day.

Who wouldn’t be? So we got talking, and I asked her if she had any particular concerns.

She had been living with hopelessly heavy periods for a couple of years now and hormone treatment and two curettes had helped, but not for long. She had come to terms with never being able to have any more babies but there was another problem. She hadn’t felt able to discuss it with anyone but the decision to have the operation, she told me, had been a very hard one for her and her husband because it meant they wouldn’t be able to have intercourse anymore. She was worried about how her marriage would change. Whoa! Bit of an information gap here! I asked her why she thought they wouldn’t be able to have intercourse anymore. ‘Well,’ she said, ‘when they cut out my uterus, they have to stitch across the vagina, don’t they?’ ‘Yes,’ I answered. ‘But only the top end, not the bottom end. You will still have a vagina, and it won’t take long before things are pretty much back to normal.’ The relief was palpable, and it just goes to show how accurate information can make such a difference.

There is still a lot we don’t know about the effects of hysterectomy on sexual function but it probably depends on the woman’s sexual responses before the operation. Some women find that contractions of the uterus heighten their orgasm; others depend on deep vaginal and cervical stimulation to trigger their orgasm. These women may notice a change in the quality of that orgasm after the operation. Other women say their sex life improved afterwards because they weren’t tired all the time from heavy bleeding, and they no longer had to worry about contraception.


For the first four or five months of life, babies do little more than eat, sleep and cry. If the crying goes beyond occasional fussiness to hours of constant shrieking, parents become frustrated. And if a clean nappy, a warm breast or bottle and lots of cuddling fail to silence the baby’s cries, parents become frightened – and probably ask their doctor for help. In most cases, the doctor says the baby has colic. In other words large amounts of gas are building up in the baby’s intestines, causing lots of discomfort and the constant crying.

Allergy to milk is the most common cause of colic. In bottle-fed infants, the treatment is simple and obvious: change from a milk-based formula to a soya-based or other type of milk-free formula.

But occasionally, even a breastfed infant will get colic.

‘The colicky breast-fed infant is also allergic to milk,’ says Del Stigler, a pediatrician and allergist in Denver. ‘Not to the mother’s milk, though, but to the cow’s milk the mother is drinking. Particles of cow’s milk reach the infant through the breast milk and cause colic. Take the mother off cow’s milk and the baby will be well in two or three days.’

Many parents have been delighted to discover that a milk-free diet for Mum wipes out colic for baby. In a study by Swedish doctors, eighteen mothers of colicky babies were put on a milk-free diet. ‘Colic promptly disappeared in thirteen of the infants,’ say the researchers. ‘We conclude that infantile colic in breastfed infants can be caused by cow’s milk consumption by the mother, and we suggest a diet free of cow’s milk for the mother’. (Lancet.)

Any hard-to-digest foods that a nursing mother eats or drinks are also apt to pass through her breast milk to the baby and cause colic. So in addition to suggesting a milk-free diet to nursing mothers, many pediatricians recommend that they avoid ‘gassy’ foods such as beans, beer, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, carbonated beverages, champagne, lentils and mushrooms, plus any spices that seem to cause irritability in the breastfed baby.

If colic persists, the next step is to eliminate cereals or any other solid foods that the baby is eating. Most foods require several enzymes for digestion. A young baby’s body needs time to develop all the enzymes required to digest more complex food. If you give a baby solid food before his stomach and intestines are equipped to handle it, he’ll get gas. After a couple of months of freedom from colic, you can reintroduce solid foods – one at a time and several days apart – to test the baby’s tolerance.

Doctors sometimes also suggest that parents of a colicky baby temporarily withhold the baby’s vitamin supplements, to see if sugars or additives in those products could be the problem.


To unstick your breathing equipment, drink plenty of fluids. Water and other beverages act as natural expectorants, keeping mucus thin and coughable, says Doris J. Rapp, author of Allergies and Your Family (Sterling Publishing). She recommends drinking one-half to one cup of liquid every waking hour, if at all possible. Just be sure you don’t drink cold beverages – the chill can shock sensitive airways into spasms. And be careful to avoid drinks that contain cola or food dyes, common asthma triggers.

Taking your beverages hot helps even more. A warm drink acts as a natural bronchodilator, or airway relaxer, as it glides past respiratory passages. Drinking soup or herb tea when you feel an attack coming on will do fine.

‘Sometimes a warm liquid relaxes the bronchial tubes and you may not even need to use your bronchodilator spray,’ says Dr Falliers. ‘We’ve had kids in the hospital for treatment, and when they can’t breathe, we try to get them to drink something warm, maybe just water or something with a little more flavor, like hot apple cider. They relax, control the panic and start breathing quietly again.’

Controlling panic is a big part of controlling asthma. If you know you’re an asthmatic and begin to sense an attack coming on, you may tend to panic and fight for air. That tightens your chest further. For children, the anxiety is heightened if they see Mum or Dad panic, too. If your child has asthma, you can help by simply trying to appear calm and confident, no matter how frantic you may actually feel. The sight of a reassuring adult in itself may help the youngster.

‘Some children relax the minute they see their doctor enter the room, even before they’re given any medication,’ says Dr Rapp.

Relaxation, in fact, is such a useful shield against asthma that many doctors are teaching child and adult asthmatics variations of the relaxation technique. Because it loosens tightened muscles surrounding airways, relaxation is a form of protection that can be used whenever an asthmatic feels an attack coming on.

In a subconscious effort not to tax temperamental lungs, asthmatics tend to take short, shallow breaths. Doctors call it ‘stingy breathing’. By filling and emptying only the top portion of the lungs, however, asthmatics don’t pull in enough oxygen. During an attack they get even less. ‘The average asthmatic is breathing at only 60 or 70 per cent of capacity,’ Dr Falliers told us. ‘And during an asthma attack, that can drop to 20 per cent.’ In the throes of an asthma attack, you may actually turn blue for lack of oxygen.

‘But if you’re having an asthma attack, you don’t think about breathing physiology and oxygen metabolism,’ says Dr Falliers. ‘You just think of how to get your next breath.’ By learning to breathe deeply and efficiently, you can increase the amount of oxygen you take in, so an attack isn’t nearly as disabling.


When Gary Mark Gilmore was asked why he impulsively and deliberately shot a motel manager in cold blood in 1976, all he could say was, ‘I just felt like it. I felt like I was watching someone else do it.’ In fact, Gilmore barely remembered the incident.

Could Gary Gilmore’s aggressive behavior have been an allergic reaction?

Quite possibly. Kenneth E. Moyer, professor of psychology at Carnegie-Mellon University, has seen many situations in which aggressive and sometimes violent behavior occurred after an individual ate specific foods to which he or she was allergic. And Dr Moyer isn’t the only researcher to link aggression with allergies.

‘Aggression as an allergic response is a well-documented phenomenon that has been known to researchers since early in this century,’ says Dr Moyer in an article entitled The Physiology of Violence, Allergy and Aggression’ {Psychology Today). Dr Moyer suggests that aggressive behavior is triggered when the brain swells in response to allergens, just as the skin often becomes irritated on contact with an allergen.

‘When this swelling occurs in an area of the brain that contains the nerve connections controlling aggression, the results can be immediate and dramatic,’ Dr Moyer continued. The individual usually becomes impulsive, combative, unruly, perverse and quarrelsome – a lot like Gary Gilmore, in fact. Behavior that an individual would otherwise control takes on a momentum of its own.

Not everyone with allergies is aggressive, obviously. In those who are, says Dr Moyer, the intensity of the symptoms varies from mild irritability, in which the person is a little more easily annoyed than usual, to a psychotic aggressive reaction. He cites a typical case: one ten-year-old girl experienced a prolonged asthma attack when exposed to alcohol. Several times during the reaction, she became extremely belligerent and tried to bite her mother, whom she did not even recognize.

The variety of allergens that can produce aggressive behavior ranges from pollens and drugs to many foods, of which milk, chocolate, cola, corn and eggs are some of the most common, according to Dr Moyer.

There is no easy way to test for allergy-triggered aggression, says Dr Moyer. The only definitive way to show that aggression and allergy are interrelated is to eliminate a suspected irritant from a person’s environment. If the symptoms disappear, the irritant is reintroduced to see if it provokes the expected aggressive behavior.’

Unfortunately, Mr Gilmore is no longer around to benefit from allergy research. But if you have a tendency towards aggression and extreme edginess, controlling allergies may help you keep your cool.


To get the most out of your vitamin Ñ during hay fever season, take it with citrus bioflavonoids. Studies done on animals have shown that citrus bioflavonoids may favorably alter the body’s metabolism of vitamin C, raising the concentration of the nutrient in certain tissues and enhancing its availability to the body (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition).

Brian Leibovitz, a nutritional consultant in Portland, Oregon, has found citrus bioflavonoids to be the answer to many a hay fever victim’s prayers.

One hay fever sufferer in particular weathered every summer indoors, knowing that only the first frost would free him from his air conditioned prison, killing the ragweed that disabled him. Meanwhile, he took prescription antihistamines – eight a day. Yet he still suffered. Leibovitz recommended a nutritional programme that included six grams of citrus bioflavonoids a day. A few weeks later, during the height of hay fever season, the young man no longer required drugs to control his hay fever symptoms.

‘More than once, I’ve had hay fever patients who did not respond to vitamin Ñ recover when given citrus bioflavonoids,’ Leibovitz told us.

Dr Freyer also has found that vitamin Ñ works better when accompanied by B-complex vitamins, especially pantothenic acid.

‘I recommend 200 to 500 milligrams of pantothenic acid, plus another 50 milligrams of  complex,’ he says. ‘Sometimes, when a patient has impaired absorption – and many people with allergies do – I also give pancreatic enzymes. These help to break down the foods so vitamins can be absorbed better.’


Antihistamines, as you might have guessed, block the release of histamine from mast cells, thereby reducing classic allergy symptoms such as headaches, itching or runny nose. In fact, they may be employed for any allergic reaction that’s blamed on histamine release, like hives. Too much antihistamine, however, can make a person sleepy. And antihistamines tend to dry out mucous membranes. The secretion of those membranes becomes so thick and dry that it can’t be expelled by coughing or sneezing, and it backs up into the sinus or respiratory tract. So what begins as the relatively simple runny nose of hay fever can end up as chronic, painful sinusitis or a stubborn, bone-dry cough – or both. Then you need a decongestant.

Nasal decongestant sprays and drops shrink swollen membranes in the nose and provide temporary relief of hay fever. If decongestants are relied on heavily, however, a rebound phenomenon occurs: after a couple of weeks, when the spray or drops are discontinued, the membranes swell again and congestion is worse than ever. Oral decongestants have their own drawbacks — they’re adrenalin-like, and can make people hyper. So if you’re a high-strung, nervous type, they’re the last thing you need.

As you can see, once a hay fever sufferer boards the drug merry-go-round, it’s sometimes hard to jump off. But herbs, exercise and vitamin Ñ can all help to clear up the congestion and misery of hay fever – without the unpleasant side effects of antihistamines and decongestants.

Certain herbs act as decongestants, clearing clogged mucus. A tea of fenugreek, anise or horehound, or a concoction of garlic oil in water, made into a tea, can clear up congestion in twenty minutes. The vapors of eucalyptus also work wonders: put leaves into a large pot of boiling water and boil for five minutes. Then turn off the heat and, with a towel draped over your head, breathe in the vapors.

Many hay fever sufferers have found that vigorous exercise – running, walking or bicycling – helps to clear the nose, too.

Vitamin Ñ acts as a natural antihistamine, reducing the swelling and inflammation that causes discomfort in nasal and sinus tissues. And, of course, it helps tremendously to avoid whatever triggers your hay fever.


Inhalation challenge (nasal and bronchial provocation)

Because skin tests sometimes miss the mark entirely, some doctors use an inhalation challenge for allergy to inhalants. To test for mould allergy, for instance, a small amount of dried, powdered, sterilized mould is placed on the end of a toothpick and sniffed. Symptoms are expected to appear within five minutes if the individual is allergic to mould.

So far, these tests all carry an element of anxiety – the fear that you will react. No wonder – that’s the whole idea. The ideal allergy test, from the patient’s point of view, is one that’s accurate, yet doesn’t risk a reaction. Enter the RAST test.

RAST (radioallergosorbent test)

The RAST test measures the amount of IgE in your blood. It’s certainly safe, since the test is conducted on a blood sample in the laboratory. Anaphylactic shock, which occasionally occurs with skin testing, is impossible with a RAST test (although you still have to endure the discomfort of a needle). RAST is more sensitive than a puncture or scratch test.

‘One of the criticisms of the RAST test is that it’s expensive,’ comments Dr Jonathan V. Wright, from Kent, Washington, who uses the RAST test a great deal. ‘Unfortunately, no other test comes as close to it in accuracy.’

A RAST test measures the amount of IgE (allergy-provoking antibody) in the blood. In contrast, skin tests merely measure the weal-and-flare – indirect evidence of IgE activity. More precise measurement of IgE activity by RAST means that, if needed, allergy injections can be started at a customized dose, and relief can be expected in three or four months. In contrast, allergy injections based on skin tests are begun at a lower estimated dose and gradually increased until the optimal dose is reached, which sometimes takes six months to a year. (Incidentally, IgE levels run higher in smokers than non-smokers, for some unknown reason. Be sure to let your doctor know if you smoke so that factor can be taken into consideration when interpreting your RAST test.)

For all its advantages, the RAST test is somewhat controversial. Aside from increased cost, doctors must resist the temptation to rely on it too heavily for diagnosis. For instance, many people react positively to both skin and RAST tests for cereal grains, but eat them routinely with no ill effects. Like any allergy test, the RAST is meant to supplement, not replace, a good, thorough medical history. Consequently, many doctors feel that the most accurate way of testing for food allergy is still elimination and re-challenge.


Cold Temperature

Some people break out in hives when they dash in and out of an air-conditioned store in summer. Or when they come into a warm house after shoveling snow. Or if they take a quick dip in a chilly pond or pool. Or even if they rinse their hands in cold water.

That’s called cold urticaria, and while it’s the drop in temperature that triggers the reaction, the symptoms appear as the body temperature warms up again. That increase in body temperature, it’s believed, releases histamine and other allergy-triggering body substances. Hives may develop all over the body, but they’re usually more prominent in the areas directly affected by the cold, such as uncovered hands or face. If very cold food is eaten, the lips and tongue may swell somewhat. And cold-induced hives may be accompanied by headache, vomiting, rapid heartbeat and fainting.

Cold urticaria is related to allergy to exercise, which also prompts a rise in body temperature, and is medically referred to as a ‘cholinergic’ allergy, which means that the allergy involves the nervous system. And cold allergy can be accompanied by water allergy, a rare and slightly different variation of cholinergic allergy.

It’s not always easy to tell the difference between cold urticaria, exercise urticaria or water urticaria. Widespread hives that develop after swimming, for example, could be caused by cold water, exertion (if it’s a heated pool) or by the water itself. To sort it out, doctors do what amounts to a patch test with an ice cube. If you don’t react, you’re not cold sensitive.

Allergy to cold temperature is very often part of one of a few other, underlying illnesses, and disappears when the disease is cured. In other cases, cold allergy simply subsides as mysteriously as it began. If not, common sense tells the individual to take precautions against exposure to cold. Where cold is unavoidable or the allergy is a major problem, many people have been successfully desensitized to cold temperature by gradual exposure to decreasing temperatures – either in a cold room or cold water – for progressively longer periods of time until cold can be tolerated.

If that doesn’t work, antihistamines may help. While we don’t encourage casual use of drugs, we do feel that in certain circumstances – such as this – medication is less of a hazard than the risk of a severe reaction to an unavoidable allergen.


‘Allergy to exercise’ may sound like a lame excuse to stay chair-bound. But there actually are a few rare individuals who swell up and break out in hives after even mild exertion. A couple of laps across the pool or a few minutes of jogging leave them not only red and itchy, but possibly even dizzy, nauseated and exhausted. In most cases, antihistamines can help.

Asthma attacks, too, may be triggered by strenuous exertion. But those breathing difficulties may be due to the direct effect of cold, dry air on sensitive airways and are in no way related to exercise-induced hives.


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