Understanding allergies and their symptoms
If you’ve ever had a runny nose, constant sneezing, itchy eyes, or swelling of the lips and face, chances are you’re having an allergic reaction. That reaction is the result of hypersensitivity to a foreign body. In a normal situation, these foreign bodies enter the human body and are quickly dealt with by our immune system. With allergies, the reaction increases, causing mild discomfort and many of the symptoms listed above.
The most frustrating thing about allergies is that they can often develop at night or without warning. Some people go most of their lives without allergies, but at some point develop an intolerance to pet hair or pollen. This is the fascinating and daunting part of allergies: there are so many variables at play.
Allergies come in many different forms, but the most common include dust, insect bites, food (nuts are a common food allergy), and pollen. Fortunately, it is rare for allergies to produce life-threatening symptoms, but what is becoming increasingly common is the phenomenon of chronic allergies leading to more serious illness. In most cases, over-the-counter antihistamines are used to treat allergies, but even these medications can cause unwanted side effects.
What is allergic rhinitis?
It may sound scientific, but allergic rhinitis is just another term for an allergy most of us have grown accustomed to: hay fever. In the UK alone, it is estimated that over 10 million people suffer from hay fever, up to one in five people! In the rest of the world something similar happens, hay fever affects the ability of many people to work or pay attention in class. If you’ve ever tried to focus while your nose is running or your eyes are watering, you know how difficult it can be.
The condition is caused by a higher than normal level of histamines, in blood and tissues. Histamines generally maintain relatively low levels. However, in people suffering from hay fever, their hypersensitivity to an allergen causes the level of histamines released by mast cells to rise dramatically. Mast cells are found under the skin and around blood vessels and nerves, hence the wide variety of symptoms that can be experienced.
Hay fever symptoms are difficult to treat
The symptoms of this allergy are very similar to the common cold. The difference, however, is that although a cold can last until the infection has passed, hay fever persists as long as you are exposed to the allergen causing the reaction. Allergens can be pollen, dust mites, skin particles, or animal hair. If it is the presence of pollen that causes the allergy, then the symptoms may worsen during certain seasons.
The combination of all the factors that contribute to hay fever can make coping with it a nightmare due to these persistent symptoms. However, it is the intensity and frequency of this allergy that has led researchers to look beyond standard treatment methods. Instead, they have turned their attention to potential therapeutic remedies with minimal side effects, such as CBD.
CBD and allergies: what is the relationship?
Despite the lack of human trials on the potential of CBD, there are some promising animal studies. The first was a 2013 study on the effect of cannabidiol in antigen-induced guinea pigs. Several guinea pigs were given an antigen to stimulate a contraction in the throat muscles, a common symptom of hay fever. The researchers found that “cannabidiol reduced ovalbumin-induced airway obstruction,” adding that CBD “may have beneficial effects in the treatment of obstructive airway disorders.”
Later, in 2015, another study tried to understand the link between CB1 receptor mediation and mast cells. As we already know, mast cells are responsible for releasing the histamines that cause the symptoms of hay fever. Although the results were not conclusive, they suggest that CB1 receptors could mediate hypersensitivity of the immune system. The researchers found that activation of CB1 receptors lowers the mast cell ratio, which in turn could be used to lower histamine levels.
Is CBD the future of allergy treatments?
Although CBD and the role of cannabinoid receptors in hay fever clearly seem promising, we are still a long way from understanding how to use the compound. Not only is it necessary to identify the exact mechanism of action between CB receptors and histamine production, but there is a desperate need for human testing. Without it, it’s hard to say how effective CBD can be. Cannabidiol does not act directly on the endocannabinoid system, but rather influences various elements that feed on the system and its receptors.
However, given the prevalence of allergies such as hay fever, there is an obvious need for larger and more comprehensive studies. If we also consider that persistent cases of allergies can lead to asthma, sinusitis, ear infections and worse, a reduction in quality of life, the need for alternative treatments becomes very significant. Antihistamines do a relatively good job of controlling hay fever symptoms, but they are not without side effects. As the studies above show, there may be more natural alternatives that work with the body’s innate systems.