Naturopathy and Seasonal Allergies: Year 2!

Its my second year in New Zealand and I am currently also experiencing my second winter! ❄

It seems like coming from a tropical country, my body is not apt at dealing with changing seasons, especially when it starts to get cold.

Last year when the weather turned, I started experiencing swollen and itchy fingers and toes and eventually a serious breakout of hives all over my back every night!

I basically woke up at 3am every night feeling like a thousand ants were biting my back and all I could do was scratch and try to calm myself down by meditating until they went away about 1-2 hours later.

Wheals on my back from a ‘hive’ attack!

Thankfully, this year I haven’t experienced a single ‘hive attack’ yet! (fingers crossed 🤞)

However, as soon as the days started to get colder (~15°C), the seasonal allergies returned!

My fingers and toes would swell up for no apparent reason and eventually they got very itchy.

Again, it felt like hundreds of ants were biting them but ‘from the inside’!

Swollen and itchy ‘sausage’ fingers and toes! 🌭😭

At night, I would notice the joints around my fingers were more swollen and I could hardly ball them into a fist! ✊

Diet?

At first I was thinking it had something to do with what I ate. Because I noticed the symptoms would come an hour or 2 after a meal – despite eating a rather healthy and predominantly vegan/vegetarian diet.

Perhaps the trigger was nightshades? Gluten? Dairy? High histamine foods?

So I started to eliminate them. Everything I suspected.

I even re-challenged myself on certain foods like the nightshades and high-histamine ones.

Eggplant tomato “lagsana” dish full of nightshades 😈

After a few weeks, nothing much changed!

Temperature?

Okay so if it wasn’t the diet, what then?

I started to suspect I was having an allergy to … temperature!

This suspicion arose from a couple of reasons.

Firstly, fasting for a day caused a little reduction the symptoms BUT still did not prevent them from manifesting. Especially in the afternoon.

What was it about the afternoon that caused them to appear?

Well in Auckland’s autumn, the weather is funny like that in that it can be really cold in the morning but when the sun comes up, it can actually get very hot and go up by 10+°C!

And my room happens to warm up really significantly in the afternoons.

I remember doing an experiment one day where instead of studying in my room in the afternoon, I went down to the living room where it was cooler and true enough, the symptoms were not as bad!

Building on this hypothesis about temperature, I took up a friend’s suggestion that I should wear gloves to keep my hands warm or at a constant temperature most of the day.

That made some improvements too but it was hard to stay consistent as I had to remove them frequently for various reasons like cooking or washing my hands.

Diagnosis

I finally got a diagnosis when I consulted my pathophysiology tutor at Wellpark who also happens to hail from a tropical country where it is hot all year round – India.

She said she has experienced something like this for the past 5 years since moving to New Zealand and that this was a relatively new/rare condition that she is still researching about: Cold Urticaria

It’s basically an allergic reaction to the cold!

Common symptoms include “Temporary reddish, itchy welts (hives) on the area of skin that was exposed to cold”.

This is caused by the release of histamine “soon after the skin is exposed to a sudden drop in air temperature or to cold water. ” [1]

This year’s reactions were mostly restricted to my metarcarpals and metartarsals so I also suspected a lack of circulation to be the cause.

Often my fingers and toes would feel so cold to touch, even to myself. The ends of my nails are also often whitish-blue.

Treatment

As with any allergic reaction, anti-histamines work really well. But I did not want to go down that road.

1. Natural antihistamine

Last year, my naturopath advised me to take a natural antihistamine supplement like Quercetin, Bromelain and vitamin C.

That was great for calming down the allergic reactions and so I would take 2 capsules of Solgar’s Quercetin Complex whenever the itch became unbearable.

This is so potent that the itch would subside within an hour!

2. Staying Warm

It goes without saying that our bodies prefer a stable, comfortable temperature range and me walking around with sandals at 15°C wasn’t exactly taking care of my body.

Thus I decided it was time to stop being “Gung-ho” and start keeping my extremeties warm. I began wearing shoes and socks whenever I went out and wearing woolen socks all the time at home, even to bed.

True to this theory, the itch in my toes was the first symptom to stop!

Thus, I learnt that the key was to keep my extremeties warm all the time.

This was easier said than done for my fingers as gloves really limit my tactile senses and were bulky and uncomfortable. I would have to take them out every so often and so I’m still working on this one.

3. Herbal Teas

My naturopath also advised me to take yarrow (Achillea millefolium) or Gotu Kola (Centella asiatica) tea regularly.

Yarrow for moving stagnant blood and Gotu Kola for improving circulation.

Yarrow (in the middle), nettle (top) and Kawakawa (bottom) tea!

At first it was really hard to find yarrow as none of the organic healthfood stores sold it.

I finally managed to harvest some from my school’s herb garden but even then, they were tiny leaves from small plants. Not the mature flowers which I was told was more potent.

Gotu Kola is more readily available as a dried tea sold by Huckleberry’s so I will be drinking more of that from now on.

4. Red Wine Elixirs

Lastly, my Dr. Sebastian advised me to try making a rosemary wine elixir. This involved soaking fresh rosemary in organic red wine for 1-2 weeks before draining and drinking about 5-10ml a day.

Initially, I was not able to find the rosemary needed and so he gave me another recipe to try.

I still had a bottle of Galangal from singapore which I had purchased from him about a year ago and so he told me to boil a glass of red wine and add 5 tablets to it and drink before bed.

I don’t normally drink alcohol at all and so the effects of it was … stunning!

I remember the first night I tried this, I was utterly knocked out and slept like a log! Not even waking up once that night!

Another night, I woke up covered in sweat all over my chest! I guessed that was the effect of the galangal and wine combo. Thankfully it was a one-off.

When my Rosemary Red Wine elixir was finally ready, I stopped the galangal and started taking 10ml every night.

Even at such a low dose (compared to half a cup of boiled wine), I realize the effects of the alcohol was still there – I would sleep much more soundly.

The rosemary taste is very strong and after a few days, I’m starting to realize that I don’t feel cold as easily as before! This could be placebo so I will confirm and update this post in time.

In summary…

… this was an interesting experience that let me play ‘doctor’ with myself. To successfully treat any aillment, it is always important to find the root cause (one of the principles of Naturopathy). It was tough and without the help of mentors, I don’t think I’d have treated myself so successfully.

It has been >2 weeks since my last allergic reaction and I’m pretty sure the worst of it is over. That said, I will definitely continue the rosemary elixer and am already thinking of preventory steps in anticipation for next year’s autumn!

Links and resources mentioned

  1. my naturopath, Dr. Sebastian Liew
  2. Solgar’s Quercetin Complex
  3. Yarrow
  4. Gotu Kola

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