Can Local Honey Really Help With Seasonal Allergies?


Seasonal allergy sufferers know that relief from streaming eyes, itchy throats, and stuffy noses can be elusive. One of the more widely touted home remedies is eating local honey or bee pollen to help prevent symptoms. The theory is that by exposing yourself to pollen produced by nearby plants—presumably the same ones triggering allergic responses—you can train your immune system to not react.

If you're plagued by pollen, you might be tempted to stock up on local honey—but don't head to the farmer's market just yet. According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, allergists don’t believe local honey has a medicinal effect on allergies.

There are a few reasons why honey, delicious as it is, isn't an allergy cure-all. For one, most people with seasonal allergies are responding to pollen from trees, grasses, and weeds—plants that bees rarely pollinate. (They prefer non-allergenic flowering plants.)

What’s more, pollen of any variety isn’t present in honey in large quantities. Bees make honey from nectar, not pollen; any pollen that ends up in honey is there accidentally, and according to the National Honey Board, it's only present in trace amounts that won't have a noticeable effect on your immune system.

The available science supports that claim: One study, published in the Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology in 2002, found that sufferers who ate either local honey or commercially produced non-local honey got no more relief from their symptoms than sufferers who took a honey-flavored placebo.

Commercially available bee pollen supplements are also touted as a method of allergy relief for their purported ability to teach your immune system to be calm in the presence of pollen. But the supplements contain far more pollen than what most people would be exposed to by just walking around—which means they can actually make allergies worse. Just 50 pollen grains per cubic meter of air can trigger hay fever symptoms; one study estimated that there could be between 0.4 and 6.4 million pollen grains in a single gram of bee pollen.

It's probably not surprising, then, that there are reports of patients with pollen allergies suffering reactions as severe as anaphylaxis after consuming bee pollen. But that's not the only reason these supplements could be harmful: In an article for the Journal of Dietary Supplements [PDF], researchers explained that because pollen is collected by bees in less than sterile conditions, bee pollen may be adulterated with mold and bacteria, and caution that “it is impossible to produce a stable, consistent, and clean product from this contaminated source.”

Though honey and bee pollen won't help allergy sufferers get relief, they do have options. There are two immunotherapies currently available and approved by the FDA: the allergy shot and a sublingual (under the tongue) tablet. (Sublingual drops and anti-allergy toothpaste are also available outside the U.S.) Both methods give you a repeated, low-dose exposure to an allergen, adapting your immune system into not responding to that allergen—exactly what honey and bee pollen are supposed to do but don't. And unlike bee pollen or local honey, these treatments are administered or prescribed by a doctor, the doses are regulated, and studies have demonstrated their efficacy, all of which lower the risk of adverse reactions and increases your chance of successful treatment.

Now Ear This: A New App Can Detect a Child's Ear Infection

Generally speaking, using an internet connection to diagnose a medical condition is rarely recommended. But technology is getting better at outpacing skepticism over handheld devices guiding decisions and suggesting treatment relating to health care. The most recent example is an app that promises to identify one of the key symptoms of ear infections in kids.

The Associated Press reports that researchers at the University of Washington are close to finalizing an app that would allow a parent to assess whether or not their child has an ear infection using their phone, some paper, and some soft noises. A small piece of paper is folded into a funnel shape and inserted into the ear canal to focus the app's sounds (which resemble bird chirps) toward the child’s ear. The app measures sound waves bouncing off the eardrum. If pus or fluid is present, the sound waves will be altered, indicating a possible infection. The parent would then receive a text from the app notifying them of the presence of buildup in the middle ear.

The University of Washington tested the efficacy of the app by evaluating roughly 50 patients scheduled to undergo ear surgery at Seattle Children’s Hospital. The app was able to identify fluid in patients' ears about 85 percent of the time. That’s roughly as well as traditional exams, which involve visual identification as well as specialized acoustic devices.

While the system looks promising, not all cases of fluid in the ear are the result of infections or require medical attention. Parents would need to evaluate other symptoms, such as fever, if they intend to use the app to decide whether or not to seek medical attention. It may prove most beneficial in children with persistent fluid accumulation, a condition that needs to be monitored over the course of months when deciding whether a drain tube needs to be placed. Checking for fluid at home would save both time and money compared to repeated visits to a physician.

The app does not yet have Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval and there is no timetable for when it might be commercially available. If it passes muster, it would join a number of FDA-approved “smart” medical diagnostic tools, including the AliveKor CardiaBand for the Apple Watch, which conducts EKG monitoring for heart irregularities.

[h/t WGRZ]

Does Having Allergies Mean That You Have A Decreased Immunity?

Tirumalai Kamala:

No, allergy isn't a sign of decreased immunity. It is a specific type of immune dysregulation. Autoimmunity, inflammatory disorders such as IBS and IBD, and even cancer are examples of other types of immune dysregulation.

Quality and target of immune responses and not their strength is the core issue in allergy. Let's see how.

—Allergens—substances known to induce allergy—are common. Some such as house dust mite and pollen are even ubiquitous.
—Everyone is exposed to allergens yet only a relative handful are clinically diagnosed with allergy.
—Thus allergens don't inherently trigger allergy. They can but only in those predisposed to allergy, not in everyone.
—Each allergic person makes pathological immune responses to not all but to only one or a few structurally related allergens while the non-allergic don't.
—Those diagnosed with allergy aren't necessarily more susceptible to other diseases.

If the immune response of each allergic person is selectively distorted when responding to specific allergens, what makes someone allergic? Obviously a mix of genetic and environmental factors.

[The] thing is allergy prevalence has spiked in recent decades, especially in developed countries, [which is] too short a time period for purely genetic mutation-based changes to be the sole cause, since that would take multiple generations to have such a population-wide effect. That tilts the balance towards environmental change, but what specifically?

Starting in the 1960s, epidemiologists began reporting a link between infections and allergy—[the] more infections in childhood, [the] less the allergy risk [this is called hygiene hypothesis]. Back then, microbiota weren't even a consideration but now we have learned better, so the hygiene hypothesis has expanded to include them.

Essentially, the idea is that the current Western style of living that rapidly developed over the 20th century fundamentally and dramatically reduced lifetime, and, crucially, early life exposure to environmental microorganisms, many of which would have normally become part of an individual's gut microbiota after they were born.

How could gut microbiota composition changes lead to selective allergies in specific individuals? Genetic predisposition should be taken as a given. However, natural history suggests that such predisposition transitioned to a full fledged clinical condition much more rarely in times past.

Let's briefly consider how that equation might have fundamentally changed in recent times. Consider indoor sanitation, piped chlorinated water, C-sections, milk formula, ultra-processed foods, lack of regular contact with farm animals (as a surrogate for nature) and profligate, ubiquitous, even excessive use of antimicrobial products such as antibiotics, to name just a few important factors.

Though some of these were beneficial in their own way, epidemiological data now suggests that such innovations in living conditions also disrupted the intimate association with the natural world that had been the norm for human societies since time immemorial. In the process such dramatic changes appear to have profoundly reduced human gut microbiota diversity among many, mostly in developed countries.

Unbeknownst to us, an epidemic of absence*, as Moises Velasquez-Manoff evocatively puts it, has thus been invisibly taking place across many human societies over the 20th century in lock-step with specific changes in living standards.

Such sudden and profound reduction in gut microbiota diversity thus emerges as the trigger that flips the normally hidden predisposition in some into clinically overt allergy. Actual mechanics of the process remain the subject of active research.

We (my colleague and I) propose a novel predictive mechanism for how disruption of regulatory T cell** function serves as the decisive and non-negotiable link between loss of specific microbiota and inflammatory disorders such as allergies. Time (and supporting data) will tell if we are right.

* An Epidemic of Absence: A New Way of Understanding Allergies and Autoimmune Diseases Reprint, Moises Velasquez-Manoff

** a small indispensable subset of CD4+ T cells.

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.