The term allergy was originally coined in the early years of this century to describe an abnormal reaction of the body to foreign proteins, for example, the pollens which provoke an attack of hay fever. Because invading organisms, such as bacteria and viruses, are composed mainly of protein, our defence mechanisms are triggered when the body detects proteins which it cannot recognise as being part of its own structure, or beneficial to that structure (such as the proteins in food). In an allergic response, this process has gone out of control in some way: either by overreacting wildly, or by reacting to a protein which is not in itself any threat. Hay fever, eczema, urticaria and some forms of asthma are all typical of a classical allergic reaction.

The aromatherapist's approach to allergy is to employ essential oils which are calming and soothing, and so modify this over-reaction. Camomile, Lavender, Peppermint and Melissa are the oils most often used successfully to help allergies. Baths, compresses, inhalations, skin lotions, etc., are all appropriate methods, depending on the type of allergic response.

Stress is known to play a very important role in predisposing people to respond allergically. Quite often, a person who develops asthma, eczema or other allergic reactions to various irritants when under stress, can come into contact with the same allergen without any reaction when calmer and happier. So one of the most important things the aromatherapist can do is to help decrease the levels of stress. We are fortunate in that massage itself is one of the most effective ways to reduce stress, and that there are so many essential oils which help to do so too. The three oils mentioned above as being most used for allergies are all de-stressors, which is undoubtedly why they are so effective in treating allergies. Berga-mot, Clary, Neroli, Rose, Jasmine, Sandalwood and Ylang Ylang are some of the other oils that are often used to help with stress. Massage is certainly the best method of use, but aromatic baths in between massage treatments are a real help, too.

The number of people suffering from allergies has increased vastly in recent years, and the increasingly stressful conditions under which many of us live must surely have much to do with this, as well as the proliferation of chemical pollutants in our food, air, water and environment. The term allergy is now often used to describe reactions which do not fall strictly within the original definition. Some of the conditions which have been attributed to adverse reactions to foreign substances, include catarrh, headaches, hyperactivity, fluid retention and a variety of skin problems. Some people prefer to use the term sensitivity to describe these reactions which are not covered by the earlier definitions of allergy, particularly if the offending substance is not a protein.

The role of food allergy is much better understood than a few years ago, though it is debatable whether in many instances it is the food itself which is responsible, or the conditions under which the food was produced, the feeding of hormones and antibiotics to farm animals, and the use of chemical fertilisers, pesticides and herbicides1 on fruit and vegetable crops being obvious examples. Pressure on food manufacturers to remove many chemical additives has resulted from observation of the range of allergic reactions, or sensitivities, which they provoke.

In all these reactions, as in classical allergy, stress is a very big factor, so the role of the aromatherapist will be the same, whatever the cause and whatever the form of the allergy - to soothe, calm and comfort, to reduce stress as much as possible, while alleviating the immediate symptoms. Dietary advice will almost always be necessary, but the factors involved are often so complicated that it may be advisable to refer the client to a trained nutritionist or a clinical ecologist. See also entries for ASTHMA, ECZEMA, HAY FEVER and NETTLERASH, and, because of the connection between allergies and STRESS, the entry under that heading.

In some cases a person may be allergic to the very Essential Oil or Carrier Oil that is intended to aid them. It is always advisable when using oils for the first time to perform a Skin Patch Test.

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