It’s that season again in Northern Arizona. Runny nose, itchy eyes, sneezing. Sure, plants are starting to bud, flowers are starting to pop out but this is also the driest season of the year. Along with the wind, the dramatic reduction of precipitation in spring time dries everything out very quickly – including ourselves.
As we move out of winter, especially one with an average amount of precipitation like this year, we may have fallen out of the habit of staying fully hydrated. In winter months, we tend to drink less water because we don’t feel hot. This may not be a big deal when we have more moisture in the air during consistent winter storms. But now that the air is dramatically dryer, if we haven’t increased our water consumption in proportion to the drying air, we can rapidly become dehydrated.
If you are familiar with me at all, you’ll know of my constant preaching of drinking at least 1/2 of your bodyweight in ounces of water each day. This rule of thumb is a good guide to staying properly hydrated, especially in our climate of Northern Arizona. As for what to drink, I’m pretty consistent in sticking to just plain water, or watered-down fruit juice. Coffee, tea and other caffeinated beverages should not be counted in those ounces.
Here’s why I don’t recommend counting those caffeinated beverages. Caffeine is a nervous system stimulant that, among many things, dilates blood vessels which increases the amount of blood being filtered by the kidneys – resulting in an increased production of urine. This is combined with caffeine’s effect of sensitizing the bladder’s trigger system to alert you of the need to urinate. The result is a net loss of fluids from drinking caffeinated beverages. For regularly brewed coffee, in order to derive the two cups of water in the two cups of coffee you are drinking, you’ll need to drink an extra cup of coffee to offset the diuretic effect of the caffeine! It’s simpler to stick to plain water.
One note, the study that found that caffeine is not a diuretic was funded by the National Coffee Association. Go figure. (Click Here to view that study)
So how does dehydration relate to allergies? A 1995 Danish study confirms the process by which dehydration triggers an increase in histamine production by the body’s endocrine system. Histamine production is a defensive mechanism by the body to preserve the vital water that remains in the body and to prevent further loss.
Not only does the body lose water through urination and perspiration, normal respiration also causes a large volume of water loss through the vapor exhaled during breathing. Histamine is part of the regulatory mechanism that controls bronchial contractions in the lungs. Bronchial constrictions during an asthma attack may be the result of the body’s attempt to minimize water vapor loss.
Although a natural product of the body’s endocrine system, histamine is an irritant to the body which produces the itchy eyes, runny nose and sneezing associated with allergic reaction. In a normally functioning system, a simple invasion by a virus, bacteria or pollen spore triggers histamine production to defend against and expel the invading micro-organism. However, dehydration can put this system out of balance, resulting in elevated levels of histamine circulating through the body. These elevated histamine levels produce symptoms similar to an allergic reaction even when there are no outside triggers creating the response.
If you then take an anti-histamine allergy medication to relieve these symptoms, you are then shutting down your body’s natural ability to produce histamine even when it’s necessary. I suggest that before reaching into the medicine cabinet, reach into the cupboard first and drink about a quart of water (with a pinch of salt), and see if after a few minutes your symptoms are lessened or even eliminated. If not, try again in another 30 minutes. If after these two attempts to rehydrate have no effect on your allergy symptoms, then try the pharmaceutical approach.
I believe you’ll find that water will be your best solution most of the time. Try it. You’ve got nothing to lose.