Allergies: Scratching the surface or going for the cure?
Homeopathy is based on the principle "like is cured by like", recognized in ancient times by Hippocrates. Rediscovered by Samuel Hahnemann in the 1800's, homeopathic treatment works with rather than against the body's own natural healing abilities and efforts to regain health. A very close similarity between the remedy and the symptoms of the disease is the key to successful treatment. The ingredient in the homeopathic remedy is given in an extremely dilute form so it does not cause unwanted side effects. This allows for safe treatment of disease by stimulating and accelerating the body's natural healing forces without causing further problems or side effects.
Allergies are a very common problem and many animals today suffer from them. Horses are no exception. The preservatives in feeds, poor quality of feeds, chemicals in medications, an unnatural environment, and the excessive use of vaccines, antibiotics and cortisone-like drugs have all helped to create severe allergy problems by causing an imbalance or weakness in the body.
An allergy is nothing to sneeze at. It is an abnormally intense reaction to things that are usually quite harmless to the body such as fly bites, certain feeds, plant pollens, dust or mold. Contrary to popular opinion, allergies are not caused by an allergen; they are caused by the hypersensitive state of the animal to the allergen. The allergen is just the trigger that sets off the reaction. Allergies can be triggered by a variety of environmental factors, and determining exactly what substances are causing an allergic reaction can be difficult. Avoidance of the allergen can provide relief, but not a cure; it just keeps the hypersensitivity undisturbed. Symptoms such as respiratory irregularities, eye and nasal discharges, skin problems, digestive problems, and even behavior problems may indicate an allergy in a horse.
Dr. Scott Hosket, DVM, from Yellow Springs, Ohio, explains, "Allergies are considered a disease in which the body over-reacts to an outside stimulus. The horse's immune response to an allergen (outside stimulus) is drastically overblown and out of proportion to the original problem. For instance, horses are bitten every day by gnats and flies. Some have no reactions at all. Others have mild swelling and temporary pain and itching.
"A horse with an insect bite allergy will have multiple, soft fluid-like swellings over a large part of its body, not just at the bite itself. They then become firm hard nodules that may last for weeks or months. The horse may be miserable, lethargic and off his feed. This reaction is not considered normal by any definition in a healthy horse. Allergies can occur from bedding or material that comes into contact with the horse's skin causing welts, rashes, blisters and/or itching. Many horses react to walnut bark in the sawdust bedding this way. The allergic reaction can be acute, or rapid in onset, or it can be chronic in nature and long-lasting. Such long-acting allergies are more difficult to treat and are indicative of a more deeply-seated disease within the individual horse."
Allergies, or any disease symptoms, are viewed in homeopathy as communication from the body that something is not right. Homeopathy strives to keep that line of communication open so that cure can be achieved. Too often, the signs of communication are ignored, and one chooses a treatment that suppresses the symptoms, which silences what the body is saying and closes off the communication.
Homeopathy listens. The symptoms are the clues to the cure, and matching the symptoms to the remedy is the key. Correctly chosen homeopathic remedies stimulate the body's life force and immune system so that the body can heal itself.
Allergies indicate a malfunctioning immune system and an underlying imbalance. Once established, a malfunctioning immune system is a very difficult problem to correct. Successful treatment can be accomplished through homeopathy but it may take a long time, often as much as a year or more, depending on the situation.
Dr. Hosket emphasizes, "Holistically, and specifically homeopathically, a veterinarian does not treat the disease itself. A clinical diagnosis of allergic reaction is not of any value. The homeopathic veterinarian looks at the entire animal and how the whole body reacts. It is important to evaluate whether the clinical signs are due to acute disease or to chronic disease. Acute diseases respond quickly to a cure when the correct remedy, or similimum, is given. Chronic disease indicates a much deeper disease within the animal and may require several remedies over time to reach a cure."
Corticosteroids (anti-itch shots and allergy pills) effectively suppress symptoms like inflammation and itching, but will not cure. A natural approach is very promising, yet it may not work well if the animal is on continued cortisone therapy. Such drugs become part of the problem when used continually without addressing the cause of the condition. Also, animals with allergies do not respond well to vaccination, and it may accelerate the intensity and frequency of allergy symptoms.
The use of allergen injections and desensitization shots (giving small doses of an allergen to help the body's defenses desensitize the person to larger amounts of a particular allergen) is homeopathic-like, but uses the law of sames, or isopathy. This is only somewhat effective, because the allergen is only the trigger to the problem and not the underlying cause.
Dr. Hosket says, "In conventional medicine, in cases of allergies and autoimmune diseases the symptoms are treated. The horse is given antihistamines 2 to 4 times a day orally or parenterally [injection, for instance]. Or it is given steroids and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs daily. These are continued for as long as the horse is showing the clinical signs, which in many cases, can be the rest of the animal's life."
"Autoimmune disease," he explains, "is where the horse's immune system reacts to part of its own body cells as if the cells were foreign invaders. In a sense, the horse has an allergic reaction to itself. This disease is much deeper acting and more serious to the horse than the normal allergy. One example is periodic ophthalmia or moon blindness. It is believed to be an autoimmune disease. The body attacks the iris of the eye causing severe inflammation and eventually synechiae, or adhesions of the iris to the cornea and lens with loss of vision."
Homeopathic remedies offer the real potential of decreasing this hypersensitivity, sometimes temporarily and sometimes permanently. Homeopathic treatment can remove the underlying cause for the allergic tendency and greatly reduce it or eliminate it completely. Constitutional principles are very important, and under the guidance of a classical veterinary homeopath, cure is quite possible.
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), also known as heaves, is typically regarded as an allergic condition, though there may be many causes - poor quality hay, a neglected cough or cold, or overwork after a viral infection, to name a few. In long-term cases, a crease develops along the horse's abdominal muscles from the extra effort needed to force air through the respiratory tract. Inflammation, coughing and nasal discharges may occur. Considered incurable, COPD is often managed with cortisone-type suppressive drugs, but the condition is never resolved that way. Herbs may control the cough and other symptoms, but the underlying problem is not addressed. COPD has been known to resolve itself, however, with appropriate homeopathic care.
Dr. Hosket explains, "Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or heaves, is considered the body's overblown or allergic reaction to inhaled allergens such as dust, mold spores or grass/hay pollens. It results in impaired respiration and labored breathing. The clinical signs of both diseases are due to inflammation. Without proper treatment and often in spite of conventional treatment, the inflammatory process continues until the lung is non-functional and the horse is dead."
In horses, skin problems labeled as allergies may be suppressed with drug therapy, but the underlying cause will not be addressed. The skin affliction will surely return after the drug therapy is stopped, or after the drug loses its effectiveness. Skin problems, in particular, are just the tip of the iceberg; they represent a larger problem inside. The body, in its attempts to spare the vital internal organs, may push illness to the outside of the body where it does less harm. The skin, being the largest organ of the body, thus has more area to handle it! The frustrating thing about skin problems is that because homeopathy's route of cure is generally from the top to the bottom, and from the inside out, the last part of the body to be healed will most likely be the skin. Once the skin finally clears up, though, it may well be the indication that all is well inside.
Dr. Hosket explains, "The goal is to cure the horse. Homeopathy allows the animal's own vital force to restore good health to that horse and in doing so the allergic symptoms will disappear. In a cure, the remedy will no longer need to be given and the animal will be in such a healthy state that it will not react in an allergic manner again.
"One allergy case I had was a 2-year-old Quarter Horse gelding that was stung on the nose by a bee. The nose was swollen, hot and sore to the touch. This would be called an acute allergic reaction conventionally. Homeopathically, I was equally concerned that the horse did not want to drink, and would not eat. He wanted to stay in the barn and hold his nose in the water bucket. All these are important and point to a homeopathic remedy. The remedy was given and within 20 minutes the swelling was gone. The animal was eating and drinking and reacting with the other horses. The swelling never came back. The gelding was cured."
He continues, "When a curative reaction is occurring, the remedy is not repeated as long as it is acting. The horse should be responding favorably with positive emotional and mental signs. There may be an aggravation, a temporary worsening of an existing physical symptom. The horse may itch a little more in an allergic skin case yet overall the horse will be feeling better. If a new symptom such as colic or depression appears after a remedy is given, then the case is not going in a curative direction and must be re-evaluated quickly."
Dr. Hosket cautions, "Since I try to practice classical homeopathy I look at each horse as an individual and cannot recommend remedies in a cookbook-type manner." Every horse is different. An allergy is a complex, chronic condition that requires the guidance of a veterinary homeopath when treating homeopathically. The following list is for informational purposes only, and to assist the owner in the skills of observation; a Materia Medica will provide more detail . These are some useful remedies that have been used with varying success in allergic conditions when correctly chosen according to symptoms and cause:
Antimonium crudum - small blisters on skin, honey-like secretions, aggravated by heat; stomach disorders
Apis - allergic-type swellings, raised, itchy patches of skin (worse from heat)
Arsenicum album - horse appears restless and oversensitive; worse at midnight and after; moving about and warmth seem to give relief; frequent thirst for small amounts of water
Astacus - nettle rash-type itching over whole body; liver affections; lymph glands enlarged, especially neck
Bovista - severely itching eczema, especially on the head, at first moist then forming crusts; worse from warmth; more often used for small animals
Chamomilla - skin eruptions, hypersensitivity and irritability of the sort usually coincident with erupting teeth
Colchicum - for allergic conditions, joint stiffness and inflammation, colic
Culicoides midge - remedy made from the midge for true cases of sweet itch (sensitivity to the saliva of the biting midge)
Fragaria - itchy, raised spots of skin; digestive problems, excessive tooth tartar
Galphimia glauca - a non-specific anti-allergic remedy
Histaminum - useful in allergic skin conditions, particularly raised, itchy welts
Medusa - puffy swelling of face, eyes, nose, ears, lips; burning skin rash, sometimes with blisters
Mixed grasses - allergic response to grasses; excessive itching, skin lesions
Primula obconica - intense itching, small blisters
Pulex - made from the common flea; may be useful in prickly, itching skin conditions, often with foul odor
Rhus toxicodendron - afflictions of skin, muscle, mucous membranes, connective tissues; blistery eruptions, inflammation, stiffness; improvement from movement and mild exercise
Sulphur - generalized itching, red mucous membranes, strong skin odor
Urtica urens - allergic skin conditions, particularly raised, itchy welts
Potentised allergen - a remedy made from one of the specific allergens
Where a specific allergy is diagnosed and the allergen has been identified, use of the homeopathically potentised preparation of the allergen may be helpful for desensitization (sometimes known as Allergens, 30c for example). Thus seasonal allergies can be somewhat tamed by preventive doses prior to and during the sensitive period. Although not a cure, the remedy can afford great relief.
Note: Lower potencies should be used for the horse who has many allergies because the hypersensitive state sometimes extends to homeopathic medicines too. They may experience a proving of a higher-potency remedy.
Dr. Hosket says, "Homeopathy is effective in all types of diseases, including allergic ones, when the particular patient is matched with the correct remedy. There are several books on remedies and repertories available to help find the right one to use."