Health Notes

Relieve hay fever without the drowsy effects of antihistamines

Hay fever (allergic rhinitis) is more common than the common cold. In fact, I would venture to say that it’s the most common illness in the United States. The symptoms of hay fever-a runny nose, sneezing, nasal congestion, etc.-are typically treated with antihistamines, which must be taken all day long to offer adequate relief. Unfortunately, antihistamines have some unpleasant side effects including dizziness, blurred vision, nausea, and dry mouth. They can also cause extreme drowsiness, which makes performing routine daily tasks difficult and driving nearly impossible-not to mention dangerous. There is no way of knowing how many accidents are caused by the treatment of hay fever patients with antihistamines. But new research shows that it may be possible for hay fever patients to avoid all the risks associated with antihistamines and still get relief from their symptoms by using an herbal remedy.

According to a recent study published in the British Medical Journal, the herb butterbur is an effective treatment for hay fever. Dr. Andreas Schapowal, an ENT (ear, nose, and throat) specialist in Switzerland, tested 125 patients, whom he divided into two groups.

Those in the first group were given one butterbur tablet four times daily; those in the other group were given one tablet of the antihistamine drug cetirizine per day. After two weeks, researchers found that butterbur was as effective as antihistamines but did not make patients drowsy. The antihistamine used in the study, cetirizine, is not generally considered to have sedative properties. However, Schapowal stated that eight patients taking cetirizine reported drowsiness. None of the butterbur patients reported drowsiness.

The researchers concluded that “butterbur should be considered for treating hay fever, particularly in cases in which the sedative effects of antihistamines need to be avoided.” In my opinion, the sedative effects of antihistamines should be avoided in most cases-especially if you must drive while taking hay fever medication. With 18-wheelers roaring toward you at 80 miles per hour, it seems to me that butterbur would be the treatment of choice.

Action to take:

Butterbur is not very well known. My informal survey of health food stores revealed that they all claimed to have heard of it but didn’t have it in stock.

The company Botanica BioScience offers a butterbur product, though in tincture form rather than tablets. A 1-ounce bottle, which is about a two-week supply, costs US$14.95. You can order it directly by calling their order center at (888)726-7797 or (805)646-6062, or visit them on-line at

Butterbur is also the main ingredient in the product Petadolex, which has been marketed exclusively for migraine relief. Petadolex is available from a number of sources, including Natural Health Consultants in Vallejo, California; call (888)852-4993 or (707)554-1820 or visit them on-line at A bottle of 50 capsules costs US$29.75

If Dr. Schapowal’s research is confirmed by others, butterbur may be the antihistamine of the future. However, it shouldn’t be used by pregnant women or anyone with liver disease.


“Randomized controlled trial of butterbur and ceticizine for treating seasonal allergic rhinitis,” BMJ 2002; 324(7,330): 144-146

Prevent osteoarthritis by avoiding heavy lifting

According to a recent report from the Netherlands, heavy lifting may increase a person’s risk of developing osteoarthritis in one or both of the hips. Now I know why I have always been opposed to heavy work.

Osteoarthritis is the doctor’s way of saying “joints worn out from old age.” There are very few people who don’t experience at least some wearing of the joints by age 80, but some people wear out quicker than others. It is the degeneration of the cushioning material, the cartilage, that causes the condition’s characteristic pain and stiffness. If the cushion is gone and the bones rub together, it is not hard to understand that it’s going to hurt.

Doctors at the University Hospital in Rotterdam reviewed 16 published studies in an effort to identify possible causes of hip osteoarthritis and determine who is most at risk. The report concluded that heavy work, including lifting, appeared to triple hip osteoarthritis risk.

And speaking of lifting

While I was writing the above, a colleague told me of a case he had that involved different drastic effects of heavy lifting. I had never heard of such effects and they seemed rather bizarre to me, but he said they are not unusual in this epoch of physical fitness for all ages.

A 45-year-old white male came to the emergency ward after suffering for a week from a gigantic bruise extending from his collarbone to his left eye.

He related the story of doing squats while holding a 45-pound weight in each hand. As he was straightening out, with his back against the wall, he turned his head upward and immediately heard a “pop” somewhere on the left side of his neck. Over the next week, he developed massive swelling of the left side of his neck and face (including the left eye).

When he finally went to the emergency ward (at the insistence of his wife) the doctor discovered the root of the problem: He had ruptured his carotid artery. The swelling was from massive bleeding into the tissues of the neck and face. The blood had clotted and was acting as a tumor around the front of the brain and optic nerve. He developed Horner’s syndrome, which is seen in injuries of the optic nerve and the adjoining brain tissue, and is characterized by: a drooping eye lid (ptosis), a constricted pupil (myosis) and a sweating around the eye (hyperhidrosis). The good news is he’s still alive. The bad news is he wasted his money on those weights.

Action to take:
You get my point: Go easy on the weightlifting and exercise in general, no matter how old (or young) you are.

Women are especially prone to athletic injuries, because of their body configuration. I happen to like their configuration, but they are not made for violent sports like lifting, running, boxing and football.

“Influence of work on the development of osteoarthritis of the hip: a systematic review.” Journal of Rheumatology 2001; 28(11): 2,520-2,528

Rabbit Fever: The most common infectious disease you’ve never heard of-and how to avoid it

Bunnies look so cute hopping around in your yard. But when they get into your garden, they can cause more damage than just chewed lettuce leaves. Rabbits are among the primary carriers of a surprisingly common disease called tularemia, also known as gardener’s disease or rabbit fever. You can catch tularemia by inhaling dust from soil contaminated by rabbits. It is also transmitted by contact with infected animals, putting rabbit hunters (and not just Elmer Fudd) at risk. Symptoms of tularemia generally occur within three to five days of exposure, but they vary depending on how the disease is transmitted. Direct contact with an infected animal can cause a skin ulcer to form. Inhaled tularemia results in pneumonia (pneumonic tularemia). In the majority of cases, it is treated with antibiotics (usually streptomycin or tetracycline). The pneumonic form can be potentially fatal.

In the summer of 2000, an outbreak of tularemia occurred on Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts infecting 15 people. As a follow-up, researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDCP) conducted a study to identify possible risk factors. In the two weeks prior to illness, many of the patients had used a lawn mower or a brush cutter and had inhaled the disease.

Action to take:

If you are a gardener, camper, or rabbit hunter, tularemia can be a threat to your health. The most common activity connected with the infection is mowing the lawn, so wear a facemask to avoid inhaling the disease. If you are around rabbits, wear latex gloves and a facemask.


“An outbreak of primary pneumonic tularemia on Martha’s Vineyard,” New England Journal of Medicine 2001; 345(22): 1,601-1,606

“Pneumonic tularemia on Martha’s Vineyard,” New England Journal of Medicine 1979; 301(15): 826-828