Calling all congested faces, runny noses, sinus discomfort and itchy eyes. We are into the thick of pollen and grass season. If you have any of the symptoms of the season, now is the time to act.
You are not destined to suffer from allergies every season!
If you’re a seasonal allergy sufferer, you know that few things can drain the joy out of spring and summertime like the misery of red, itchy, watery eyes, continuous sneezing and that awful post-nasal drip. Airborne pollen is the most common cause of seasonal allergies, also known as hay fever or allergic rhinitis, but many other sources can lead to agonizing allergic symptoms as well. As the weather warms and the air dampens, the activity levels of creatures – all shapes, sizes and species – increases as well, and the resulting culmination is air that is thick with pollen, insects, pet hair and dander, dust and numerous invisible toxins.
Yet the fear of leaving your house as soon as pollen counts begin to rise does not mean you are destined to spend another beautiful summer peeking out from behind the blinds as you wipe your eyes and blow your nose. Nor are you forever shackled to prescription allergy medication if do decide to brave the outdoors. Spring and summer are meant to be enjoyed outside, with family and friends, and free of allergy ailments.
By applying some simple and natural methods to combat seasonal allergies, you too can laugh (with mouth and eyes wide open) as you frolic, unscathed, through fields of dandelions this season!
Pollen from trees, weeds and grasses are the primary culprits behind seasonal allergies. Spring allergies are typically from tree pollen, whereas summer allergies usually come from grasses, and then weed pollens dominate the airways during late summer and fall. Without allergy testing, it’s nearly impossible to determine which offenders are causing your wheezes and sneezes, but the time and season may give you some clues.
To make matters even worse, there are now a number of studies linking changes in climate with increasingly long and severe allergy seasons. In fact, springtime is arriving 10 to 14 days earlier than it did 20 years ago, which results in higher pollen levels for longer periods of time.
Allergies are your body’s reaction to allergens (particles your body considers foreign), a sign that your immune system is working overtime. The first time your body encounters an allergen, specific cells of your immune system, known as Immunoglobulins, release an antibody specific to that allergen. These antibodies then attach to the surface of specialized cells found in close proximity to the external environment (such as the skin and mucous membranes of the nose) where they help mediate inflammatory responses.
These specialized cells also release a number of important chemical mediators, one of which most allergy sufferers know all too well – histamine.
The second time your body encounters that particular allergen, within a few minutes these specialized cells become activated and release a powerful cocktail of histamine, leukotrienes, and prostaglandins, which trigger the entire cascade of symptoms you associate with allergies: sneezing, runny nose, sore throat, hacky cough, itchy eyes, etc. Histamine can cause your airways to constrict, like with asthma, or cause blood vessels to become more permeable, leading to fluid leakage or hives.
What a lovely protective mechanism the body has created, isn’t it?
Pollen is an extremely common allergy activator, but other agents can trigger these processes as well. Mold spores, dust, airborne contaminants, dust mites, pet dander, cockroaches, environmental chemicals, cleaning products, personal care products and foods can all cause allergic reactions. Every person is different in what he or she reacts to. And, just because you haven’t reacted to something in the past doesn’t mean you won’t react to it in the future—you can become sensitized at any point in time. Besides pollen, household chemicals such as triclosan and bisphenol-A (BPA) can aggravate or even cause allergies.
However, don’t let the fear of melting into a salty puddle this allergy season send you running to your doctor for an allergy prescription just yet. There are many safe and natural treatments you should consider before loading up on Claritin.
About one-third of seasonal allergy sufferers have something called “oral allergy syndrome,” in which your immune system is triggered by proteins in some foods that are molecularly similar to pollen. Your immune system looks at the protein molecule and says, “Close enough!” and attacks it. If you are allergic to ragweed, for example, you may have cross-sensitivity to melons, bananas, tomatoes, zucchini, sunflower seeds, dandelions, chamomile, and echinacea. If you have a grass allergy, you may also react to peaches, celery, tomatoes, melons and oranges.
Besides avoiding foods that may trigger your allergy, there are a number of foods that can be helpful for calming down allergy symptoms.
Consider the following:
- Omega-3 fatty acids: People who have diets rich in of omega-3 fatty acids suffer from fewer allergy symptoms. Some good sources of omega-3 fatty acids are grass fed meat and eggs, and krill oil. (Fish has become too contaminated to rely on as a staple.)
- Probiotics: People who take probiotics throughout allergy season tend to have lower levels of an antibody that triggers allergy symptoms.
- Vitamin D: Insufficient vitamin D levels have been linked to more severe asthma and allergies in children. Vitamin D has also been found to reduce allergic responses to mold.
- Hot peppers: Hot chili peppers, horseradish, and hot mustards work as natural decongestants. In fact, a nasal spray containing capsaicin (derived from hot peppers) significantly reduce nasal allergy symptoms.
- Locally produced honey: Many believe that consuming locally produced honey, which contains pollen spores picked up by the bees from your local plants, can act as a natural “allergy vaccine.” By introducing a small amount of allergen into your system (from eating the honey), your immune system is activated and over time can build up your natural immunity against it. Just be careful to consume honey moderately as it’s high in fructose.
Below are several other foods and herbs you might want to try:
- Quercetin: Quercetin is an antioxidant that belongs to a class of water-soluble plant substances called flavonoids. Many believe quercetin-rich foods (such as apples, berries, red grapes, red onions, capers and black tea) prevent histamine release—so they are “natural antihistamines.” Quercetin is also available in supplement form—a typical dose for hay fever is between 200 and 400 mg per day.
- Stinging nettle (Urtica dioica): Another natural antihistamine, stinging nettle has a long history of use for seasonal allergies, without the drowsiness and dry mouth associated with many pharmacological antihistamines. Nettle inhibits your body’s ability to produce histamines. The recommended dose is about 300 mg freeze-dried nettle extract daily.
- Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis): Goldenseal may be helpful for seasonal allergies. Laboratory studies suggest that berberine, the active ingredient in goldenseal, has antibacterial and immune-enhancing properties.
- Eucalyptus oil: This pure essential oil can be healing to mucus membranes. You can apply a drop on a cotton ball and sniff it several times a day, add a few drops to water (or to a nebulizer, if you own one) for a steam treatment, or use a few drops in your bathwater.
*NOTE: As always, please seek the advice of your trusted health care professional before beginning any new health care program, no matter how safe it may seem. This article does not claim to diagnose or recommend specific treatment to any individual. It is merely to be used as a guide, and offers recommendations that you may choose to bring up with your practitioner.
Another simple, inexpensive and very beneficial practice you can do at home is flushing out your nasal passages with a neti pot. A neti pot is a small vessel with a spout you insert into your nose that can be used to gently irrigate your nose and sinuses with a salt-water solution. You may want to also consider the purchase of an air purifier, or a propolis vaporizer. An air purifier will result in lower levels of allergens circulating around your home or office, which is great for individuals suffering from asthma or allergies. A propolis vaporizer releases warm mist into the air, replacing much needed moisture to the skin and mucous membranes, but includes the added benefit of releasing negatively charged particles of propolis, which rapidly adhere to volatile particles that have a damaging effect on the body, such as mold spores, dust, viruses, bacteria, mites and even tobacco smoke.
In addition to the ways you can help lessen the impacts of allergies this season, there are also some things which can actively be avoided to also dampen the ill-effects of the season.
- Avoid chlorinated pools and hot tubs if you have allergies or asthma. Swimming in chlorinated pools has been shown to increase respiratory problems and allergies.
- You might want to back off on cell phone use if your allergies are raging. A study out of Bastyr University found cell phones might actually worsen allergy symptoms. The study, published in Archives of Allergy and Immunology, found that one hour of continuous cell phone use exacerbates allergic responses to dust and pollen. Although the findings are preliminary, they suggest that microwave radiation may somehow make allergic responses worse.
Hopefully, this article has given you a number of ideas to try that you might not have already known about. It is always best to employ natural measures before harsh drugs, and fortunately, natural allergy treatments work quite well. If you find yourself struggling each season to find that “magic combination” of allergy treatments that work for you, call our office today to schedule an additional Allergy Clearing Session with your regular appointment, and finally find relief this year!