It’s spring. And with all the beautiful blossoming flowers and trees come the inevitable seasonal allergies many of us suffer. Each of us may experience slightly different symptoms, but they generally affect us in the eyes, skin, or airways and respiratory system.
Over the last 30 years or so, seasonal allergy symptoms have worsened. Researchers are not exactly sure why, but they agree that allergies to pollen, mold, and some foods are growing exponentially. That means more people than ever are feeling the ill effects.
So what are seasonal allergies?
Allergies occur when your immune system has a negative reaction to an airborne substance, like pollen. Certain cells release a chemical called histamine which leads to an allergic reaction: watery burning eyes, itchy skin, runny nose, scratchy throat, and more.
Allergies can’t generally be prevented, but allergic reactions can be. The treatment goal is to avoid contact with the allergen, but that’s very difficult. Treating the symptoms will require a plan that addresses diet, lifestyle, and natural treatments.
Your risk of suffering seasonal allergy symptoms increases if you have certain medical conditions. Asthma, unmanaged physical or emotional stress, deviated septum, nasal polyps, pregnancy, recent trauma or surgery, underlying illness, lack of sleep, and even food allergies put you at heightened risk.
All of these conditions can adversely affect and weaken your immune system. A strong immune system is key in fighting seasonal allergies. In fact, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine, allergies are actually disorders of the immune system. The body over-reacts to harmless substances and creates antibodies to attack the substance, which then causes symptoms.
Over-the-counter allergy medications, antihistamines, decongestants, and corticosteroids all counteract the effect of histamine produced by the body. However, they do have some unpleasant side effects:
- impaired performance
- dryness of eyes, nose, and mouth
- abdominal distress
- unusual bleeding and bruising
- heart palpitations
And in children:
- upset stomach
- impaired cognitive function
Clearly, pharmaceutical allergy medications aren’t for everyone, and they don’t cure allergies, they only temporarily relieve the symptoms. Many are not recommended for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, or individuals with high blood pressure, heart disease, kidney or liver disease, glaucoma, or thyroid problems.
Some foods naturally contain high levels of histamines. During allergy season, you are well advised to avoid these foods:
- conventional, pasteurized dairy (mucus producing)
- aged cheese (high in histamines)
- peanuts (high in mold)
- sugar (mucus forming and immune system depleting)
- wheat (mucus forming)
- wine (high in histamines)
- fermented foods (high in histamines)
- tomatoes (high in histamines and cross-reactor with grass pollens)
- canned fish (high in histamines)
- aged meats, like salami and pepperoni (high in histamines)
- chamomile tea (a relative of ragweed)
As disappointing as this list may be, there is also a list of foods to enjoy during allergy season, which may help to boost the immune system and relieve your allergy symptoms:
- raw local honey, a few tablespoons a day (contains small amounts of local pollen, which helps increase your tolerance and inoculate you against allergens)
- hot, spicy foods, like garlic, onions, ginger, cinnamon, horseradish, and cayenne (these thin the mucus and help express it)
- bone broth from chicken or beef (reduces inflammation, boosts your immune system, expels muous, and helps ease respiratory problems)
- raw, organic dairy (raw dairy still contains live enzymes which are killed during the pasteurization process. These enzymes help curb mucus production, whereas pasteurized dairy increases it)
- pineapple (contains bromelain enzyme as well as essential nutrients to help reduce your reaction to seasonal allergies)
- apple cider vinegar (breaks up mucus, boost your immune system, and supports lymphatic drainage. Try mixing a tablespoon with a tablespoon each of lemon juice and raw local honey. Add ginger, cinnamon, and cayenne for an extra allergy-fighting punch)
- spirulina (this blue-green algae is high in antioxidants and stops the release of histamine)
- stinging nettle (contains both antihistamine and anti-inflammatory properties. You can drink as a tea or take as a supplement, and for those who won’t drink it, like kids, you can try brewing a strong tea and adding to bathwater so it will absorb through the skin)
- probiotics (improve gut health and immune system, thereby improving allergy symptoms)
- anti-inflammatory diet (rich in plant-based foods and a limited amount of clean animal protein, but no dairy and low-to-no grains)
- mullein leaf (this herb has an affinity for the lungs and helps improve any respiratory issue, including allergies)
And in addition to eating foods that support you in fighting seasonal allergies, there are several action steps you can take as well:
- If you’re going outside, try going in the early morning or later in the evening when pollen counts are lower
- When doing yardwork, consider wearing a mask to reduce your inhalation of airborne allergens
- When you come back inside, leave your shoes at the door, and with them all the pollen stuck on the soles
- If your allergy symptoms are severe, consider changing your clothes every time you come back inside
- Wash your hair at the end of each day
- Rinse off outdoor pets, especially their paws
- Try nasal irrigation with purified warm salt water in a neti pot. This flushes out irritants and excess mucous, and the salt restores moisture and reduces inflammation
- If the neti pot seems like too much for you, try a saline mist instead, let sit in nose for 30 seconds, then blow your nose
- Halotherapy is salt air treatment for the lungs. You can find a local “salt room” business where you pay to sit in the room and inhale the salt air, or go to the beach
- Immunotherapy or allergy shots are injections of small amounts of allergens, slowly increasing with every visit to desensitize the body
You don’t have to stay inside or wear a face mask this allergy season … just follow some of the tips above, and enjoy freely the beautiful springing of spring!