What makes spring so beautiful for many people leads to misery for those who suffer from seasonal allergy symptoms. Natural allergy treatments can be as effective and, in many cases, more effective than allergy medications.
Fresh cut grass, blooming trees and flowers, and weeds release pollen, causing seasonal allergies in an estimated 40 million to 60 million people each year. (1) Allergic rhinitis is the medical term for hay fever and seasonal allergies that occur not just in the spring, but throughout the summer and into the fall. (And did you know certain foods, even healthy ones, can make your allergies even worse? See the list of 18 foods below.)
In 2019, allergies are forecast to be severe, with many dubbing spring allergy season the “pollenpocalypse” or “extreme pollen blanket.” Images in North Carolina show the sky tinted from a never-before-seen haze of yellow pollen, and it’s sweeping throughout the country. Experts predict the worst is still on its way, so the time to get your body prepped to defend allergy season is now.
We know increased pollen counts are one of the health effects of climate change; In 2000, pollen counts registered at 8,455 grains per cubic meter. By 2040, that number is projected to be well over 20,000.
While hay fever frequently begins at a young age, it can strike anyone, at any time. Sometimes seasonal allergy symptoms fade over the years, only to reoccur later in life. If you experience seasonal allergy symptoms in one location and move to a new area with different types of flora, your allergies may go away.
Every tree, flower and weed releases pollen, but not all individuals have heightened sensitivity or allergic reactions to all pollens. It’s important to pay attention and recognize what triggers your allergy symptoms. For some people, cottonwood trees and ragweed are the problems, while for others it’s grass or ragweed.
Research indicates nearly 75 percent of people in the United States who suffer from seasonal allergies are allergic to ragweed. Unlike grass, trees and flower that produce pollen in the spring and summer, pollen due to ragweed is often highest during the fall. (2)
Nearly a third of ragweed allergy sufferers also experience an allergic response to certain foods. These include cucumbers, melons, zucchini, sunflower seeds, bananas and chamomile tea. (3) If you have a ragweed allergy, avoid these foods and others listed below under “Foods to Avoid.”
Left untreated, seasonal allergy symptoms cause miserable symptoms, affect day-to-day activities and can spur asthma attacks. Approximately 80 percent of people with asthma suffer from seasonal allergies. Treating hay fever symptoms can reduce asthma–related hospitalizations and emergencies. (4)
The same pollen and allergens that trigger seasonal allergy symptoms can cause asthma attacks, resulting in wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness and difficulty breathing. This condition is referred to as allergy-induced asthma or allergic asthma. (5)
People with compromised immune systems, COPD and other respiratory conditions need to manage their seasonal allergy symptoms to prevent further complications. Changes in diet, natural supplements, essential oils and lifestyle changes can help.
Common Allergy Symptoms
Allergy symptoms make you feel simply awful. Congestion, post-nasal drip, itchy eyes and sneezing wear your body down. While the severity of symptoms of allergic rhinitis vary widely from season to season, chances are if you have seasonal allergies, the symptoms impact your day-to-day life.
Researchers are at odds as to why seasonal allergy symptoms have worsened over the past 30 years but agree that allergies to pollen, mold and some foods are growing exponentially. According to the “Quest Diagnostics Health Trends Allergy Report,” overall rates of allergy sensitivities have increased nearly 6 percent in just four years, and ragweed allergies have grown 15 percent. (6)
Many hay fever symptoms are similar to those of a common cold or sinus infection, but colds and sinus infections come and go much more quickly than seasonal allergies. Allergy symptoms don’t go away until the pollen is dormant.
Someone suffering from seasonal allergies faces the same challenges, season after season. When the allergen is pollen, mold or another airborne substance, the symptoms typically manifest in the lungs, nose and eyes. Food allergies, on the other hand, most commonly affect the mouth, stomach and may cause skin rashes.
Common seasonal allergy symptoms include:
- Post-nasal drip
- Excess mucus production
- Runny nose
- Itchy, watery eyes
- Scratchy throat
- Tickle/irritation in the ears
- Decreased concentration and focus
- Decreased decision-making
- Exhaustion and sleep disorders
- Mood swings
- Low blood pressure
- Middle ear infections
Limiting the time you spend outdoors can help relieve these symptoms of hay fever. But this isn’t the best solution. Who wants to spend their spring, summer and fall stuck indoors?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), allergies can’t generally be prevented, but allergic reactions can be. (7) The treatment goal is to avoid contact with the allergen — however, this is extremely difficult for individuals with seasonal allergies.
Treating your seasonal allergy symptoms requires a multi-pronged attack, one that addresses your diet, lifestyle and natural treatments.
Underlying Causes of Allergy Symptoms
Did you know that your risk of suffering from seasonal allergy symptoms increases dramatically if you have certain underlying medical conditions? Asthma, unmanaged stress, deviated septum, nasal polyps, recent trauma or illness, pregnancy, and even food allergies can put you at heightened risk.
These conditions, and others, can adversely affect your immune system functioning. Allergy symptoms are caused when our bodies release histamine in response to an allergen. (8) A strong immune system is key to fighting seasonal allergies.
According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, allergies are actually disorders of the immune system. The body over-reacts to harmless substances and produces antibodies to attack the substance. This is what causes the symptoms. (9)
You’re particularly susceptible to a weakened immune system after a physical trauma or surgery, underlying illnesses, or during times of emotional and physical stress. A lack of sleep can even make you more prone to allergies; not getting enough sleep weakens your immune system. (10)
Stress plays a big part in the immune system, and unmanaged stress can lead to allergy symptoms. According to the British Institute for Allergy & Environmental Therapy, stress makes allergies worse, and once stress is properly managed and relieved, the symptoms of hay fever improve. (11)
Women who are pregnant — even those who’ve never suffered from allergies before — are more prone to allergic rhinitis and seasonal allergy symptoms. In fact, 1 in 100 pregnant women suffer from asthma during pregnancy, and many more suffer from seasonal allergies. (12)
Safely treating the symptoms during pregnancy can be difficult — most over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription allergy medications aren’t considered safe for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding. Fortunately, there are numerous effective natural remedies that are safe, including for children, pregnant women and the elderly.
Treating Allergy Symptoms Naturally
Antihistamines, corticosteroids and decongestants, as well as other OTC allergy medications, counteract the effect of the histamine produced by the body. However, they do have side effects. The most common are:
- Impaired performance
- Dryness of the eyes, nose and mouth
- Abdominal distress
- Unusual bleeding and bruising
- Heart palpitations
In children, side effects include:
- Upset stomach
- Impaired cognitive function
Pharmaceutical allergy medicines simply aren’t for everyone. Remember, they don’t cure the allergies — they just treat the symptoms. (13) In fact, many aren’t recommended for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, or those with high blood pressure, heart disease, kidney or liver disease, glaucoma, or with thyroid problems.
Foods to Avoid During Allergy Season
- Conventional dairy
- Artificial sweeteners
- Processed foods
- Sunflower seeds
- Bottled citrus juice
There are foods that you should avoid during allergy season. Any foods that you are allergic to, or have sensitivity to, should be avoided. If you’re not sure how far-reaching your food sensitivities are, an elimination diet can help identify foods that can make your allergies worse.
Foods that commonly make hay fever symptoms worse include alcohol, caffeine, dairy, chocolate, peanuts, sugar, wheat, citrus and chocolate. In addition, many common food preservatives — including sodium bisulfite, potassium bisulfite, sodium sulfite and artificial sweeteners — can contribute to your allergic rhinitis symptoms.
Avoid dried fruits, bottled citrus juice, shrimp and any highly processed foods. In addition, many people find relief when avoiding foods that cause mucus production — and it isn’t just dairy that contributes to mucus. Conventional dairy, gluten, sugar, caffeinated beverages, as well as any foods that you have sensitivity for can worsen your allergy symptoms. (14)
If you have a ragweed allergy, it’s important to avoid melons, bananas, cucumbers, sunflower seeds, echinacea and chamomile, as they can an trigger allergic response in your system. The overall goal of limiting foods that you have sensitivity to is to lighten the overall burden on your immune system and allow it to function more optimally.
Foods to Enjoy During Allergy Season
- Raw local honey
- Hot and spicy foods
- Bone broth
- Probiotic-rich foods
- Apple cider vinegar
- Fresh organic vegetables
- Grass-fed meats
- Free-range poultry
- Wild-caught fish
The foods to avoid list may feel overwhelming, but fortunately, there are great tasting foods that will help relieve your symptoms while strengthening your immune system.
Raw local honey is at the top of this list, for good reason. In a randomized controlled study published in the International Archives of Allergy and Immunology, patients that consumed honey had significantly better control of their allergy symptoms than those on conventional allergy medications. (15) Local honey works to relieve symptoms because it contains local pollen that is causing your allergies. A couple of tablespoons each day can relieve your itchy, watery eyes, congestion and the general symptoms of hay fever.
If you are battling excessive mucus, heat things up by eating hot, spicy foods. Hot spicy foods help to thin the mucus and allow it to be more easily expressed. Try adding garlic, onion, ginger, cinnamon and cayenne pepper to your recipes.
Bone broth, from chicken, beef or lamb, helps to ease respiratory problems and helps to expel excess nasal mucus. It also helps to reduce inflammation in the body and boosts the immune system.
Probiotic-rich foods support a stronger immune system, improve digestion, increase energy levels, and so much more. Probiotic foods to eat during allergy season include:
- Sauerkraut or kimchi
- Raw cheese
If you are experiencing excessive mucus production, consume raw organic dairy products, as the pasteurization process destroys the enzymes our bodies need.
The enzyme bromelain found in pineapple, in addition to high levels of vitamins B, C and other essential nutrients can help to reduce your reaction to seasonal allergies. Be sure to eat the core of fresh ripe pineapples as it has the highest concentration of the essential nutrients you need during allergy season.
Apple cider vinegar helps to boost the immune system, helps to break up mucus and supports lymphatic drainage. Three times per day, mix 1 tablespoon of ACV with 1 tablespoon of fresh-squeezed lemon juice, and a half-tablespoon of local raw honey and drink.
Fresh organic vegetables — including Swiss chard, which is high in quercetin, cabbage, beets, carrots and yams — can help you fight seasonal allergies. Choose vegetables that are dark green, yellow or orange for best nutrient density during allergy season.
Clean proteins including wild-caught salmon, free-range poultry and organic grass-fed beef and lamb are important, too. Wild salmon is rich in vitamins, omega-3 fatty acids, essential minerals and, of course, protein. If you haven’t yet made the switch to these types of clean proteins, allergy season is the perfect time.
Other foods to enjoy during hay fever season including ginger, garlic, horseradish and onions. Ginger can be particularly helpful as it helps to warm the body and break down toxins in your system.
Best Supplements for Allergy Symptoms
In addition to avoiding certain foods, and incorporating the foods mentioned above, allergy sufferers can benefit from the addition of high-quality natural supplements. It’s best to start supplements 30–60 days in advance of allergy symptoms for the best results.
Recent research shows that spirulina, butterbur and phototherapy hold promise in treating the symptoms of seasonal allergies. (16)
Spirulina — 1 teaspoon per day: Spirulina is one of the most researched supplements, and the results are promising. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, spirulina stops the release of histamine that causes symptoms. (17)
The consumption of spirulina has been proven to significantly improve symptoms including nasal discharge, sneezing, nasal congestion and itching in a double-blind, placebo-controlled study. (18)
Quercetin — 1,000 milligrams per day: Research shows that quercetin, the flavonoid that gives fruits and vegetables their rich color, stops the production and release of histamine. (19) Please note that quercetin may interfere with certain medications, including antibiotics, cyclosporine and other medications changed by the liver. (20)
Butterbur — 500 milligrams per day: Butterbur has traditionally been used to treat bronchitis, excess mucus and asthma. However, in a recent study of hay fever sufferers, it was found to be as effective as some allergic rhinitis medications. (21) However, young children, pregnant or breast-feeding women should not take butterbur supplements.
Probiotics — 50 billion IU (2–6 capsules) per day: Probiotics modify the intestinal flora in the gut and help boost the immune system, plus they show promise in the treatment and prevention of allergies. (22) While studies in using probiotics are still in the early stages, another study from the European Annals of Allergy and Clinical Immunology support the findings that probiotics can be an effective allergy treatment. (23)
Vitamin A — 2,000 micrograms per day: Vitamin A boosts the immune system, fights inflammation and has antihistamine properties.
Bromelain — 1,000 milligrams per day: Bromelain, the enzyme in pineapple, helps to reduce swelling in the nose and sinuses, helping to relieve hay fever symptoms.
Zinc — 30 milligrams per day: Zinc helps to heal adrenal fatigue caused by chronic stress. As mentioned above, stress worsens the symptoms of seasonal allergies and helps to regulate how your body stores histamine.
Stinging Nettle — 300–500 milligrams twice per day: Stinging nettle contains antihistamine and anti-inflammatory properties that help to reduce the body’s production of symptom causing histamine. If you are taking lithium, sedatives, blood thinning medications, medication for diabetes or high blood pressure, be aware that stinging nettle can cause adverse interactions with these medications. (24)
Complementary Natural Allergy Treatments
Tackling allergies from multiple fronts is vital. These complementary approaches help to relieve the symptoms and help you feel better when partnered with a healthy diet and supplements.
Neti Pot — Using a Neti pot during allergy season or after exposure to allergens, is a very effective way to relieve nasal congestion and flush out mucus. (25) Once or twice daily, use warm filtered water or distilled water with a touch of salt to flush your nasal passages for relief.
Essential Oils — Diffusing essential oils, including menthol, eucalyptus, lavender and peppermint oil, helps to open up the nasal passages and lungs, improves circulation and relieves stress. Try my homemade vapor rub when you have excess congestion and mucus.
Acupuncture — In a small study published in the American Journal of Chinese Medicine, acupuncture reduced the symptoms associated with seasonal allergies in 26 patients and without side effects. Prior to allergy season, meet with an acupuncturist to determine the best course of action.
Lifestyle Changes for Allergy Season
- Stay hydrated. Drink eight to ten glasses of fresh water each day. If you get dehydrated, any mucus you have will become much more difficult to expel.
- Limit exposure. On high pollen count days, or days that are particularly dusty or windy, limit your exposure. Wear a mask if you cannot limit your time outdoors.
- Shower before bed. Pollen and dust left on your skin and in your hair overnight can make your symptoms worse.
- Wash clothes and bedding. Freshly laundered bedding and clothes help to reduce incidental exposure to allergens.
- Wipe down pets. Pets that spend time outdoors come into the home covered in pollen. Wipe them down with a damp washcloth to limit your exposure to pollen and dust.
- Replace carpeted areas with hard-surfaced flooring. Carpet attracts and keeps dust and pollen that is nearly difficult to remove with a vacuum. If you have significant seasonal allergy symptoms, you could benefit from replacing your carpet with an easy to clean surface.
- De-clutter. Clutter can increase house dust and allergens, which make your seasonal allergy symptoms worse. Remove clutter, especially from your bedroom, for the best results.
- Keep doors and windows closed. When pollen counts are high, or on dusty days, keep your doors and windows closed to limit exposure.
Allergic diseases, including allergic rhinitis and food allergies, have dramatically increased over the last several decades. In the U.S., allergies are currently the fifth leading chronic disease for all ages, and the third most common chronic disease for children under the age of 18.
Medications only relieve the symptoms, and often not as well as natural remedies. Treating allergy symptoms takes patience and a combination of tactics. Start now by removing foods you are sensitive to, eating foods that boost your immune system and incorporating supplements and complementary treatments into your routine.
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