This is the time of year when people start lining up at my door with burning eyes, stuffy noses and sneezing attacks. For some of these people, things get more serious with sinus infections, respiratory infections and asthma.
Spring brings us the nice weather we all like to enjoy, but with it comes the pollen that brings so many allergy suffers discomfort and misery. Adults and children are both affected, and I have even seen young babies with allergy flares.
What is in bloom will often determine when your symptoms are the worst. For example, those individuals who have the worst symptoms as soon as spring starts and are in absolute misery when we see that yellow film accumulating on our cars are the ones who are allergic to trees. The trees will continue to be the dominant allergen throughout the spring, and then we transition into the grasses in June and for the rest of the summer. Weeds are present throughout late spring and summer, but most people run into the weed problem in the late summer and early fall when the dreaded ragweed blooms.
Most people with significant allergies have sensitivities to many of these species and can be prone to allergy symptoms any time during the warmer months.
Typically, the first step for most people is to head to the drugstore to grab an over-the-counter allergy medicine. These may offer some relief, but are by no means a cure, and for those with more severe allergies they often do little. Many people can have difficulty with side effects, so sometimes it is hard to tell if the net benefit is worth it. Other medication options are the more classic anti-histamines, but these are typically a last resort because of the drowsiness they cause in most people.
I rarely recommend any of these options and rely heavily on the natural pharmacy to help people deal with seasonal allergy issues effectively. Key dietary factors, home therapies and natural supplements can be extremely effective at relieving allergy symptoms.
The Best Home Therapy for Seasonal Allergies
One of the most effective home therapies I recommend for allergy suffers is nasal irrigation. This process involves flushing the sinuses with a mild salt water (saline) solution to remove pollen, irritants and excess mucus. The mild salinity of the solution also helps to gently dry up the mucosa.
There are several ways to easily do a nasal irrigation. Many people are familiar with neti pots, which offer an easy solution. My personal favorite is the NeilMed sinus wash bottles. They make it very easy to get the saltwater solution just right, which is important to minimizing any irritating feelings. Simply add a packet of NeilMed salt to the bottle, fill it up to the line and you have a perfect saline solution ready to go. They are easy to use and available at all major drugstores.
Frequency of use will depend on your symptoms. For moderate to severe sufferers, I recommend irrigating the sinus once in the morning and once before bed. Aside from helping with classic allergy symptoms, it really helps to prevent the ever annoying post nasal drip that so often accompanies sinus issues.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Due to three documented cases of people dying from a brain eating amoeba as a result of doing a sinus rinse with tap water, I HIGHLY advise using only distilled or boiled water. This is not a joke and taking this simple step will ensure your safety.
Nutritional Considerations for Allergy Sufferers
Throughout my years of practice, I have regularly conducted cleansing programs for my patients that typically run in the fall and spring. These programs include the consumption of a very clean diet with no intake of sugar, alcohol, red meat, coffee, dairy products or any gluten-containing grains. Food is limited to vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, hypoallergenic grains such as rice and quinoa and lean meats on occasion, including turkey, chicken and fish.
Year after year, the people with a history of bad seasonal allergies who participate in the spring program report a significant reduction in allergy symptoms. In fact, many of them report absolutely no allergy symptoms at all!
I don’t believe that it is necessary to adhere to the very strict guidelines of my cleanse, but there are a few foods worth giving up for a while during the worst time of your allergy season.
Sugar, gluten-containing grains, dairy products and alcohol are the main offenders when it comes to making allergy sufferers miserable. These foods all trigger the body’s pathways of inflammation and cause the immune system to exaggerate its reaction to pollens. For most people, these can be the hardest foods to give up, but eliminating them offers an option for those who want to use diet as a way to get their allergy symptoms under control.
3 Supplements for Seasonal Allergy Support
In my opinion, this is the most exciting part of helping allergy suffers because these tools work extremely effectively even on their own. They are often far more effective than over-the-counter medications, and work not by suppressing allergy symptoms, but rather by helping to support the body’s reaction to them. In Naturopathic medicine, it is always critical to respect the body’s self-healing process and to avoid the suppression of symptoms when possible. This leads to the ultimate expression of health.
This powerful bioflavonoid has been shown to reduce allergy symptoms by stabilizing the cell wall of a very specialized cell, called a mast cell. Mast cells contain the allergy-provoking compound known as histamine. When the body encounters an allergen, the mast cells are triggered to release histamine, which in turn causes our allergy symptoms. Over-the-counter allergy meds work to block the effects of histamine once it is released, while quercetin helps to prevent it from being released in the first place.
If you want to further increase the effects of quercetin, find a product that combines it with bromelain, a unique extract from pineapple. It is not totally understood how they work together, but it is likely due to the strong anti-inflammatory effects possessed by bromelain.
Quercetin can take several weeks to build up in your body and reach peak effectiveness, so it is suggested that you start supplementation several weeks before allergy season begins.
#2: Stinging Nettle Extract
In the Pacific Northwest where this plant grows abundantly, stinging nettle leaf is revered for its anti-allergy properties. This is one of the most effective substances in the natural pharmacy for relieving allergy symptoms. Several human clinical trials have demonstrated its effectiveness in reducing symptoms associated with classic hay fever. As with quercetin, it is best to start supplementation several weeks before your symptoms start.
This patent extract, derived from the bark of the maritime pine tree, has strong antioxidant properties that seem to play a significant role in reducing allergy symptoms. A small, randomized placebo controlled study conducted in 2010 showed that pycnogenol was effective at significantly reducing allergy symptoms versus a placebo with no significant side effects. Like the other supplements mentioned, there was a positive correlation in regards to longer pre-treatment times. Subjects that started taking pycnogenol 5-7 weeks prior to pollen exposure had better outcomes.
If you are thinking that it’s too late for you to start, don’t fret. Clinically I have seen people experience significant improvements in allergy symptoms even if they do not start until the symptoms are present. Often times including stinging nettle, quercetin and bromelain with the pycnogenol is a very effective strategy for bringing allergy flares under control.
These tools should give you a huge leg up in dealing with seasonal allergy issues this spring. As always, the natural pharmacy offers a wide variety of effective options for people who want to address their health concerns in a way that supports the human form and physiology.