Spring is in full swing. Nicer weather and longer days means more time outside. Unfortunately for many people, spring also means allergies.
Seasonal allergies can bring ruin to an otherwise lovely day. Even minor allergies can flare-up during the spring bloom and cause nagging discomfort – even wear down the immune system leaving you exposed to more severe cold and flu.
Most people with seasonal allergies can find temporary relief with a variety of effective OTC drugs. But with any pharmaceutical intervention there are likely a variety of side effects. And nobody likes having to pop pills to get through the day without a sneezing fit or red, itchy eyes.
We’ve compiled a list of eight natural ways to ease your seasonal allergy symptoms. These can be applied individually or as part of a more comprehensive preventative or palliative practice. First, a little background on why you can’t stop sneezing.
During the early spring the air is suddenly filled with tree pollen grains. Grass and weed pollen, dust, and other airborne irritants that can individually – or collectively, cause the immune system to overreact, follow in short order. The result is the seasonal allergy response, often called “hay fever” or seasonal allergic rhinitis.
When your immune system overreacts to the perceived threat brought on by pollens, chemicals like histamine and leukotrienes are released, flooding your bloodstream.
These chemicals can inflame the sensitive linings of your nasal passages and sinuses. Other areas where capillaries are close to the surface of your skin can also be affected, like eyelids and inner ears.
The inflammation response and resulting congesting is by design. The uncomfortable symptoms are meant to protect you by either keeping the allergens out of your body or helping to expelling them.
Natural Ways to Treat Allergies
OTC allergy drugs are primarily composed of chemicals within a class called antihistamines. The challenge with antihistamines is that they all have side effects.
Some antihistamines can be problematic due to the sedative side effects. The chemicals are designed to suppress your immune response, which is effective in reducing symptoms. Unfortunately these chemicals also pass into your central nervous system resulting in drowsiness. Extreme drowsiness in the middle of the day doesn’t work for most people.
Some newer OTC labels use chemicals designed to reduce or eliminate the typical drowsiness associated with most antihistamines. Interestingly, some people have an inverse reaction and experience nervousness and agitation, though in either case the newer drugs have far fewer side effects.
If the idea of a chemical regimen is off-putting, the following remedies may help you limit – or even avoid altogether, the need for chemical intervention through the spring and summer season.
If you’ve ever had the displeasure of running into these you will undoubtedly find it hard to believe they offer a myriad of nutritional and medicinal benefits.
The same tiny barbs laced with the chemicals that cause the stinging and burning skin can be broken down and absorbed by the body, resulting in a potent analgesic and anti-inflammatory botanical.
The leaves and stems of stinging nettle possess anti-inflammatory properties and have long been used to treat arthritis, skin conditions such as eczema, as well as anemia and gout. In medieval Europe, it was used as a diuretic and to treat joint pain.
Scientists are unsure of exactly how stinging nettle works but many believe that it may reduce the amount of histamine the body releases in response to an allergen as well as inhibit the inflammation response. Some chemicals in nettles are also known to interfere (inhibit) how the body transmits pain signals.
For allergies, nettles can be taken internally as dried herbs in caplet forms but can also be taken via infusion.
Homemade Nettle Infusion
- 1 oz of dried nettles
- 1 quart of boiling water
Place nettles into a jar or glass container. Cover with boiling water and let sit for 4 hours to overnight. Strain and drink. For additional flavor, add a tsp of local, raw organic honey.
Quercetin is a bioflavonoid found in a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, and grains. We regularly ingest quercetin as a part of many whole foods we eat. Foods high in quercetin include capers, apples, onions, buckwheat, kale, asparagus, tomatoes, broccoli, and berries. Flavoniods are what give flowers and fruits their vibrant colors as well as what constitute the many healthy benefits. These natural antioxidants are anti-inflammatory and may offer protection against cancer and heart disease. Some studies also indicate they may have anti-aging properties.
Quercetin is believed to affect mast cells that are responsible for releasing the chemical histamine thereby reducing the amount released when triggered by allergens. There is, however, conflicting research relating to its effectiveness. Some people find it helps, others not so much. For optimal results, recommended dosage usually follows a prolonged (30+ days), preventative protocol that commences before symptoms appear.
To increase your quercetin intake, it is widely available in supplement form.
The mother of all vitamins, Vitamin C, has too many functions to list. When it comes to allergies, Vitamin C can help reduce symptoms as well as boost your immune system. Typically, your vitamin C requirements vary widely based on the amount of stress on your body. When you are experiencing allergies, your body is being stressed, so it is a good idea to supplement.
Vitamin C is well known as an immune-boosting antioxidant. But it also breaks down the chemical structure of histamine, resulting in lower histamine levels in the bloodstream, which may prevent the onset or reduce the symptoms of allergies.
The benefits of cayenne pepper are numerous. It has been used to help digestion, reduce intestinal gas, cure diarrhea and as a natural remedy for cramps. It’s also used for heart and vascular health to improve poor circulation, reverse blood clotting, and lower cholesterol.
The fruit of the cayenne plant contains a chemical called capsaicin. Capsaicin is the active phytochemical in hot peppers. When ingested, capsaicin can help break-up congestion, desensitize mucous membranes making them less sensitive to irritants and reduce inflammation.
Apple Cider Vinegar
Since allergies are an immune response, one of the best ways to reduce the exaggerated immune response is to strengthen your immune system. According to some studies, 80% of your immune system is located in your gut. Gut health is essential for immune system health.
Apple cider vinegar is a powerful gut healer and immune booster. It helps to promote the growth of “friendly” bacteria (probiotics) in the gut. Apple cider vinegar is also rich in potassium and magnesium. A deficiency of both these minerals has been linked to seasonal allergies and even asthma.
Apple cider vinegar is also well known for its sinus, brochial, and respiratory benefits. It can help to soothe the lungs and bronchial walls and to break down phlegm. Add a tablespoon to a glass of water or tea and drink 1 to 3 times daily.
Hildegard believed that our health was grounded in our digestive system. Allergies are no exception. Probiotics are essential for gut health and immune health. Without a proper balance of beneficial bacteria growing and thriving in the digestive system, “bad” bacteria can take over and impair your immune system (among other detrimental things.)
When allergies are putting your immune system under duress, your digestive health is even more important. In fact, many researchers believe that most allergies can be traced to gut health, one-way or another.
If you regularly suffer from allergies such as hay fever then it is likely that you also get sick more often. Gut health should be a year-round goal, but if you haven’t started yet, consider incorporating a probiotic regimen during allergy season to help your body do what it is designed to do: keep you healthy.
Many health and wellness advocates believe that regularly consuming honey that’s produced in your local area helps you to build up immunity against the very pollens you’re exposed to that’s causing your allergy symptoms; equally as many believe this to be a myth.
Research has yet to confirm but many anecdotal reports indicate that people may experience reduced seasonal allergy symptoms by regularly consuming local, raw, organic honey. In any case, it is a sweet way to try.
A neti pot is a small teapot-like vessel with a spout. It is used to flush the sinus cavity with a PH balanced saline solution to help clear irritants and allergens as well as soothe inflamed tissue. It’s not for everyone, but once the initial awkwardness is overcome, it can be a great way to reduce exposure to allergens and help your body recover.
Neti pots are available at most health food outlets and drug stores. They usually include instructions as well as the mineral solution you will need to mix with water.
Find more on holistic allergy remedies inspired by Hildegard here.