Aren’t morning rituals great? Right after my morning coffee and meditation, I’ve got a giant yeti of a dog staring two inches from my face and waiting for her walk. Most days I’m happy to oblige! Getting outside for some fresh air is a great way to start the day. Though, this time of year, I have to plan our morning outings more carefully than usual. This extra time taken is very displeasing to Miss Fluff. Doggie bags are one thing, but I need a handful of tissues and some extra water this season. Halfway through the walk, I’ll have a runny nose, itchy eyes and a face like a cotton ball.
For me, it’s pine pollen season. For many others, it’s springtime hay fever. Whatever the season, whatever the reason: your child’s soccer game, a trip to the store or the disappointment of your dog, seasonal allergies can put a damper on your day-to-day activities.
Seasonal allergies, also known as allergic rhinitis, affect more than 50 million Americans each year, and are the 6th leading cause of chronic illness in the U.S. While symptoms vary, common symptoms include sneezing, itchy/watery eyes, itchy, stuffy and runny nose, headache and fatigue.
Traditional treatment options are avoidance of allergy triggers, medications and allergy shots (immunotherapy). This might be a good option for you, or it may not. If you’re looking for other options, let’s review some possibilities.
Come on now, you knew I was gonna go here first. What can you not make better with diet? Since you didn’t already have enough reason to eat your fruits and vegetables…they can help reduce your allergies! High amounts of carotenoids in the blood may actually have a preventative effect on allergic rhinitis. Carotenoids are the pigments that give plants a yellow, orange or red color. Foods highest in carotenoids include carrots, citrus, berries, spinach, dark leafy greens, tomatoes and bell peppers.
Yeah, yeah, fruits and veggies are old news right? Well, did you know that your gut health has an effect on your allergy symptoms too? People with asthma and allergies have a different gut microbiome than people without allergies. Treating your gut by increasing microbial diversity my help to treat and prevent seasonal allergies. You can increase microbial diversity in the gut by decreasing use of antibiotics, increasing your intake of fermented foods like yogurt, sauerkraut and kombucha and by taking a good probiotic.
Sounds to me like a nice veggie stir fry dinner and a berry yogurt parfait for dessert. Throw some honey in that parfait while you’re at it. Honey can help control allergy symptoms too. BOOM!
If microbial diversity had a pill… Wait, it does! If you struggle with sauerkraut or can’t stand kombucha, you can still “give your gut a hug” with a good probiotic supplement. Multiple studies show promise for probiotics use in allergic rhinitis.
Let’s start at the beginning, like way back… Prenatal and/or early life use of probiotics can decrease antibody levels in children, and lower their risk for developing allergies and eczema. If you’re a couple (or 40) years past that point, probiotics have also shown to be effective in the prevention of allergic rhinitis symptoms in adults. Prevention is queen, though if you’re already in the running (of the nose), taking a probiotic supplement may help to reduce the severity of your symptoms, and improve your quality of life. Since we’ve now just covered all ages and stages… did you take your probiotics today?
If your diet game is already on point, there are also some practical things you can do to help reduce/prevent allergy symptoms.
Preaching to the choir here, again. I’m sure you don’t need any more reasons to exercise than you already have. Though, I am going to give you some anyway.
It may seem counter-intuitive to go and get some aerobic exercise when you’ve got marshmallow face… but aerobic exercise can significantly reduce inflammation and allergy symptoms. You’ve got your choice of options too! If you prefer to drop in on a spin class or HIIT (high intensity interval training) class, you’re covered! Both exhaustive and moderate-intensity exercise has been shown to result in a significant improvement of allergy symptoms. In fairness, the moderate intensity group did have a better response than the exhaustive exercise group. So, spin class is still fine, just tone it down a bit.
If exercise of any kind feels like just too much, that’s all right too! Some simple nasal breathing exercises can make a big impact on your symptoms. “The exercise in this study is deep inspiration followed by expiration through one nostril with the other nostril blocked by finger with humming or production of sound hmm… or om…. The exercise was repeated five times each nostril…” While there was a combination of this exercise and a nasal spray in this study, patients in the nasal breathing group had significant improvement in their symptoms over the medication only group. Side perk, it’s free!
Nasal irrigation involves using a solution, normally of saline, to “rinse” out nasal passages. The practicality is that you can rinse out pollen, dust or other allergens, and thereby reduce the reactivity of your nasal passages to the irritant. Many devices are available for this purpose, the most common household name being the neti pot.
A neti pot can take a bit of song and dance and a lot of practice to use, but has been shown to be effective in multiple studies in treatment of allergic rhinitis. Not only can it improve nasal symptoms and quality of life, studies show a 62% reduction in medication use with nasal irrigation. Whether you use over the counter or prescription medications to combat allergy symptoms, nasal irrigation is a safe and effective adjunct to medication.
Acupuncture is a practice used in various ancient medical practices, including traditional Chinese Medicine. It involves the technique of stimulating specific points on the body to promote healing and balance. This is most commonly accomplished by inserting very small needles into the skin. Among a plethora of things acupuncture may be effective for, it has been shown in multiple studies to be an effective and safe option for treatment of seasonal allergies. You can opt for acupuncture alone, or in combination with other therapies. If you’re using an antihistamine to help relieve allergy symptoms, acupuncture can significantly reduce antihistamine use.
Acupuncture may be covered by your insurance, and provide an effective primary or adjunct treatment for your allergies. Be sure to visit a licensed practitioner and find someone you feel comfortable with for optimal results.
These little beauties aren’t just for your olfactory pleasure! While they can certainly help to set a holiday mood, lift your spirits or cover for your stinky gym shoes. Essential oil therapy may be effective in reduction of allergy symptoms. Yup, you can buy a diffuser now, I say so…
Various essential oils have been studied for their effect on allergy symptoms. Remember that old nasty salve your mom used to put on your chest when you had a cold? That greasy stuff had some merit! Inhalation of eucalyptus oil literally changes how the tiny hairs in your nose move stuff around. This can help clear allergens from your system, and reduce inflammation in the nasal cavities. Peppermint essential oil may inhibit histamine release and alleviate nasal symptoms of allergic rhinitis.
Those are some great options, though combination of oils may be your best bet. A study showed that inhalation a combination of almond oil, frankincense and sandalwood to reduce allergy symptoms, improve quality of life and reduce fatigue among allergy sufferers.
Essential oils can vary greatly in quality and purity. Be sure to buy pure essential oils, and opt for organic when possible.
While you have plenty of over the counter options for allergy treatment, adverse effects are common, including sleepiness, impaired memory and irregular heartbeat. The following natural options are safe and effective alternatives, without the side effects commonly reported with medication.
Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica)
Nettles have various folk and western herbal uses, allergy treatment included. The leaves of the nettle species contain multiple compounds that act in a very similar manner to an antihistamine medication. In a study of 69 patients with allergic rhinitis treated with a preparation of free-dried nettles: 58% of participants rated the treatment as effective in relieving their symptoms and 48% of participants fount it to be equally or more effective than their previous treatment. You can find an organic tincture of nettle here.
Quercetin is a compound found in plants that is categorized as a flavonol. Flavonols have been associated with a variety of health benefits, but are most commonly known for their strong antioxidant, immune boosting, and anti-inflammatory properties. Quercetin is very similar in structure to the synthetic medication cromolyn sodium, and has been found in studies to have superior effects to the drug. Foods that contain quercetin include onions, broccoli, cranberries, apples, pears, grapes and tea. If you don’t feel like pounding onions (your partner will thank you), you can take a quercetin supplement for allergy relief.
NAC is an amino acid used for a variety of health conditions in alternative and allopathic usage. This little guy is so powerful; it is used in hospitals for cases of tylenol and carbon monoxide poisoning. NACs anti-inflammatory properties may provide allergy relief, by reducing inflammation in the nasal passages. In fact, if the nasal passages are already irritated, damaged or wounded, NAC can help to repair the damaged mucosa and decrease healing time. Physiologically, NAC is used to build a very powerful antioxidant, glutathione. Glutathione is a potent agent for detoxification, inflammation and a host of other loveliness! Increased levels of glutathione can decrease sensitivity to environmental toxins, which can exacerbate allergy sensitivity. While supplementing with glutathione is certainly effective, it can be difficult and costly, so NAC supplementation can provide a means of boosting glutathione production without the added cost.
Multiple studies show the effectiveness of vitamin C in reducing symptoms of allergic rhinitis. Vitamin C (also known as ascorbic acid) appears to reduce histamine secretion and increase it’s detoxification from the body. Vitamin C can be effectively administered intravenously, intranasally or orally. One study showed vitamin C nasal spray to decrease symptoms of allergic rhinitis in 74% of patients. Food is medicine! Consumption of fresh fruit, rich in vitamin C can help alleviate allergies and reduce symptoms of wheezing in children. Foods rich in vitamin C include citrus fruits, red peppers, kiwi, broccoli and strawberries. Hmm, do mimosas count? Maybe I’ll conduct a one-person study? I’ll keep you posted! If you’re not so keen on nasal sprays or slamming glasses of orange juice, vitamin C supplementation is safe, effective and inexpensive!
A Few More…
Other popular remedies for allergic rhinitis include bromelain, which may reduce inflammation of the airways, butterbur and spirulina. There are a lot of products on the market that combine a few of these ingredients for maximum effect. Check out a few of my favorites here and here.
If you’re one of the 50 million Americans who suffer from seasonal allergies, you’ve got so many choices! There’s no reason to suffer with marshmallow face or to disappoint your pupper. Try some of these great options for prevention and reduction of allergy symptoms:
- A diet high in antioxidants, probiotics and a smidge of honey
- Exercise and nasal breathing exercises
- Alternative treatments like acupuncture, neti pot and essential oils
- Supplements like nettle, quercetin, NAC and vitamin C