Call me a whiner if you must, but seasonal allergies are the worst! Here is why, and how to cope.
Allergies are immune malfunctions
Allergies are abnormal immune system reactions to typically harmless things. These allergic immune overreactions affect people worldwide. 150 million Europeans and more than 50 million US Americans have allergies, including 20 million people who, like me, have allergic rhinitis every year. Allergic rhinitis - also called hay fever - is mostly nasal symptoms in reaction to seasonal immune triggers. Inflammatory histamine reactions (more about histamine here and here) like sneezing, or a stuffy, runny, or itchy nose are involved. These can affect the eyes, ears, or throat too, with other symptoms like coughing or itching in the roof of the mouth, or watery or itchy eyes.
When we get allergies
Allergy symptoms stem from histamine released in our bodies as a response to airborne respiratory allergens. Winter’s end triggers seasonal spring allergen release. Tree pollen is first into the air. It peaks in March and is joined by grass pollen in April. Rainfall and heat through May and June can cause waves of grass pollens, which subside by July. If humidity levels are right, this is when mold blooms ramp up, persisting late into fall. Ragweed usually flowers heavily from August through October. In November, outdoor seasonal allergies subside, but in December, January and February, dust, dander, or mold spores can be a bother indoors. These allergies can often lead to or occur with asthma as well.
Living with allergies
Because seasonal allergies and hay fever do not usually lead to serious consequences, we may think they are no big deal. Although we dread the symptoms, allergies are often overlooked. Without wondering where they come from or weighing options, a lot of folks just grin and bear them. After all, you can still function little sniffle, right? Others feel limited by symptoms and choose to use suppressive medication. Allergies that affect the lungs, or trigger flares in asthma or COPD, however, are more severe than forms that affect the eyes or nose. I stubbornly contend that these inhaled allergies are one of the most underrated health problems of our time. And I really do mean our time.
Allergies are worse than ever
It must be totally baffling for older generations that so many young people are allergic to everything.
Seasonal allergies were a rare problem when my grandmother was growing up. In the past 60 years many more otherwise healthy people have developed allergies. The Canadian Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology Foundation reports that one in every four or five Canadians (20 to 25% of the Canadian population) have allergies and other reports with more inclusive guidelines claim 40%. Rising allergies are linked to growing triggers and to some seemingly unrelated problems. About 15-20% of children now have seasonal allergic rhinitis or respiratory allergy.
Why allergies are getting worse
These days it is trendy to blame the fossil fuel industry or patriarchy for everything, isn’t it? But they may have a true role in exacerbating my itchy eyes and your child’s sneezing. That’s because some main contributors to the problem of rising allergies include climate change, industrial chemicals and pollution, and something called horticultural sexism. For example, increasing summer fires means widespread use of toxic petrochemical flame retardants that were not common decades ago. And, prior to 1950 we had a more balanced female to male distribution of urban trees. Now due to planting only male specimens, many city boulevards are full of pollen-spewing trees and few or no pollen-receiving females.
When symptoms are unbearable, we commonly take medication and move on. I respect that on occasion or for the short term. There are places to go and work to be done. However, with allergy ‘season’ getting longer and more intense, there is a risk of needing allergy medicine all the time. That concerns me because of the long-term problems associated with antihistamines and corticosteroids. Not to scare anyone, but long term or intensive use of allergy medication is not without risk.
Here are other ways to manage or reduce seasonal allergies and related respiratory problems naturally and safely:
Physical allergy strategies
- Breath cool fresh air, preferably in moderately cold alpine conditions.
- Cold-weather exercise like snowshoeing or skiing has been shown to help adults with respiratory allergies, with fewer symptoms and improved breathing both the day after exercise and 60 days later. (Avoid this if prone to exercise-induced asthma.)
- Cover up. Use sunglasses, hats, scarves, hoods, and other coverings outdoors.
- Delegate yard work. Let a teen earn money weed pulling and lawn mowing.
- Towel pets off for your sake and theirs. Dogs and cats can be allergic to pollen, dust and mould so brush it off before they go inside. Pets with seasonal allergies may rub their ears or muzzle, scratch their armpits, or lick, chew, or bite their feet or groin. They may get hay fever or asthma, or have hair loss or red skin.
- Remove shoes before entering homes.
- Wash your face and hands once inside.
- Use a nasal rinse. Nasal irrigation flushes out inhaled pollen from nasal cavities with sterile fluid. You may also irrigate with a manuka honey solution. Manuka honey was positively assessed by patients with chronic rhinosinusitis, of which involves infectious bacteria.
- Change and wash clothes with unscented products after outdoor activities.
- Dust the house and wash bedding in hot, soapy water weekly.
- Check the pollen count daily before catching a breeze, or simply keep windows closed.
- Plant female trees in your yard. They can receive and capture the pollen (tree sperm) sent by male trees, reducing the pollen in the air.
- Use a filter. In your central home HVAC system, try a certified asthma & allergy friendly® filter, or get tower units for the bedroom or other lived-in areas
- Dry laundry on an indoor rack or in a clothes dryer. Avoid dryer sheets and outdoor lines.
- Shower and wash your hair before bed if your hair or skin were uncovered outside.
- Manage exposure. Track local pollen counts before planning outdoor activities.
- Try acupuncture. It may affect the cytokine response and therefore allergic response.
- Immunotherapy is a long-term treatment with no known side effects. Shots or tablets help the body develop tolerance to allergens to reduce allergy severity. It is least effective for asthma.
- Expectorant herbs like thyme, stinging nettle and elecampane can help to keep you breathing freely. All three of these herbs are found in Flora’s Respir-Essence formula, along with licorice root, English plantain, and cowslip primrose. The all-natural herbal blend and deeply and support mucous membrane health. It soothes & relaxes the lungs and airways, for less irritation & coughing.
- Thyme herb contains powerful oils and phenolics that support bronchial health. Thyme has been studied for its many useful properties and may ease breathing, relax and dilate airways.
- Nettles. The bioactive compounds in stinging nettle that help inhibit the pro-inflammatory pathways related to allergic rhinitis were finally identified 10 years ago. This provided a mechanistic understanding of why nettle extract is loved by people with allergies.
- Probiotics can prevent recurrences and reduce the severity of symptoms. Studies support that Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium probiotics improve the quality of life of patients with allergic rhinitis. How our immune system reacts is in large part related to the diversity of the bacteria in our guts. Ingesting probiotics and eating a wide variety of fresh foods can over time help us to increase that diversity and support more balanced immune reactions.
- Quercetin is a yellow bioflavonoid antioxidant in berries like elderberries, acerola ‘cherries’ (which are really berries too), bilberries, and onions and olive oil. The effect of quercetin on allergic diseases has been widely studied. In test tubes, quercetin prevents immune cells from releasing the histamines that cause allergic reactions.
- Vitamin C can also help the immune system fend off runny noses and watery eyes. This makes it smart to consume foods like acerola or rooibos tea which contain both large amounts of vitamin C as well as quercetin.
- Omega fatty acids. Research suggests that polyunsaturated fatty acids reduce the risk of allergy. Kids with more omega 3s and 6s in their blood had fewer cases of allergy and asthma. These fatty acids, like those in Flax oil and Udo’s oil may reduce the production of inflammatory chemicals in the body, which have a role in allergies and asthma.
- Butterbur extracts may help relieve allergic rhinitis, according to The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Use only pyrrolizidine alkaloid-free butterbur. It is not for allergies to ragweed or some flowers like chrysanthemums.
- Spirulina is a nutritious blue-green algae also known to inhibit histamine response. It could help support your body to manage inflammation and have a balanced immune response.
- Vitamin D deficiency is linked to allergies, including allergic rhinitis, allergic asthma, eczema, and anaphylaxis. This vitamin has a role in regulating immune system cells and the release of chemicals that can produce allergy symptoms. Omega Sport+ contains omegas and vitamin D.
- BioSKIN&COAT from BiologicVet calms histamine reactions and inflammation in your pets.
There are a ton of things you can do to reduce your allergies, and your pet’s allergies, without medications. This includes getting into the cool air for some exercise and vitamin D, washing everything off, especially when you get home, and eating more fresh fruits and vegetables. You get into the habit of drinking rooibos tea, and adding a Flora oil, elderberry crystals, acerola powder, or spirulina to your smoothies. When you need a quick solution, you can also use Respir-Essence to ease help you breathe easily. For a longer-term approach, encourage your city council to plant more female trees. Not only will they absorb local tree pollen, but extra trees could also help offset temperature increases and reduce ragweed pollen over time.
About the Author: Dana Remedios
Holistic Nutritionist Dana Green Remedios, RHN, RNCP has a passion for helping others break through their blocks to greater health, wealth, and happiness, working with transformational mind-body tools. The Vancouver-based educator and coach answers your questions in English, French, and Spanish as a Specialist working in the Product Information Department at Flora, and is a regular contributor to the FloraHealthy blog.