Reviewed & edited by Julie A. Cerrato, PhD, AP, CYT, CAP
Seasonal allergies are the body’s immunological reaction to a foreign particle, known as an allergen, when exposed during different times of the year. Commonly referred to as hay fever or allergic rhinitis, the most common airborne allergens include pollen from trees, grass, plants, or mold spores.
For individuals who are sensitive to these allergens, this exposure causes an immune system response that is the culprit behind the unpleasant–sometimes life-altering–symptoms of seasonal allergies.
Seasonal allergies natural treatments are able to address the mind, body, and emotions.
It is unclear why millions of individuals suffer from seasonal allergies while others do not, but the causation is embedded in the immune system. Through a process referred to as sensitization, the immune system recognizes airborne particles, such as pollen, as harmful invaders and responds to the particles by producing antibodies against it. This means that every time the body is subsequently exposed to the allergens, the immune system automatically releases chemicals into the bloodstream that trigger an allergic response.
How Seasonal Allergies Feel
Seasonal allergy symptoms feel like a cold, but unlike a cold, are not caused by a virus. These cold-type symptoms are the immune system’s allergic response to pollen and other allergens brought on by the change of seasons. Seasonal allergies can be experienced at different times throughout the year, as common outdoor allergens bloom in different seasons. Typically, the onset of spring and autumn bring on the worst bouts of seasonal allergies.
Symptoms of seasonal allergies include sneezing, runny nose, itching of the nose, roof of the mouth, throat, and ears, itchy and/or water eyes, congestion, sinus pain and pressure, sore or scratchy throat, dry cough, fatigue, and wheezing. Allergy sufferers may experience all, or only some, of the symptoms.
How Seasonal Allergies are Conventionally Treated
There are a plethora of common over-the-counter medications available, but many individuals find themselves turning to prescription drugs to treat more severe cases of seasonal allergies. Prescription nasal sprays are frequently prescribed and among the most popular are Flonase, Nasonex, and Rhinocort. These nasal corticosteroids are used to treat inflammation in the nasal passages and carry rare but potential side effects of long-term steroid use.
Other commonly prescribed medications include antihistamines, which are histamine-blocking. Histamine, the chemical released into the blood stream during an allergic reaction, is the culprit behind sneezing, itchy eyes, and sinus pressure. It is important to be aware that antihistamines may cause drowsiness and should be used with caution before operating machinery or a vehicle. Physicians may also prescribe the use of a decongestant to alleviate congestion symptoms, or oral corticosteroids to reduce inflammation.
Although seasonal allergy symptoms may be challenging, keeping sufferers indoors while others enjoy the change of seasons, it is encouraging that there are a plethora of holistic treatments, precautions, and dietary and lifestyle changes that can help reduce and manage seasonal allergies year round.
Holistic Healing for Seasonal Allergy Sufferers
Season allergies affect the whole person, and natural forms of treatment are able to address the mind, body, and emotions. Seasonal allergies are an immune system response that can be attended to through various holistic forms of treatment. Natural allergy treatments include the use of herbal supplements, nasal irrigation, acupuncture, Ayurvedic medicine, and sublingual immunotherapy.
Instead of turning to over-the-counter antihistamines that can cause drowsiness and other side effects, give quercetin a try. This bioflavonoid, found naturally in onions, apples, red wine, grapefruit, parsley, and leafy greens, is available in supplement form as a natural herbal compound that has an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effect. Quercetin works by blocking substances involved with the release of histamine. For best results, begin taking a daily supplement 4-6 weeks prior to allergy season. As always, consult your physician before taking quercetin or any other supplement.
Stinging nettle is a plant with a long medicinal history. Used for hundreds of years to treat a wide variety of ailments, recent studies have shown stinging nettle’s effectiveness in reducing histamine levels. Freeze dried nettle leaf capsules are often taken before the onset of allergy season to preemptively ward off the release of histamine into the body. Stinging nettle may alter the menstrual cycle and cause miscarriages, so pregnant women should avoid it. In addition, nettle may interact with several drugs including anti-platelets, anticoagulants, antihypertensives, diuretics, diabetes medication and Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs). As always, consult your physician before taking any supplements.
A very simple and effective method for treating seasonal allergies is the use of a Neti pot. Neti pots have been used for thousands of years and provide an inexpensive method of treatment to irrigate the nasal passages and alleviate allergy symptoms. To flush your sinuses with a Neti pot, fill the pot with a salt-water solution and lean over a sink with your head tiled to one side. Place the spout of the Neti pot in one nostril and gently pour until you feel the solution in your nose. Keep your head tilted and allow the solution to pour out of the other nostril. Blow your nose after the initial application and then repeat the process on the other side, this time tilting your head in the opposite direction.
Founded on the concept of removing blockages in mental, physical, and emotional life force and energy, acupuncture is the science and art of restoring the balance of natural energy to the body. Developed within Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), this form of therapy has proven useful in alleviating numerous conditions and disorders. By treating the whole person and working to balance an impaired immune system that is responsible for an allergic response, acupuncture provides a holistic approach to targeting and treating seasonal allergies.
A 2013 study, published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine, examined the effectiveness of acupuncture treatments in patients with seasonal allergies. The findings are promising for using acupuncture in combination with other therapies to treat seasonal allergies. Of the study’s participants, those receiving acupuncture treatments in conjunction with their antihistamines experienced an improvement in their overall allergy symptoms and reduction in their antihistamine use than the other groups. Study author, Dr. Benno Brinkhaus, stated, “From my experience as a physician and acupuncturist, and as a researcher, I would recommend trying acupuncture if patients are not satisfied with conventional anti-allergic medication or treatment or they suffer from more or less serious side effects of the conventional medication. Also because acupuncture is a relative safe treatment.”
An Ayurvedic approach to treating seasonal allergies involves eliminating toxins held deep within bodily tissues and striking a balance among the body’s elements. According to Ayurvedic practitioner Dr. Julie Cerrato, PhD, AP, CYT, “an Ayurvedic approach to treating allergies targets detoxifying the liver, kidneys, and blood, along with eliminating “ama” or toxins from the gut. It focuses on processing undigested food, allergens, and toxins in the digestive system to reduce inflammatory allergic reactions. Panchakarma, known as “the 5 actions” is the optimal form of Ayurvedic detoxification and can extract allergens and ama from deep within the body’s tissues.”
Panchakarma (PK) is an Ayurvedic treatment that involves a series of massages, herbal saunas, colonic therapy, and nutritional changes to cleanse the body of “ama” and eliminate allergy responses. These enjoyable Ayurvedic series of treatments restore a sense of balance and well-being to the allergy sufferer. Panchakarma treatment sessions are available at local Ayurvedic therapy centers under the supervision of a trained Ayurvedic practitioner.
Sublingual Immunotherapy (SILT) is a natural seasonal allergy treatment. Used widely through Europe, Australia, South America, and Asia, SILT involves exposing the individual to small doses of their allergen(s) repeatedly to build up an immunity. Most commonly given in the form of a liquid or tablet, the allergen is placed under the tongue and held there for 1-2 minutes, then swallowed. SILT’s effectiveness has been well-documented over the past 20 years, and it is a beneficial natural treatment option in treating rhinitis, asthma, and itchy eyes caused by allergies to grass and tree pollens.
Side effects of SILT are typically localized and mild and include mouth itching or stomach discomfort. It is highly recommended to seek Sublingual Immunotherapy through an allergist to ensure proper use and dosage.
Holistic Lifestyle Changes
Holistic lifestyle changes are simple, yet effective, daily decisions that can reduce and even prevent the worst bouts of seasonal allergies. While allergy sufferers can’t hide indoors all season long, there are several holistic lifestyle changes that can be made. Additionally, there are many innovative and helpful products that can eliminate allergen triggers from your home environment.
A few ways to avoid peak allergy season reactions include:
- Remain inside with windows closed during peak pollen hours
- Stay indoors on dry, windy days
- Return outside after a spring rain (the rain helps to clear the air of allergens)
- Avoid outdoor gardening and chores during early morning hours when the pollen count is highest
- Wear a dust mask while performing outdoor activities
- Run the air conditioning in your home and car can to help to clear the air of common allergens
- Utilize a dehumidifier to reduce dryness from allergies
- Use a vacuum with a High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) Filter
- Wear tight wrap-around sunglasses when outdoors to create a barrier from the eyes
Perhaps one of the most effective ways to improve the air quality of a home and work environment is to use an air purifier. Several types of air purifiers are available including ionizers, ones with HEPA filters, and differing sizes dependent on the space for which it will be cycling air. It is easy to determine what size air purifier to purchase by looking at the Clean Air Delivery Rate (CADR). The CADR reveals the speed and amount of airborne particles to be filtered. When choosing an air purifier for the home or office, be sure to purchase one that has a CADR rating equal to two-thirds of the room size. These air purifiers reduce airborne allergens that make their way into the home to create a clean air environment, which is especially important for seasonal allergy sufferers.
The use of products such as dehumidifiers and air purifiers will also assist in removing allergy triggers from the atmosphere. Be sure to use a vacuum that contains a HEPA filter to ensure that dust, pollen, and other allergens are removed from your home.
Holistic Diet & Nutrition
Diet and nutrition plays a large role in virtually every health condition. Seasonal allergies can be treated by specific dietary changes and a holistic approach to nutrition. Probiotics, an anti-inflammatory diet, specific spices proven to reduce allergic responses, and avoidance of dairy products can all go far in reducing congestion, boosting the immune system, and addressing the root causes behind seasonal allergies.
Probiotics are live microorganisms that exist in the stomach. By taking in probiotics through dietary means, an individual can vastly improve their “gut health” and help to boost the immune system.
Recent research has uncovered a link between the ingestion of probiotic drinks and the reduction in seasonal allergy symptoms. A 2013 study, published in PLOS ONE journal, revealed that regular intake of probiotics had a significant impact on gut health. In turn, this caused a systemic change in cells related to seasonal allergy symptoms,such as those lining the nasal cavity. Probiotics will ensure good gut health, which is vital to a healthy immune system and overall reduced allergic response.
Balancing Omega-3 and Omega-6
You can greatly reduce the severity of your allergy symptoms by following an anti-inflammatory diet that is rich in Omega-3s. Omega-3 fatty acids reduce inflammation in the system and are in short supply in most of our modern day diets. Omega-3 food sources include flax seeds, walnuts, fish, grass fed meat and eggs, brussels sprouts, and cauliflower. An additional important dietary change that will have a positive impact on your allergy symptoms is to reduce your Omega-6 intake. This kind of fatty acid is found in most processed foods and will wreak havoc on your inflammation levels. The intake of Omega-6 fats can be significantly reduced by cutting out processed foods and vegetable oils.
Add Some Spice
Another way to help combat congestion includes adding naturally spicy foods into your meals. Capsaicin in nightshades like peppers has been shown to reduce congestion. Hot peppers, horseradish, and spicy mustards will all work as natural (and delicious) decongestants on allergy symptoms.
Turmeric is also a wonderful spice to add to an ingredient list during allergy season. This spice, a relation of the ginger family, has a peppery flavor and contains curcumin, which acts as a natural decongestant.
Take the Tea, Hold the Cream
In addition to increasing your Omega-3’s, decreasing Omega-6’s, and including spicy foods into your diet, chamomile tea is another wonderful natural seasonal allergy remedy. Chamomile contains high levels of quercetin, the aforementioned anti-inflammatory antioxidant.
Additionally, eliminating sources of dairy and sugar can help cut down on mucus production, so avoiding adding milk to tea. Limiting or avoiding thick, heavy dairy products such as ice cream, yogurt, and sweets during allergy season can also help keep mucus buildup at bay.
Products & Equipment
Neti Pots are an inexpensive product that help to flush irritating pollen and other allergens from the nasal cavities. The accompanying sterile saline solution can be made at home using salt and distilled water, or is available for purchase.
An air purifier with a HEPA filter will work wonders in keeping your home allergen-free and cycling clean air back into the environment. You may also want to try adding a dehumidifier to your bedroom to keep the air as fresh as possible.
Aromatherapy diffusers can be used to bring additional seasonal allergy relief. There are many essential oils that help alleviate allergy symptoms, reduce inflammation, soothe sore throats, relieve sinus pain and pressure and improve nasal and chest congestion. Some oils include:
Apply a singe essential oil or an oil mixture to a diffuser and enjoy the allergy relief.
An allergist, or immunologist, is a specialized physician that is trained to diagnose and treat allergies, amongst other ailments. If you find yourself suffering from severe allergies at the turn of the seasons, you may benefit from an allergist who can help determine the best course of treatment.
Updated: April 2014
Written by Kristin Accorsi
Reviewed & edited by Julie Cerrato
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- photo credit: flickr.com/photos/chsia/8560999528/