Spring will be upon us shortly. If you suffer from chronic seasonal allergies, there’s no better time than now to prepare your nose, sinuses, and eyes for the symptoms this season will surely bring to your senses. Although shaking off seasonal allergies can be challenging, arming yourself with information about the natural remedies you can use to better cope may leave you feeling much more comfortable this spring.
What Are the Symptoms and Causes of Seasonal Allergies?
Allergies occur when your body’s immune system begins fighting substances (allergens) that are usually harmless. When the immune response is triggered, your body rapidly produces an influx of white blood cells, causing excessive inflammation. It is this inflammation that causes the tell-tale (and extremely bothersome) symptoms of allergies, including the following:
- A runny nose
- Watery eyes
- Red or swollen eyes
In the springtime, there are two substances that you can blame for your allergy symptoms—grass pollen and tree pollen. In some people, the body recognizes pollen as a foreign invader, triggering an exaggerated immune response. So why do some people suffer through the season while others get off the hook so easily? Researchers chalk it up to the following factors:
- Family history of allergies
- Gender (men are more affected than women)
- A history of other types of allergies, such as eczema or having a known food allergy
- Exposure to cigarette smoke (firsthand or secondhand)
Allergies are a tricky thing to understand and manage. Some people may never experience seasonal allergies as a kid but go on to develop severe symptoms as they age. Others suffer during their childhood but eventually outgrow allergic reactions later in life.
So how do you pinpoint whether your allergies are seasonal or year-round (perennial)? A good rule of thumb is to identify whether your symptoms show up at the same time of year, every year. If you find that this is the case, your allergies are most likely caused by exposure to various pollens. This means you have seasonal allergies.
On the flip side, if your symptoms persist for nine months out of the year or more, you have perennial allergies. These allergies are caused by substances like mold, pet dander, cigarette smoke, dust mites, and cockroaches (yuck!). Perennial allergies may even be caused by the air you breathe. Consider this: has the air or ventilation system in your workplace ever irritated your sinuses, your throat, or your lungs? Well, it’s not just you. More and more, people are developing allergic sensitivities in specific environments when they have no sensitivities otherwise. This is known as occupational asthma or occupational allergies. It occurs when a substance is inhaled in the workplace that your body detects as a foreign invader.
If you find that your allergies just don’t go away long after spring is over, be sure to discuss the possibility of perennial allergies with your doctor—there are several treatments that can help.
6 Natural Remedies for Your Seasonal Allergies
Today, there are several over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription drugs designed to minimize allergy symptoms—antihistamines, corticosteroids, and decongestants to name a few. Like natural remedies, these drugs work to break up mucus in clogged sinuses and open up the airways. The thing is, some folks don’t like the way these drugs make them feel. Common side effects include:
- Dry mouth
- Urine retention
- Blurred vision
These side effects can be hard to manage when you’re just trying to get through the day. What if there was a better way? There are several gentle, natural remedies that may work just as well as a pill in treating your allergy symptoms. Read on to learn the effective herbs, nutrients, and home treatments for allergy relief.
Herbs for Allergy Relief
Research indicates butterbur reduces nasal inflammation and congestion in a similar way as antihistamines. Think of butterbur as a natural antihistamine that you can use in place of an OTC medication. In a study following 125 participants, researchers found that butterbur was just as effective as the OTC medicine, Zyrtec, in reducing allergy symptoms. This handy little herb may even keep sinus headaches at bay. If you’ve ever had a full-blown, debilitating sinus headache, you may be singing butterbur’s praises to the rooftops right about now—and we don’t blame you!
Some people may be allergic to this herb (interestingly enough). If you have a known allergy to daisies, marigolds, or ragweed, this herb is not for you. As an additional word of caution, do not purchase butterbur supplements without proper labeling. Be sure to choose a formulation that notes “PA-free” or “PA-safe” on the label; this means the supplement is free of chemicals that can damage your liver.
Stinging nettle is generally thought to be a safe, non-toxic, and an inexpensive remedy for allergy sufferers. It has been used for centuries in treating the symptoms of congestion. You can prepare stinging nettle as a tea—drinking two to three cups a day has shown to be effective in reducing seasonal allergies. You may also choose to take it in supplement form.
Women who are pregnant and young children should avoid taking stinging nettle. Also, steer clear of this herb if you are currently taking medications for your kidneys, blood pressure, or heart.
Cat’s claw, a plant native to the jungles of the Amazon, works by boosting immune system function. This little-known herb triggers the body to produce protective immune factors. It also contains several anti-inflammatory properties, which reduce allergy symptoms like congestion and red, swollen eyes. Cat’s claw extract can be found in capsule form at most natural food stores. Take as directed before the start of spring to see whether this natural remedy works wonders for you.
Nutrients for Allergy Relief
It may be possible to kick allergy symptoms to the curb with some strategic but simple dietary changes. Check out these promising food options for allergy relief.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids, also known as essential fatty acids, are necessary nutrients for optimal health. They can be found in the following foods:
- Fish like salmon, tuna, halibut, trout, and mackerel
- Flaxseed and soybean oils
- Chia seeds and walnuts
You’ve probably heard a lot about the role of omega-3s in brain function. These nutrients are known to protect the aging brain from neurodegenerative disorders like dementia. But did you know omega-3s also affect immune function? That’s right, a study published in The British Journal of Nutrition shows that the location and organization of fatty acids in the body is directly associated with the activation of immune cells, particularly T cells (a type of white blood cell). Because of their role in immunity, omega-3 fats, such as those found in fish like salmon and tuna, are thought to safeguard the body from allergies.
Recent studies indicate that maternal fish consumption during pregnancy has a protective effect on the growing fetus. In fact, women who consumed fish oil supplements throughout their pregnancies were more likely to have children without any allergy issues. Children from these mothers experienced fewer signs of atopic eczema or food sensitivities in their first year of life. These protective benefits extended well into adolescence, suggesting that fish consumption is an easy and effective way to combat allergies.
Health experts recommend getting one serving of salmon (or other fatty fish) in your diet at least once per week to prevent allergies, protect your brain, and shed extra body fat. If fish really isn’t your thing, try taking fish oil supplements in capsule form.
Probiotics, microorganisms commonly found in yogurt, show great promise in alleviating allergy symptoms. In a 2014 well-controlled French study, participants who took capsules of Lactobacillus paracasei for a five-week period reported fewer symptoms of red, itchy, and swollen eyes compared to the placebo group; these participants also reported improvements in their quality of life. In a separate study, the probiotic, Lactobacillus casei, was found to reduce nasal inflammation.
A study published in the Journal of Nutrition found that people who consumed seven ounces of yogurt a day had fewer allergy symptoms compared to non-yogurt eaters. Probiotics appear to help the body process allergens like pollen, bolstering the immune system and changing chemical processes in the body. Other sources of probiotics include:
- Some cheeses, such as Gouda, mozzarella, and cheddar
Home Treatments for Allergy Relief
You can help clear out your nasal passages in the comfort and privacy of your own home using a nasal rinse treatment. This treatment involves squirting saline solution in one nostril and draining it out of the other. When done correctly, this treatment works to flush mucus and nasal debris out of your nostrils and sinus cavity.
To start the process, find a neti pot, squeeze bottle, or bulb syringe. Then make your solution by mixing a few cups of distilled warm water with one to two tablespoons of salt. Transfer the solution to the device of your choice then irrigate both nostrils. Rather than making the solution using traditional table salt, try to get your hands on some Dead Sea salts. These salts are higher in the mineral, magnesium. Many health experts agree that sea salts contribute to a more effective and therapeutic at-home treatment.
While a nasal rinse might cause you some discomfort, take note that this remedy really works. In fact, a review of 10 studies found that irrigating nasal passages cuts allergy symptoms by 28 percent and cuts OTC and prescription drug use by a whopping 62 percent. Now those are some results you can count on.
Tips for Stopping Allergens in Their Tracks
What’s better than relieving allergy symptoms? Stopping them from occurring in the first place, of course. Follow these tips to prevent seasonal allergies from affecting you this spring and all the other seasons of your life:
- Turn on the air conditioner at home, in your car, and at work.
- Stay indoors as much as possible. Don’t open the windows.
- Never hang laundry outside to dry as your clothes will pick up tiny pollen particles.
- Invest in a HEPA air filter or two—it can be effective to put one in your bedroom and one in the living room.
- After completing outdoor activities, such as gardening or taking the kids to the park, be sure to take a shower and grab a new change of clothes.
Finding Herbs for Allergy Relief
Natural herbal remedies are more accessible than ever before. You can find many of the products discussed in the article at natural food stores like Sprouts or Whole Foods. You can also find them at vitamin and supplement retailers, such as GNC or Vitamin Shoppe. And, of course, there’s always online shopping—the herbal marketplace is everywhere online.
As a word of caution, it’s always a good idea to talk to your doctor before introducing any new herbs to your body. Some herbs interact with supplements or prescribed medications. And they can be especially dangerous to young children, pregnant women, or women who are nursing. Additionally, always purchase reputable, high-quality herbs with proper labeling to ensure you get the safest and most effective formulations.
Don’t let allergy symptoms make spring your mortal enemy this year. Snap out of old patterns and see what natural allergy remedies can do for you.
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