Solutions for Seasonal Allergies
It's official. Allergy season is in full swing around here, and it's a doozy again. The most common allergy complaints include runny nose, congestion, cough, and itchy eyes, and these are all being reported at my clinic on a daily basis. People with asthma and eczema often experience flares because of seasonal allergies, as well.
I'm astonished at how bad my area of the country is compared to others; all you have to do is look at the pollen counts to see it (but of course, we're not the only ones who have it bad). My husband and my son are the most affected in our household; they just seem to take after each other in that way.
My son also struggles with food allergies, as you may have read in previous posts. His allergy testing was positive for eggs, oats, and almonds, which are tough for him to remove. Last year we took a trip to San Juan Island as he was right in the swing of dealing with food and seasonal allergies, and when we were there, ALL of his symptoms resolved. He ate the foods he wasn't supposed to be eating, and there was no issue! I was floored. Apparently being at sea level and having different air quality made all the difference in the world.
So, why did this happen? Well, allergies are caused by the release of histamine in response to an allergen. Interestingly though, allergies are actually a disorder of the immune system, because the body is over-reacting to an otherwise harmless substance. So when the body is exposed to high levels of environmental allergies AND foods it is intolerant to, it reacts like crazy because the immune system is basically overstimulated and overworked. When the environmental triggers AND food triggers are removed, the immune system can focus more easily.
The point being, food allergies are closely related to seasonal allergies, and vice-versa. Managing one can help the other! What's more, it has been shown that healing the gut can significantly help to improve seasonal allergies (read HERE for my series on Gut Health).
Particularly if you are someone who has Allergies AND Asthma, and/or Eczema, gut healing is likely to be in order*. These 3 disorders are very closely related. Even in my clinic, it is now widely accepted that people with allergies and eczema are likely to have food intolerances. And as we've now learned, food intolerances are a sign that the gut is not functioning optimally.
So, as we dive into the subject of seasonal allergies, please keep in mind that all measures to reduce allergy symptoms are ultimately just symptom management. This is valuable, but don't let it sidetrack you from addressing the root problem, which is likely in the gut. This is what we are faced with for my son, and most likely my husband as well. We use symptom management to make them more comfortable, but our ultimate goal is healing their guts so that we can eliminate the allergy symptoms for good!
Why bother with treating allergies naturally?
This is a great question, because many people get significant relief from over the counter (or prescription) allergy medications. However, allergy medications like antihistamines, corticosteroids, and decongestants can cause quite a list of side effects, some of which you may not even realize:
Impaired cognitive performance
Dryness of the eyes, nose and mouth
Bleeding and bruising
Over-excitability and nightmares, especially in children
If any of these sound familiar, consider using some more natural treatments. They are often equally effective, but do not cause the side effects listed above. Remember that everyone responds differently, just like with traditional medications, so be willing to use some trial and error in this process. And if you are on any medications, be sure to double check any possible interactions that could happen between the medications and the natural supplements.
First, Start with the Basics
The following steps are an absolute must, whether you're using traditional or natural allergy management. You have to remove the pollen so that it is not perpetuating the problem! Even if these steps sound obvious, you'd be surprised how many people I talk to who don't take these steps, simply because they haven't really thought of it. Here's how to do it:
Shower every evening, including washing the hair. Pollens will get in the hair and cause symptoms throughout the night, so go to bed with a "clean slate".
Wash everything! Maybe you (or your child) have not been doing your showers in the evening. So when you start this, remember to change the sheets, pillowcases, and wash stuffed animals and blankets. After this initial "spring cleaning", washing the sheets once per week should be sufficient, as longs you continue to shower/wash your hair before bed.
Clean the carpets and vacuum regularly. Environmental irritants get stuck in carpets and it is difficult to clean them thoroughly. Consider replacing carpets with hardwood floors or another hard surface. Believe, me, I know we can't be perfect; our house is full of carpet and we have not yet been able to replace it. But our goal is to ultimately replace all the carpet with hardwood floors.
Saline Spray or Xylitol Spray. Use these to clean out sinuses, morning and night. This helps to wash out pollens that hang out in your sinus cavities. This xylitol spray is my favorite, because it is in a saline base, but does not dry out my nose and sinuses.
Wash the Dog once per week. Similar to your carpet and bedding, pollens will hang out on our little furry friends, so just give them a good bath every week during allergy season.
Natural allergy treatments are geared toward reducing symptoms. Remember that reducing symptoms does not solve the root issue, which very well may be in the gut.
Local Raw Honey: This contains beneficial bacteria, as well as trace amounts of pollen from your local area. These trace amounts of pollen can "educate" the immune system to tolerate these local pollens, much like how allergy shots work.
Bee Pollen: Bee pollen helps to reduce inflammation, powerful antioxidant, helps protect the liver, supports the immune system, relieves menopause symptoms, helps relieve stress, promotes healing. Buy it from a local beekeeper or reputable company, and take in a granule form. High amounts of bee pollen could cause allergic reaction, so start low dose and increase slowly to about 1 teaspoon per day.
Apple Cider Vinegar: This can help support the immune system and also help to drain the lymphatic system. You can try taking up to 1 tablespoon with lemon and local raw honey, or use it to make salad dressings (but try to eat the dressing regularly, because you won't likely get as much ACV this way).
Quercetin: This helps to stop the production and release of histamine, which is what causes the allergy symptoms to begin with.
Nettle: Nettle also helps to block the release of histamine and fights inflammation. You can find capsules that contain both nettle and quercetin (as well as N-Acetyl Cysteine, which will be explained a bit later), like this one.
Essential Oils: There are many essential oils to choose from in managing allergy symptoms, and because of this, it is easy to create a combination that works best for you.
Lemon supports lymphatic system drainage and supports immune system function.
Lavender helps to decrease histamine levels.
Eucalyptus helps to open the airways and support immune function.
Peppermint helps to open up sinuses and airways.
Frankincense is very effective at reducing inflammation.
Basil helps reduce inflammatory response from allergies.
Digest Zen If there is a gut health component, which there very likely is, this digestive blend of essential oils helps to alleviate these symptoms.
How would I use these essential oils?
1. Diffuse or apply topically. For the respiratory symptom relief and histamine response management, I would either diffuse a blend at the bedside, or mix the essential oils with fractionated coconut oil and rub them over the chest and possibly the sinus area, making sure to avoid the eyes.
A blend to try: 1drop Peppermint, 2 drops Eucalyptus, 1 drop Lavender and 1 drop Frankincense in the diffuser. Or, you can mix several drops of each of these, along with a base of fractionated coconut oil, into a small container, and apply to the chest as needed.
2. Take internally. Remember that you can only take an essential oil internally if it is certified, pure, therapeutic grade, AND has supplement facts listed on the bottle. Try 2 drops of Digest Zen and 1 drop Frankincense to manage gut issues. Or, you can try 1 drop Lemon, 1 drop Lavender, and 1 drop Peppermint to manage the allergy symptoms themselves. I like to combine these in an empty capsule that I can swallow.
To find out more about essential oils, click here.
Assistance for the Liver to Help Process Histamine
Remember what's happening with allergies? It is the body releasing histamine in response to an allergen. Well, histamine is broken down in the liver. The liver processes nearly everything that ever enters the body, from food, to personal care items, to substances in the environment. The liver is an amazing organ, but sometimes it can get overloaded.
The liver is likely to prioritize the most harmful substances first, with histamine going to the back of the line. So, there are things we can do to support the liver, so that it can more easily process everything it is being asked to process.
N-Acetyl Cysteine helps the body produce more glutathione, which is a very powerful antioxidant our own bodies make. Glutathione gets rid of toxins and heavy metals, and free radicals by placing them in the bile and stool for excretion. If the liver can more easily handle these types of substances, it is more available to process histamine. This supplement is one of my favorites for allergies, because it includes N-Acetyl Cysteine, Nettle and Quercetin.
Milk Thistle, Burdock Root, Dandelion and Cardamom help to clean out the liver and provide what it needs to stay healthy. This is a great supplement which includes all of the mentioned herbs. For the cardamom, I would include cardamom essential oil and ground cardamom in regular culinary use.
What about Allergy Shots and Sublingual Immunotherapy (SLIT)?
These can be effective methods in reducing allergy symptoms. Both types of immunotherapy are geared toward exposing the body to very small amounts of the allergens the person is reacting to, so that the immune system recognizes them on a more manageable level, and over time becomes more tolerant to these substances.
Allergy shots can help address most types of environmental allergies, but can be very costly and time consuming. SLIT is only currently approved for ragweed and grass pollen, but can be taken at home. Side effects are mainly due to the exposure to the specific allergens and can include itching of the mouth or tongue, and/or stomach upset. For both allergy shots and SLIT, there is a small risk of an anaphylactic reaction, so they must be prescribed by an allergist.
The downside is that it can take years for these therapies to be effective, and still, they likely will not address the root cause of the problem, which typically is in the gut.
Getting to the Root Cause
As I previously mentioned, healing the gut is very likely to help decrease the over-reaction of the immune system to environmental triggers. For a comprehensive guide on healing the gut, read my Gut Health Series. In a nutshell, healing the gut involves removing foods you are intolerant to, eating foods and taking supplements that are geared toward healing the gut lining, and possibly treating any gut infections.
Removing Foods you are Intolerant to. I mentioned this above, but I want to emphasize that in the short term, removing foods that have been identified as intolerances can significantly reduce seasonal allergy symptoms. We have certainly seen that this is the case with my son, and while it is not easy for him or for us, seeing the reduction in symptoms is validating and makes it worthwhile. It is also key if any gut healing efforts are to be successful.
Probiotics are especially important in achieving balance in the gut, so don't forget to eat your fermented foods, and take a good quality probiotic to fill in the gaps.
Sleep and Stress Management. Lack of sleep, and/or high levels of stress, will definitely contribute to worsened allergy symptoms, so be sure to keep these in check!
How do you feel about allergy management? Do you think it's worth it to get to the root cause, or does it seem like too much trouble? If you're reading this, it's likely you do have some interest in solving this issue for good. I encourage you to keep learning and take either baby steps, or incorporate a whole lifestyle change, depending on what works best for you. We are all a work in progress, and embracing positive lifestyle changes is often a step by step process, wherever you are in your journey!
*I am not a doctor, and these suggestions do not take the place of an asthma management plan. Work with your doctor to establish an asthma management plan. If your plan is not keeping your asthma symptoms under control, or if you are having any difficulty breathing, see your doctor right away.
As with all supplements, the statements mentioned regarding supplements in this article have not been evaluated by the FDA.