Spring is here and along with it comes warmer weather, blossoming flowers, and the dreaded pollen. This yellow dust-like substance coats every surface outside and leaves many of us feeling lousy. In this article we'll explore an integrative approach to environmental allergy symptoms and ways you can balance your immune system during allergy season.
When we develop allergy symptoms it is the body's way of responding to something it perceives as foreign or a threat. The body produces antibodies against the allergen (ex: pollen) and these antibodies induce immune cells to release inflammatory chemicals (ex: histamine), which in turn cause allergic symptoms.
Allergy symptoms can vary, but often include:
Runny nose with clear nasal discharge
Irritated nose or throat
Itchy, bloodshot, or runny eyes
Blocked or itchy ears
Dark circles under the eyes
There are a variety of medications that can help alleviate allergy symptoms. Below are the most commonly used treatments:
Antihistamines: Available over the counter and with a prescription, these drugs prevent histamine from binding on the receptors of immune cells. These medications can help treat allergic symptoms like sneezing, itching, and runny nose. They can also cause side effects like drowsiness and dry mouth.
Decongestants: Use these medications when you are experiencing significant congestion. Their effects are only temporary and can actually worsen congestion if used for an extended time so limit their use. These drugs can increase blood pressure and should not be used by those with hypertension.
Cromolyn sodium: This over-the-counter nasal spray can help avoid the cascade of allergy symptoms. Start using it two to four weeks before allergy season for best results.
Steroid Sprays: Steroid nasal sprays combat swelling in the nose, which helps to ease congestion. They often can take about 2 weeks to start working effectively so consistency is key.
Eye Drops: Anti-histamine eye drops can help relieve itchy eyes caused by allergens.
Work with your medical provider or pharmacist to determine the best medication combination for you to support your allergy symptoms.
If you are searching for natural allergy remedies there are several key nutrients and herbs that can be very helpful. They usually work best in combination, beginning before the start of allergy season and continuing throughout the season. Here are a few of the most effective natural allergy supports:
Quercetin: Quercetin is known for its ability to stabilize the cells that reduce the release of histamine. Quercetin also has antioxidant activity and has been shown to support immune health by modulating the release of inflammatory compounds.
Vitamin C: Vitamin C is an essential nutrient that supports the immune system. It works as a potent antioxidant and is able to deactivate histamine.
Stinging Nettles: Known to affect respiratory health, specifically in the airways and nasal passages, stinging nettles leaf balances a variety of inflammatory responses.
Bromelain: Bromelain is a proteolytic enzyme that has been shown to reduce circulating allergenic protein complexes associated with seasonal discomfort. Bromelain also aids in the absorption of quercetin.
N-Acetyl-L-Cysteine: N-acetyl cysteine (NAC) helps to thin mucus which is helpful for maintaining cleared airways and maintaining respiratory health.
One of my favorite anti-allergy supplements is Natural D-Hist which contains all of the above in one convenient product.
Eat the rainbow. Increasing colorful plant based foods, supplies your body with the nutrients it needs to balance the immune system and reduce inflammation.
Avoid milk and milk based products. Dairy can be mucus forming and thought to make allergy symptoms worse.
Boost probiotic (good bacteria) and prebiotic (food for the bacteria) rich foods to support the gut microbiome. For probiotic foods think sauerkraut, kimchi, dairy free yogurt or kefir, miso or tempeh. For prebiotic foods think apples, asparagus, bananas, flaxseed, legumes or Jerusalem artichokes. If you don't feel you are getting enough of these foods in the diet, consider supplementing with a probiotic. One of my favorite probiotics for immune balance is Ortho Biotic.
Try the Neti Pot. Nasal douching with a warm saline solution (only use distilled water) can help flush pollen off nasal tissues and soothe irritated mucus membranes.
Get a HEPA filter to trap airborne allergens in the home.
Check the pollen count out before planning to spend a lot of time outside and avoid going out when pollen counts are at their highest. You can also consider wearing a face covering or mask outside if you plan to spend a lot of time outdoors or if it is windy when pollen counts are high.
Allergies don't have to keep you down. By using an integrative approach you can enjoy spring without all the sniffles!
Rabia Vaughns, MMS, PA-C is a certified physician assistant who specializes in helping people overcome chronic illness using a functional medicine approach to healing the mind, body, spirit. She is a co-owner of Elevate Functional Medicine.