Spring is a beautiful time of the year as the days become longer and sunshine warms the air. For millions of Americans, springtime can also bring immense suffering with symptoms associated with seasonal allergies (e.g. hay fever or allergic rhinitis).
Allergies are usually caused by environmental irritants like pollens, grasses, molds, foods, and cat or dog dander. Spring and summer seem to be the most troublesome seasons, but allergies can affect people year-round depending on location and pollen and mold counts.
When the body is exposed to an allergen, the immune system is activated, which produces white blood cells and proteins that trigger chemicals (e.g. histamine, cytokines, etc.) to be released. Until the irritant is removed from the body or the body removed from the irritant, the immune system may continue to react causing symptoms to emerge.
Common symptoms of allergies include:
- Runny nose
- Watery eyes
- Itchy eyes, throat, nose, and ears
Less common symptoms may include:
- Cough and/or wheezing
- Skin rashes (sometimes itchy)
Obviously, the best natural cure for allergies is complete removal of the allergen. Unfortunately, we cannot remove, nor would we want to remove, trees and grasses (or cats and dogs!) from our environment. Fortunately, there are many lifestyle modifications and home remedies for allergies that may reduce or eliminate the symptoms.
1. Remove food allergies/sensitivities
Many people suffer from food allergies or food sensitivities that can exacerbate symptoms of hay fever. For example, dairy for some folks can cause mucus production leading to sinus congestion and post-nasal drip. During allergy season, you may want to eliminate the two most common food allergy triggers: gluten and dairy. Although people don’t usually develop a sugar allergy or sensitivity, I also suggest reducing sugar consumption during allergy season as sugar can be pro-inflammatory in the body with the potential of exacerbating allergy symptoms.
2. Minimizing pollen or allergen exposure
After you’ve spent time outdoors, an easy natural remedy for seasonal allergies is to hop in the shower to rinse off any accumulated pollen. This is especially important right before you go to sleep to prevent pollen from entering your bed. If you just finished mowing the lawn, keep your shoes outdoors (or near the doorway) and throw your clothes into the washing machine. On days when pollen counts are high, I also suggest closing your windows to prevent pollen from entering the house. If you suffer from a dust mite allergy, you may want to consider dust mite covers for your bed and pillows to minimize exposure.
3. Invest in an air purifier
There are many types of air purifiers that will reduce the number of circulating allergens in the air. Look for one that has a HEPA filter. My favorite brands are Blueair, Austin Air, and IQAir. These brands are more expensive than what you’d find in your local hardware store, but they are highly effective and reliable. During allergy season, we have two air purifiers running in our home and they make a big difference for our family.
4. Use a NeilMed rinse or neti pot to clean the nasal cavity
Using a neti pot is a great home remedy for allergies. I highly recommend rinsing the sinuses daily with a NeilMed rinse or neti pot as these devices are tremendously helpful for flushing out allergens from the sinuses. Make sure you add a small packet of salt or Xlear to make a saline solution or else you may experience a mild burning sensation. I suggest using filtered water instead of regular tap water to avoid impurities or contamination.
5. Identify and remove mold in your home, office, or car
As many of you may know, I treat a lot of patients with mold toxicity. Mold can show up anywhere within the home where water intrusion is possible. If you detect any musty or moldy smell in your home, you likely have a mold problem which should be further investigated. I’ve seen countless patients come in with classic allergy-like symptoms, which cleared up once the mold problem was remediated and/or they were treated for mold toxicity. Remember, close to 30% of the population is more susceptible to mold illness/toxicity, so make sure you rule out this issue.
6. Take vitamin C
Vitamin C acts like a mild antihistamine and can reduce the severity of allergic reactions. Histamine is a chemical compound your immune cells release in response to an allergen and it can cause itching, redness, swelling, etc. Vitamin C can minimize the effects of histamine. You’ll want to take in a fair amount throughout the day, so aim for 1000 mg three times a day. Higher doses can be taken, but if you develop loose stools, I would suggest cutting down the dose a little.
7. Use nettle leaf
If you’ve ever walked in the woods during spring, you may have noticed the plant stinging nettle growing all around you. As the name implies, stinging nettle can sting if you touch a fresh leaf or stem. But don’t worry, the nettle leaf I recommend is dried and won’t sting you; it actually can be used as a natural remedy for seasonal allergies or symptoms associated with hay fever. Nettle is loaded with minerals and has antihistamine-like properties. In capsule form, aim for 300 mg (or more) three times a day. You can also make a warm tea by adding 1/3 cup dried nettle leaf and 2–3 cups boiling water. Let sit for 15 minutes, strain, and drink throughout the day.
8. Take quercetin
Quercetin is a bioflavonoid that acts as a mast cell stabilizer. Mast cell stabilizers prevent mast cells from releasing histamine and other pro-inflammatory cytokines, which helps to reduce allergy symptoms. You can take it in capsule or powder form. I recommend during allergy season to opt for the powder version (quercetin ascorbate) and add one scoop (1000 mg) to a glass of water. Do this once or twice a day.