Barring serious illness or injury, I prefer to depend on food and vitamin therapy for my health and healing needs. But there is something about allergy season that makes me want to throw this philosophy out the window, and reach out for a big old box of Zyrtec. Despite this initial impulse, through the advice and consoling of my allergy support group (i.e. my friends and family who listen to me whine), I have come up with a few remedies and life adjustments that have provided me with enough relief to avoid the pills. Allergies suck, but avoiding pharmaceuticals does not necessarily banish you to a fate of constant sneezing and bloodshot eyes.
Allergies occur when our bodies recognize an external substance (common allergens include pollen, pet dander, dust, smoke, etc.), which triggers an immune response. Much like when you have a cold, these antibodies provoke inflammation, explaining the itchy eyes, runny nose, and puffy face (for more information consult www.mayoclinic.com). Generally, hay fever is pretty mild in the range of allergic reactions, but is certainly uncomfortable, and can negatively affect the sufferer’s day-to-day life. Staying inside does of course make a big difference, but if spending the beautiful spring season indoors sounds worse than the allergies, pollen counts generally tend to be higher in the early morning (before 10 AM) and later in the evening.
1. Eat Like You are Sick
An allergic reaction causes many of the same affects as a body’s reaction to a pathogen. Many of the immune boosting steps you take to heal yourself when you have a cold will also provide support and relief for allergies. This means avoiding sugar (remember that 1 teaspoon of sugar suppresses the immune system for 12 hours!), eating foods high in vitamin C (oranges and fruit are good, but dark leafy greens, Brussels sprouts and broccoli are an alternative if you don’t want the fruit sugar), and drinking tons and tons of water. Because many of your allergy symptoms are caused by inflammation, adding in foods that are anti-inflammatory (such as tumeric, ginger, seaweed, mushrooms, and green tea) can help as well. Get plenty of rest, and if you don’t already, cut out dairy, as it triggers a mucous response. Spicy meals can temporarily clear out your sinuses.
2. Keep a Clean House, Car, and especially, Bed.
When allergies are bad, change the sheets often, and keep pets out of the bedroom (or at the very least off the bed). Keep tissues by your bed to avoid getting up frequently in the night (nothing worse than being stuffy and sleep deprived). Air filters are a godsend, but if they aren’t within your budget, keeping windows closed and vacuuming and dusting regularly can clear pollen out of your home.
3. Nasal Irrigation
Ever use a Neti Pot? Now is your chance! As weird as these guys may look (they originate in the Ayurvedic medical tradition, but can be found at your local drugstore), and as initially uncomfortable as nasal irrigation may be, it’s all worth it when you breathe in that wonderful, fresh nasal oxygen. Use a saline solution (salt and water), about 1 pint of lukewarm water to one teaspoon of salt, and pour liquid at a 45-degree angle into one nostril (it will come out the other). Additionally, using a wet washcloth for your nose and moth can wash away pollen, and provide relief. When your allergies are particularly horrible, just get in the shower or the bath.
4. Nettles, Quercitin, and Goldenseal
These three remedies are the ones I find to give the most relief. Of course, depending on the type of pollen and your own immune response, different remedies will work for you- other natural remedies used for treating allergies include Butterbur and Arnica.
Quercitin is a substance found naturally in fruits and vegetables (especially grapefruit and other citrus fruits). It has antiviral and cancer fighting properties, and, most relevantly, is an effective anti-inflammatory, and is praised for its alleviation of seasonal allergies.
Nettles come in the form of drops and tea, and are also an anti-inflammatory. The actual plant is an allergen itself, but small amounts of its essence are very effective in treating allergies.
Goldenseal is particularly helpful in reducing mucous flow as well as the itching caused by allergy-induced inflammation.
As always, it’s a good idea to check with your health provider before introducing any supplement or medicine (herbal or otherwise). All three of the above remedies can usually be found at your local health food store.
A lot of people I know swear by eating raw, local honey in order to introduce small amounts of pollen into the body. Similar to allergen immunotherapy, exposing oneself to little bits of pollen gives the body a chance to identify the allergens and produce an appropriate immune response (not the one on overdrive, which causes common hay fever symptoms). The only issue with using honey to help with allergies is that the affecting allergen has to be a flowering one (the pollen is put into the honey by the honeybees who collect it from flowers). If your enemy allergen is something like grass, juniper, or another tree, the honey method won’t help very much (but it still is delicious and immune boosting).
6. Treat the Symptoms
It won’t have much affect on your body’s allergy response, but sometimes treating the symptoms can create some relief, making the whole reaction a bit more manageable. Get a high quality, face moisturizer (ones with Aloe Vera I find particularly soothing), and a lip balm with vitamin E. Slather your poor, raw, nose and lips with them. Frequently. Eye drops help too, as does an appropriate, not over the top amount of whining.