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How To Wage War on Allergies

Written by S.O.

Posted on April 4, 2015 at 3:59 pm

Right on cue, spring has arrived in the Northern Hemisphere. And with the change in seasons, warmer temperatures and more sunlight have most of us chomping at the bit to get outside and enjoy it!


Unfortunately for some people, springtime doesn’t mean long walks and relaxing with your toes in the grass. Instead, folks with allergies look at the rebirth of all that wonderful flora as an invitation to sniffle, sneeze, generally feel terrible.

But, allergy sufferers shouldn’t simply grin and bear it. There are a whole host of treatments available that can help get you through the season. And, with the right treatment, you may even come to look forward to spring’s arrival.

Let’s take a closer look at allergies, and then outline some treatments and therapies that have proven successful in treating them.

The Cost Of Allergies

Many people believe that allergies, although bothersome and aggravating, don’t really rise above the level of a basic annoyance. But, with an annual cost running nearly $20 billion, and ranking as the sixth leading cause of chronic illness in the US, it easy to see why a dismissive view of allergies is not justified.

Photo by David Goehring

Allergies – technically an overaggressive immune response to eating certain foods, touching certain substances, or inhaling certain pollens or pet dander – can result from a variety of sources, and symptoms range from mild discomfort to life-threatening reactions.

The types of allergies most common in the spring are those resulting from allergic reactions to pollen, spores, mold, and dust – these affect the respiratory system and often are the most difficult to control. Sometimes referred to as hay fever and allergic rhinitis, seasonal allergies are most commonly triggered by the newly sprouted grass, mold, and pollen that fill the warm spring air.

Anyone with allergies will tell you that a mild winter often means a miserable spring, as the early arrival of the spring weather gives plants the opportunity to pollinate that much earlier. Wet spring weather, coupled with the raising temperatures after the vernal equinox, can help mold gain a solid foothold that it won’t relinquish until the arrival of cooler fall temperatures.

The time of day, a set of unique climatic conditions, or even the wind speed also have a bearing on which allergens succeed: Cool nights and warm days encourages tree, grass, and ragweed pollens to flourish, while pollen counts surge in windier weather. The effects of pollen on humans typically peak in the morning, and usually are diminished following a rainstorm. However, the rain will offer just a brief reprieve, as pollen counts soon soar after heavy rains.

While definitive evidence is still out, many allergists contribute the rise in the number of people affected by allergies to be, at least partially, as a result of climate change – due to increasing global temperatures as a result of trapped greenhouse gases. One theory opines that humans, in our quest for cleanliness, no longer consume the microbes found in dirt, while another holds that our increased intake of medicines, particular penicillin, has caused our immune systems to over-respond.

From the naturopathic perspective, allergies are associated with weakened adrenal, immune, and digestive functions as result to our modern lifestyle and environment.

Common Treatments

Before we can say for sure what is causing a person’s allergic response to elements in the spring ecology, first we must know the source. While it might be fairly simple to deduce the cause of your most overwhelming allergies, as many as two-thirds of people who have springtime allergies actually suffer through a year-round cycle of allergic responses.

The first step is to visit an allergist, so that testing may begin to narrow down and pinpoint what exactly it is that is causing your immune system to respond that way. Once your particular malady is determined, your allergist may be able to construct a treatment plan that will better manage your symptoms. That should include a strategy that will help you avoid the conditions that seem to trigger your immune response.

If you are unwilling to do that, keeping an eye on pollen and mold counts may help you determine when its better to go outside, and when it’s better to stay hidden in your home. However, without knowledge of your specific trigger, high pollen counts may not result in worse symptoms. That’s because the particular pollen you’re allergic to may or may not be a significant amount of the overall pollen level.

General advice includes keeping doors and windows shut until your symptoms (or the allergy season) pass, staying inside when pollen counts are highest, and changing your cloths after being outside. Wearing a NIOSH-rated 95 filter mask while doing yard work is a great way to prevent inhaling all of the dust and pollen kicked up by the lawnmower or leaf blower.

Keeping clean the air inside of your house is also a very effective strategy. The high-efficiency air filters found in today’s heating and air conditioning systems are very good at removing a large amount of air-born allergens. Using a dehumidifier to dry out the air, or using a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter, are also ways to keep the air inside your home tolerable.

Of course, there are plenty of chemical treatments as well. Many people swear by some over-the-counter remedies, such as oral antihistamines, decongestants, nasal sprays, and combination medications. However, allergists may choose to treat you with immunotherapy, an injectable allergy shot that, through increased doses over time, allows your body to learn to tolerate your allergens. Another form of immunotherapy just approved by the Food and Drug Administration is the SLIT tablet. This daily four-times-a-day tablet, which dissolves under the tongue, can provide relief for as long as three years. Unfortunately, SLIT only is available for grass and ragweed pollens.

Whatever it is you take, it is recommended that you start your treatment cycle at least two weeks prior to the expected start of allergy season.

Natural Treatments

Lots of people swear by several different nature-based products they’ve found particularly effective in treating mild allergic reactions. Many of these products have the added bonus of providing relief without the side effects of some standard treatments.

One such natural treatment is the European herb butterbur (Petasites hybridus), which, in a recent Swiss study published in the British Medical Journal, proved to be an outstanding treatment for hay fever. Lacking the drowsiness caused by many popular antihistamine drugs, butterbur has proven clinical results on par with those antihistamines. In one study, butterbur’s efficacy also was found to include quelling symptoms associated with grass allergy.

Photo by Zen Spa

Sipping apple cider vinegar will help break down mucus build up, while breathing in eucalyptus oil will help reduce inflammation and respiratory problems associated with asthma. Freeze-dried nettles, an herbal supplement, combined with the herb goldenseal is a great addition to standard saline nasal spray, helping to reduce and thin mucous while the goldenseal’s antibacterial properties will help the process along.

Some naturopathic doctors suggest to their patients grape seed extract and flavonoid compound (quercetin), which , when coupled with Vitamin C to boost efficacy , are helpful in reducing symptoms; there is some data to suggest quercetin helps control the release of histamine and other chemicals responsible for allergic response. Quercetin may be found in citrus fruits, apples, onions, tomatoes, tea, wine, lettuce, and chocolate.

Culling from your diet foods that seem to increase your body’s allergic reactions is also a great way of handling allergy symptoms when they’re at their worst. For instance, if you suffer from weed pollen allergies, avoid foods such as melons, bananas, chamomile, sunflower seeds, and herbal supplements containing Echinacea, all of which can make those symptoms worse.

There are lots of ways to address your seasonal allergy symptoms, from modern medicine to treatments a bit off the beaten path. Though they probably won’t eliminate your symptoms completely, some relief is much better than no relief at all. The trick is finding the right treatment for you and sticking with it.

Who knows, maybe with the right treatment, you’ll even get to put your toes in the grass this spring.

Want the the bite sized version? Read How To Wage War on Allergies infographic.

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