How to Naturally Deal with Your Allergies
Springtime offers us sunshine, budding flowers and blooming trees. But for many of us these are the very elements that make venturing outside into the glorious post-winter world an unpleasant event. Allergies caused by tree pollen—and in more humid areas, mold—can make springtime a lousy time of year. For people with allergic sensitivities, pollen and mold can bring on sneezing, coughing, congestion, itchy eyes, and a runny nose.
So why does this happen? In some folks, the body’s immune system overreacts to a foreign substance like pollen or mold, releasing chemicals in the body that cause the unpleasant allergy symptoms.
How to Make Your Home a Safe Place for Allergy Sufferers
Staying indoors when pollen and mold is present is one way to reduce the misery of springtime allergies. But even indoors you might find allergens lurking around that can make you feel bad, and these irritants can hang around all year long. What’s the worst indoor irritator?
Dust—even the most meticulously clean abode harbors some dust (you can try, but you can’t clean everywhere). And although a dusty house may look…well, dusty, how bad can dust really be? What’s in dust? It varies from house to house, depending on many factors—including pet ownership—but typical dust elements include:
- Soil and plant material
- Human and animal skin (dander) and hair
- Fabric fibers
- Mold spores
- Dust mites
- Insect parts and waste
Tips to Avoid Indoor Allergens in Your Home
There are some things you can do to decrease your exposure to indoor allergens:
- Run the air conditioner at home. Leaving doors and windows open is a good way to invite allergens and other irritants inside your home, so there’s no escape.
- With forced air furnaces and air conditioning systems, use high-efficiency filters and maintain the system as required. Keep air conditioning and furnace filters fresh. It’s important to change filters every three months and use filters with a MERV rating of 8 to 12. A MERV rating tells you how well the filter can remove pollen and mold from the air as it passes through.
- Vacuum furnace/air conditioning vents and air returns
- Use a dehumidifier to keep indoor air dry
- Use HEPA filters in portable units (especially in the bedroom) and in vacuum cleaners
- Sweep, dust and vacuum often—don’t forget behind, under and on top of your refrigerator
- Wash your sheets. Dust mite particles can be found in your bedding, which may trigger allergies. Washing your sheets once a week, and comforters or quilts every few weeks, will help rid your bed of these particles.
- Listen for Drips. Leaks around the house can result in a mold problem, which can cause immune-related problems. Once a leak is sealed, clean around the area with disinfectant or a hot water and bleach mixture.
- Move your Plants. Like any area of the house, plants can grow mold overtime. If you smell the musty odor of mold on your houseplant, throw it away or move it to an area of the house that isn’t frequently used.
Things You Can Do to Help Naturally Reduce Allergy Symptoms
- Wear Shades—Wear glasses or sunglasses when outdoors. Covering your eyes keeps pollen and other irritants away from this sensitive area, which reduces itchiness and redness. Pollen is a known irritant for eyes and eyelids.
- Drink Water—Even mild dehydration can activate histamine production, so staying hydrated can dampen allergy symptoms.
- Nasal Irrigation—Nasal irrigation with a combination of warm water and natural salt may help clear out mucus and open sinus passages. You can administer the solution through a neti pot.
- Shower and Wash Your Hair before bed. Cleaning up before getting into bed helps remove pollen from your hair and skin, which reduces irritation. You should also consider keeping pets out of the bedroom if they’ve been outside, as pollen can cling to their fur.
- Minimize activities outdoors when pollen counts are at their peak. Pollen is typically at its highest point during midday and afternoon hours, so those who suffer from allergies and asthma should avoid going outside during those times of day.
Avoid Making These Mistakes When Trying to Prevent Allergies
- Don’t treat symptoms without knowing what you’re allergic to. You may think you know what’s causing your allergy symptoms, but more than two-thirds of spring allergy sufferers actually have year-round allergies. An allergist, a doctor who is an expert in treating allergies and asthma, can perform tests to pinpoint the cause of your suffering and then find the right treatment to stop it.
- Don't blindly spend on over-the-counter medications. There are tons of allergy medications available at the store, some of which can be very effective. But if you’re buying new products all the time, spending a bundle and not feeling better, consult with an allergist who can discuss which options might be best for you. Your allergist may suggest nasal spray or allergy shots, also called immunotherapy. Immunotherapy can actually cure your allergies and keep you out of the drug store aisles for good.
- Don’t wait until symptoms kick in and you’re already feeling bad to take allergy medication. Instead, prepare by taking medication that has worked for you in the past just before the season starts. Pay attention to the forecast: When winter weather turns warm, pollens and molds are released into the air. Start treatment prior to the warm-up.
- Never hang clothing or laundry outside. Hanging laundry is a great way to be green and save on your electricity bill, but when your clothes are on a clothesline, fabric can collect pollen, which is an allergy trigger. Instead, use a drying machine to reduce these allergens.
- Avoid eating produce and other foods that might aggravate sniffles and sneezing. If your mouth, lips and throat get itchy and you sniffle and sneeze after eating certain raw or fresh fruits or other foods, you may have “oral allergy syndrome.” The condition, which affects about one third of seasonal allergy sufferers, occurs in people who are already allergic to pollen: their immune system sees a similarity between the proteins of pollen and those of the food, and triggers a reaction. If you are allergic to tree pollen, for example, foods like apples, cherries, pears, apricots, kiwis, oranges, plums, almonds, hazelnut and walnuts may bother you. Cooking or peeling the food may help, but you should talk to an allergist.
Top Natural Supplements for Allergy Support
Over half of all Americans suffer from allergies, so you're not alone if you've been sneezing, coughing or wiping your watery eyes. Although there is no magical cure for spring allergies, there are a number of ways to combat them, including over-the-counter and prescription drugs. You may also want to consider natural therapies. There are a wide variety of natural supplements that you can take to help ease allergy symptoms. Here is a list of some of the most well-reviewed supplements for allergy support. Just like OTC and prescription treatments, health supplements can cause side effects or can react with medications you’re taking so be sure to talk to your healthcare provider before you start taking any natural health herbs.
- Astragalus – A traditional Chinese remedy for allergies, buy astragalus to support the immune system.
- Butterbur – The herb butterbur (Petasites hybridus) shows potential for relieving seasonal allergy symptoms. Taking butterbur supplements may reduce hay fever symptoms. Taking 100 mg daily of this herbal extract can improve nasal airflow by cutting down leukotriene, a compound that kick-starts many allergic reactions. In one Swiss study, butterbur was just as effective as an over-the-counter antihistamine for reducing allergy symptoms.
- Evening Primrose – This oil works two ways to suppress allergies. First, allergic reactions cause inflammations and evening primrose oil acts as an anti-inflammatory to decrease the reaction. Secondly, it stimulates the white blood cells that regulate the production of histamines and antibodies.
- Gamma Linolenic Acid – GLA has a long history in folk medicine for treating allergies. People who have allergies may require additional essential fatty acids and have trouble converting LA (Linoleic acid) to GLA. Studies have found that women and children who are prone to allergies have lower levels of GLA.
- Green Tea – Drink a cup of tea. It delivers EGCG, an antioxidant that blocks production of histamine and immunoglobulin E, both of which trigger allergy symptoms.
- Probiotics – Increasing beneficial bacteria may prevent allergies. Probiotics benefit the immune system and could, therefore, reduce allergies.
- Omega-3s – Scientific studies have shown fish oil can help alleviate hay fever, sinus problems and allergic skin conditions.
- Quercetin – This flavonoid, found naturally in onions, apples, and black tea, has anti-inflammatory properties and has been shown to block histamines or reduce the release of histamine, which decreases symptoms.
- Skullcap – This herb has been traditionally used in Chinese medicine to treat hayfever. It has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and antihistaminic properties.
- Spriulina – Studies suggest this blue-green algae can boost the immune system and protect against allergic reactions.
- Stinging Nettle – The roots and leaves of the stinging nettle plant (Urtica dioica) have been used to treat everything from joint pain to prostate problems. Some people use freeze-dried stinging nettle leaves to treat allergy symptoms.
- Vitamin C – This well-known immune-boosting antioxidant lowers histamine levels in the bloodstream, which could prevent the onset of allergies. 2,000 mg of vitamin C can cut histamine levels (which trigger allergy symptoms) by up to 40%, improving breathing and your airway.
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University of Maryland Medical Center
How do you manage your allergies? What products work for you?