Don’t you just love Spring? Signs of this annual period of renewal are everywhere – in buds on trees, blooming crocuses, baby animals on farms…and pollen in the air. Wait, what? That last one is nothing to celebrate for a lot of people affected by seasonal allergies.
While most of the people I know rejoice in the warm, fresh air of Spring many of them have a love-hate relationship with this season. They’re happy to have more hours of sunlight and less layers of clothing, but they dread the congestion, red and itchy eyes, and persistent cough that suddenly appear when the weather shifts. With an estimated 1 in 7 Americans suffering from hay fever it’s likely that you, or someone you love, is impacted by these symptoms, making it hard to enjoy the season the way you should be able to.
The good news is you don’t have to stay inside all spring, or simply suffer through it. There are plenty of natural solutions you can try to find allergy relief. I’ll tell you about those later in this article, but first, let’s take a look at what’s behind allergy symptoms. After all, if you know what’s triggering these symptoms, you may be able to avoid them altogether!
What Causes Spring Allergies?
While we celebrate the new growth on trees and green grass beginning to poke through barren brown patches, it’s important to also recognize that these are behind spring allergies for many people. Pollens fill the air, often showing up in a thin yellow layer on the hood of your car if its parked for long beside a tree. These tiny, powdery grains are discharged from flowering plants, and can travel far and wide via wind or insects, to cross-pollinate other plants of the same type. But pollen can also settle in the eyes, nose, lungs and skin of people, triggering an allergic reaction that can range from a mild scratchy throat and itchy eyes to a severe breakout of hives, intense wheezing, and major congestion.
Several trees – including elm, maple, oak, birch, ash, hickory and many more, have been known to cause severe allergies. Some weeds also pollinate in the spring, and airborne mold spores can also trigger allergic reactions.
Let’s take a quick look at what’s going on inside to create the uncomfortable symptoms you feel when suffering an allergy attack. When an allergen enters your body, your immune system kicks into action, producing antibodies, called Immunoglobulin E (IgE) to that specific allergen. These antibodies attach to mast cells – which are found in large quantities in surface tissues like your skin and nasal mucous membranes. The next time that allergen enters your body, it attaches to these antibodies, which prompts the release of histamines and other chemicals by these mast cells. The reaction to this release is what results in symptoms that can stop you in your tracks.
Why Don’t Spring Allergies Impact Everyone?
The allergic reaction triggered by pollen or other allergens is an indication that your immune system is compromised in some way. Something within your body is causing enough stress that it interferes with normal immune system functioning. This malfunction in your immune system can be long standing – perhaps caused by challenges in childhood – or may happen later in life. That’s why I often have patients come to me confuses because they’ve never had to think about allergies, but all of a sudden find themselves battling severe symptoms.
One of the most common things behind allergies is an imbalance in the gut. Because the flora in your gut governs 70% of your bodies natural immune response, it helps your body determine what particles are safe, and which are not. When the flora is altered, your immune system gets confused, and becomes too sensitive to particles, like pollen, which should be considered safe.
Common Symptoms of Spring Allergies
It’s probably no surprise that allergies can be behind a runny nose, sinus congestion, wheezing, coughing, sneezing, and itchy, watery eyes. And you probably have also heard that allergies can cause hives and itchy skin.
But that may just be scratching the surface when it comes to how your life is impacted by seasonal allergies. Did you know that hay fever can also cause irritation in the ears, and middle ear infections? How about reduced concentration and ability to make decisions? Exhaustion and sleep disorders can be a product of hayfever as well, along with irritability, and even low blood pressure.
All of these symptoms can make you feel unable to move easily through your days, but it’s unlikely you can press pause on your life until the allergens ease up. And there’s no reason to suffer indefinitely — there are solutions you can turn to that don’t require heavy use of prescription or over the counter medications.
Tips for Finding Natural Allergy Relief
Allergy symptoms are caused by inflammation, that response your immune system has to unwanted invaders. But turning to medications isn’t getting rid of the inflammation – it’s just masking the symptoms. And, these medications often come with unpleasant side effects like drowsiness; restlessness; heart palpitations; insomnia; unusual bleeding or bruising; and dry eyes, nose or mouth.
As a functional medicine practitioner, I strive to get to the root of the problem so instead of temporary allergy relief you can feel better long term – and learn ways to avoid getting hit with every shift of the seasons.
One of the best ways to avoid or lessen allergy symptoms is to be sure your immune system is at peak performance. After all, if your immune system is already struggling to maintain health, a further attack by allergens will certainly produce more signs that something is amiss. The following natural allergy relief tips will help you maintain a strong foundation, while offering specific suggestions for reducing symptoms if they do hit.
Boost Gut Health
Remember I said that over ⅔ of healthy immune functioning depends on your gut? That’s why making sure your gut flora is well balanced is so essential. If your digestive health is well supported, your immune system will perform better. Overgrowth of yeast or bacteria can cause sinus symptoms, so boosting the good bacteria in your gut can be essential to clearing up allergy issues. A high quality probiotic formula helps support gut health, and eating fermented foods like kifer, yogurt and kombucha can also help.
Eat to Avoid Seasonal Allergies
Seasonal allergies can piggyback on hidden food sensitivities to leave you battling chronic symptoms. And avoiding foods you have sensitivities to eases the burden on your immune system, so it pays to investigate these avenues. Try an elimination diet to figure out which common irritants may be at play: gluten, dairy and sugar are among the most likely culprits. Limiting alcohol and caffeine may also reduce symptoms. You can also work with a functional medicine practitioner to have food sensitivity testing done — then you’ll know for sure if there are foods you should avoid!
Because processed foods and foods loaded with additives can impact the beneficial bacteria in your gut I recommend avoiding these altogether. To reduce the likelihood of environmental toxins such as pesticides, eat organic, locally-grown foods whenever possible.
There are some foods that can calm symptoms and provide great allergy relief, particularly those containing quercetin such as apples, peppers, dark berries, tomatoes, leafy green vegetables, and even red wine (just don’t overdo it). Some herbs that can help include goldenseal, eucalyptus oil, sage, St. John’s wort, and ginkgo biloba.
Explore Alternative Solutions
Rather than turning to medications, try natural methods of relieving your symptoms until the pollen is less prevalent. Irrigating with a neti pot can help. There is some evidence that chiropractic care can boost immune health, and acupuncture has been found effective for short-term allergy relief. Diffusing essential oils, such as menthol, lavender, peppermint oil and eucalyptus can open up nasal passages, relieve stress, and improve circulation.
There’s no need to hide indoors during allergy season, but it just makes sense to avoid triggers whenever possible. Dry, windy days are likely to mean more pollen in the air, so plan your outings wisely. I you need to be outside – to mow the lawn or do other yard work, for instance, you can wear a mask over your nose and mouth to keep pollen at bay.
If you’ve been outside, changing your clothes and taking a shower can help remove pollen from your skin and hair. Pollen count is high at night and in the early morning hours, so keep windows closed overnight and spend time outside in the middle of the day to decrease exposure. Try to keep your indoor air as clean as possible by using air conditioning and a HEPA air filter as necessary.
Choose Supplements to Find Natural Allergy Relief
Making sure your body is well supported with all the nutrients it needs can provide great relief from troublesome symptoms. Some particularly helpful nutrients include vitamin C, glutamine, zinc, quercitin, curcumin and fish oil. As I said before, quercetin can be quite helpful, so a supplement that includes this is worth taking when allergies are in full force. It’s difficult to get all the nutrients you need from our modern food supply, so I believe everyone can benefit from a high-quality multivitamin complex, like my Multi Essentials.
Decrease Stress to Increase Immunity
Stress impacts overall health in so many ways. Finding ways to reduce stress in your life means there’s a much better chance that your immune system will function efficiently and relieve allergic reactions. To combat stress, it’s important to find something you love — maybe dancing, hot yoga, or kayaking — and do it as often as possible. If you think you don’t have time to relax, ask yourself if you’d rather lose time to intense allergy symptoms. I hope the answer to that question is no! So, slow down and realize that activities that relax you are time well spent.
Enjoy Freedom from Seasonal Allergies – Starting Today!
Maybe spring allergies have plagued you for years – but now you know you have options for natural allergy relief. You don’t have to put up with seasonal allergies, nor do you need to stay stuck inside to feel great. Take steps to enhance your overall health and reduce allergy symptoms, then get out there and enjoy the fresh air and sunshine. You deserve to feel your best in every season!