Seasonal allergies — also called hay fever and allergic rhinitis — affects millions of people worldwide. Symptoms include sneezing, stuffiness, a runny nose and itchiness in your nose, the roof of your mouth, throat, eyes or ears. These allergic reactions are most commonly caused by pollen and mold spores in the air, which start a chain reaction in your immune system.
Some people suffer from hay fever year-around, while for others, symptoms get worse at certain times of the year. For example, someone with sensitivities to birch pollen will usually have increased symptoms during the spring when trees are in bloom. Likewise, those with grass allergies will have a tougher time during the summer, while autumn will hit ragweed allergy sufferers the hardest.
What Causes Seasonal Allergies?
Discovery Health estimates the 36 million people suffer with seasonal allergies (also known as hay fever or allergic rhinitis). Pollen counts go up, and your immune system releases histamines. Histamines are naturally occurring and perfectly normal – except when your body over-reacts to non-harmful substances. Then you end up with itchy, watery eyes; runny nose and/or sinus drainage; sore or scratchy throat; and chest tightness, cough or difficulty breathing. If you’re faced with real toxic substances, this reaction helps keep them out of your body. When it’s just pollen, strong reactions pretty much only serve to make you feel miserable.
There are a few things hay fever sufferers can do to their minimize exposure, including:
- Staying indoors on dry, windy days.
- Having others take care of any yard work and gardening chores during peak seasons.
- Removing and wash any clothing that has been worn outside.
- Showering when coming in from outside.
- Wearing a dust mask when pollen counts are high (check local reports on the TV, radio, newspaper or Internet).
- Closing doors and windows when pollen counts are high.
- Using air conditioning in cars and homes.
- Investing in a portable high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter, dehumidifier, or both.
- Vacuuming regularly with a cleaner that has a HEPA filter.
- Taking allergy medications before symptoms start if high pollen counts are in the forecast.
Symptoms of Seasonal Allergies
Hay fever symptoms usually begin immediately following an allergy sufferer’s exposure to the offending pollen and most often include:
- Sinus pressure (which may cause facial pain).
- Runny or itchy nose.
- Watery, itchy eyes.
- Scratchy throat.
- Swollen, bluish-colored skin beneath the eyes.
- Decreased sense of taste or smell.
Home Remedies for Seasonal Allergies
There are some very good natural home remedies for seasonal allergies that you might want to try first, before resorting to over-the-counter allergy medications.
Holding your face over a hot cup of tea may open your nasal passages, but the steam isn’t the only thing that’s beneficial. The menthol in peppermint tea, for instance, seems to work as a decongestant and expectorant, meaning it can break up mucus and help clear it out of your nose and throat.
Similarly, green tea contains a compound (methylated epigallocatechin gallate) that has been shown in lab tests to have antioxidant properties that inhibit allergic reactions. These results may not necessarily translate into noticeable symptom relief for spring allergy sufferers, however.
If you do have spring allergies, you’ll probably want to stay away from chamomile, as it can cause reactions in people allergic to ragweed.
2. Neti Pots
They may look exotic, but Neti pots are fast becoming a mainstream remedy for allergies and stuffed-up sinuses. The treatment, which involves rinsing your nasal cavity with a saline solution, flushes out allergens (like pollen) and loosens mucus.
Using a Neti pot is simple. First, fill the pot with a mixture of salt and warm water (you can buy premeasured kits or make your own). Then tilt your head to the side and pour the solution in one nostril until it flows out the other, repeating the process on the opposite side.
Important note: Use boiled or distilled water only, as tap water can introduce potentially dangerous organisms into your system.
Related Video: How to Use a Neti Pot
3. Fish Oil Supplement
A study of people with allergic asthma (asthma caused by allergies) found those who took daily fish-oil supplements for a month had lower levels of leukotrienes, chemicals that contribute to the allergic reaction.
4. Saline Spray
Prepackaged saline nasal sprays function much like Neti pots, but some allergy sufferers may find them easier to use. Sprays deliver saline solution a bit more gently and evenly, whereas pots can sometimes be a little “sloppy,” says Robert Graham, MD, an internist and integrative medicine specialist at Lenox Hill Hospital, in New York City.
Saline sprays should provide comparable results. Although Neti pots have been studied more extensively, and in some cases may prove more effective, sprays too have been shown to help with allergy symptoms and other sinus problems.
Flavonoids are mostly found in plants. The term apples to over 6000 substances, many of which give plants their bright, beautiful colors. Some of the best food sources of flavonoids include: apples, apricots, blueberries, pears, raspberries, strawberries, black beans, cabbage, onions, parsley, pinto beans, and tomatoes. Flavonoids also enhance the effects of vitamin C.
Dr. Lam, a physician physician specializing in nutritional and anti-aging medicine, recommends 600-6000 mg of quercetin in divided doses on an empty stomach for allergies.
6. Think Fresh, Clean and Less Processed
Load up on the fruits and veggies, which are high in antioxidants and water. Leafy greens – including edible weeds – are loaded with nutrients and trace minerals. The brighter the color of foods, the better the odds of it being high in antioxidants.
Don’t feel like getting soaked and toweling off every time your sinuses get clogged? Other methods of inhaling steam — store-bought vaporizers, for instance — can flush out mucus and moisten dry nasal passages nearly as well as a shower.
The easiest method is simply to pour boiling water into a bowl or other container, drape a towel over your head to form a tent, and inhale deeply through your nose for five to 10 minutes. (Just be careful not to get your face too close to the water, as you may scald yourself.) If you find yourself really clogged up, this may be more convenient than taking several showers a day.
8. Add Some Spice
Pour on the spices and seasoning – turmeric is one spice that relieves inflammation. Cinnamon and licorice root (most commonly used in teas) may also ease breathing. Onions, garlic, ginger, horseradish, hot peppers, hot mustard – if it’s strong enough to make you pay attention to the flavor, chances are it has compounds such as sulfur, quercetin and other anti-inflammatories. Homemade medicine recommends supplementing with 500 milligrams of turmeric three times daily for seasonal allergies.
9. Choose Chicken Over Beef
A two-year study of 334 adults with hay fever and 1,336 without found those who had the most trans oleic acid in their diets, a form of monounsaturated fat found primarily in meat and dairy products, were nearly three times as likely to have hay fever as those who ate the least. Olive oil is okay; although it’s got a lot of oleic acid, it’s not the “trans” form.
The sinus-clearing aroma and sharp flavor of freshly grated horseradish make it useful for alleviating stuffy noses and bronchial congestion. Prepare a broth by steeping several spoons of freshly grated root in a bowl of boiling water or soup stock.
Perhaps the most versatile backyard provision, peppermint imbues a peppery, sweet flavor that indicates the presence of its natural menthols, tannins and bitter principles—together responsible for its ability to ease congestion and improve breathing. Steep fresh or dried peppermint leaves in boiling water for a quick, head-clearing brew.
Anyone who has even been stuffed-up knows the impressive ability of a steaming hot shower to soothe sinuses and clear nasal passages, if only temporarily. But showers offer an added benefit for springtime allergy sufferers. A quick rinse after spending time outdoors can help remove allergens from your skin and hair — and prevent them from spreading to clothes, furniture, pillowcases, and other surfaces where they’re likely to dog you.
This is especially true if you’ve been gardening. The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology recommends stripping off your shoes and clothes and showering immediately if you’ve been weeding, pruning, or planting.
13. Probiotics and Fermented Foods
As we age, we use up our body’s stores of digestive enzymes. Many of us are deficient even when we are younger due to antibiotic use, poor diet, stress and other issues. Live culture foods are loaded with easy to digest nutrients to boost our immune systems and promote healing!
What’s a “live culture food”? Live culture foods are those that are fermented (or lactofermented), either using salt or a starter culture, to help preserve them and create a great assortment of tasty food options. Think kimchi and sauerkraut, yogurt and kefir, wines and fermented condiments. By rebuilding the beneficial bacteria in our guts, we help our bodies better utilize the food we eat to promote healing and wellness. If you don’t yet have access to live culture foods that you have made yourself, many natural food groceries are now carrying them.
Probiotic supplements are another source of healthy bacteria to help jump start your digestive system to get the most out of your food.
14. HEPA Filters
High-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters ease symptoms by trapping allergens and other airborne irritants, such as pet dander and dust. Portable air cleaners equipped with HEPA filters can purify the air in bedrooms and other confined spaces, but whole-house systems that incorporate HEPA filters into your home’s heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system are generally more effective.
Air conditioners and dehumidifiers also can help clean air, Dr. Graham says. They remove moisture from the air and floor, which will curb the growth of the mold and mildew that can worsen allergies.
15. Local Honey
Eating honey produced by bees in your region can help relieve allergies. The bees transfer pollen from flower blossoms to honey, so if you eat a little honey every day you’ll gradually become inoculated against the irritating effects of pollen.
That’s the widely held theory, anyway. Unfortunately, there’s little to no scientific evidence to back it up. Although a small 2011 study from Finland that compared regular honey and pollen-laced honey did report modestly encouraging results, an earlier study in the United States found that unaltered local honey had no impact on allergy symptoms.