The sneakiness of seasonal allergies
After a colder and rainier winter in the West and a warmer, drier winter in the East – Spring (and the allergens that come along with it) may have caught some of you off guard.
Seasonal allergies can cause:
- A runny nose
- Watery eyes
- Post-nasal drip
- Shortness of breath
- Reduced sense of taste or smell
These symptoms often appear in the spring, when trees begin pollinating. Pollen in the air can trigger our bodies to release the powerful chemical, histamine, which leads to allergy symptoms.
Invisible Spring Pollen
Contrary to popular belief, allergy triggers at this time of the year are usually tree pollen, not pollen from flowers, and they’re often not visible to the naked eye. To further complicate matters, the start of spring allergy season can vary by year, so allergy sufferers often don’t realize it has begun until symptoms appear. For me, my first year in California I began having allergy symptoms in February and the second year they didn’t begin until April – both years I was caught by surprise because while living in Massachusetts June would be my most symptomatic month.
It’s also important to note that allergies of any kind can develop later in life, so if you’ve sailed through spring in the past, but suddenly notice you’re sniffling, seasonal allergies could be the cause. Women going through hormonal changes are particularly susceptible to developing allergy symptoms and many women find that just after menopause they have a few years of new or worsening allergies.
The types of pollen in the air vary by region, with different types of trees contributing. Birch, oak, and ragweed are common culprits, each producing its own distinct pollen. As a result, there’s no single catch-all solution, or even one simple diagnostic procedure, for pollen allergies.
Interestingly, seasonal allergies seem to be on the rise. Climate change may be to blame, as higher temperatures can increase pollen production. A 2019 study in the Lancet showed significant increases in the pollen count and a longer pollen season across the northern hemisphere, and although the average in North America hovers between 10 and 25 percent of the population, pollen seasons vary between locations and from year to year.
Here’s what I do to Help Reduce Seasonal Allergy Symptoms
Fortunately, science is providing more information about preventing and reducing seasonal allergy symptoms. Check out some easily adapted lifestyle tips below.
1 – Tea Time
For my nightly relaxing cup of herbal tea, I choose abland of peppermint and stinging nettle during the spring months. Peppermint isn’t only good for digestion and reducing gas, it’s a mild decongestant as well. Stinging nettle is a herb that is often used in natural medicine for its anti-inflammatory properties. In a 2000 study, half of the participants who took a stinging nettle supplement reported a reduction in seasonal allergy symptoms, and almost 2/3rds felt better.
2 – Keep Indoor Pollen Under Control
In addition to keeping your windows closed, small changes in your daily routine can help reduce the amount of pollen in your home. Consider this: When you’re outside, you’re often surrounded by tree pollen which can rest on your clothes, hair, and skin, so you need to take special measures to get rid of it.
Have a quick shower or at least change your clothing when you first come home at the end of the day, and launder your clothes frequently after spending time outside. Investing in a portable high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) air filter and vacuuming with a HEPA filter will also help keep the air cleaner.
3 – Reduce Other Airborne Irritants and Enhance your Indoor Air
Perfumes, air fresheners, scented candles, aerosol sprays, conventional cleaning products, dust and cigarette smoke are all irritants commonly found in the home that can make your nasal passages and eyes more vulnerable to reactions to pollen. Keeping your home with natural, non-toxic cleaners or even steam-cleaning will help reduce the overall load on your mucus membranes.
I like to diffuse essential oils in our bedroom to promote a restful night’s sleep. During allergy season, I switch out my usual nightly essential oils (BC Essentials escape blend) for immune and sinus supportive oils – 5 drops of peppermint, 2 drops of thyme and2 drops of eucalyptus.
4 – Eat Antihistamine Superfoods
Certain foods can help bring down systemic inflammation and slow the production of histamine. Eating a well-balanced, whole foods diet with plenty of vegetables, healthy fats and low in sugar is a great starting point – and including some of these antihistamine superfoods can be effective too:
Omega 3 Essential Fatty Acids
Foods high in omega-3, such as ground flax seeds, chia seeds, and walnuts.
Strawberries, Pineapple and Papaya
Vitamin C found in many fruits (like strawberries) can inhibit histamine and support the immune system, but some fruit contains enzymes that actively reduce antihistamines in the bloodstream. Pineapple contains the enzyme bromelain and papaya contains papain.
Certain spices can act as decongestants. Ginger, in particular, is effective in reducing nasal symptoms. Early research suggests that curcumin, which is found in turmeric, can also ease the symptoms of seasonal allergies.
5 – Consider Nutritional Supplements
Research is uncovering new beneficial treatments for seasonal allergies and rediscovering the benefits of traditional remedies. My two favorite comprehensive formulas for allergy season are Designs for Health HistaEze and Orthomolecular Natural D-Hist.