For some, the transition between winter and spring signals that colder days have come and gone and bluer, warmer skies are on their way. But for the approximately 36 million people in the United States who suffer from seasonal allergies, the switch of seasons is a bit more daunting. Sneezing, running nose, trouble breathing and itchy eyes are just a few of the symptoms that plague allergy sufferers this time of year. And while we’re used to seeing people with allergies year round in Atlanta, the winter-to-spring transition is always the worst. So to help put your best defenses up against the swirling, pollen-packed wind, here’s everything you need to know about seasonal allergies in the spring.
What causes allergies?
When there are higher traces of pollen and dust particles in the air, from trees, grass, weeds and other plants, our body goes into defense mode, producing more mucus membranes to protect our eyes, ears, mouth, nose and throat. Our immune system’s reaction is to attack these particles of pollen or trees by releasing chemicals known as histamines into our bloodstream. It’s these histamines that trigger the symptoms of allergies we know all too well.
While the majority of America experiences spring allergies in early April, warmer regions often see pollination rise in late February to early March. Most often, the culprit is ragweed, a plant that grows wild all over the country, but especially the East Coast and Midwest.
How can you treat allergies?
If you’re not sure if you have seasonal allergies, chances are, you do. If you’re one of the luckier ones, your symptoms might not be as severe, but before you jump the gun and head to your local drug store for some OTCs, remember that your first and best line of defense should be the all-natural route—more specifically, what you eat. I always tell my patients to start from the inside out. Focus on filling your body with immune system-boosting foods and limiting your intake of allergy-enhancing ones.
Here are some of my favorite foods to prescribe during this time of year:
Apples: They might be a fall thing, but apples contain a chemical that has both anti-inflammatory and antihistamine properties known as quercetin. Quercetin has actually been shown to lower amounts of interleukin 6, an inflammatory cytokine that causes the immune dysfunction responsible for allergies. My two favorites are Granny Smith and Fuji, but I don’t discriminate any varieties so long as they are organic! I love the crunch factor and so do my kids (plus Granny Smith tend to be less sweet)! Sometimes, I cut them up and sprinkle cinnamon and cardamom on top for added flavor.
Garlic: On the opposite side of the flavor spectrum, we have garlic, which contains a compound that helps minimize the body’s allergic response while boosting the immune system. Try my Warm Greens Sauté recipe topped with raw, chopped, garlic. Yum!
Fatty fish: We’re talking tuna, salmon, mackerel for starters—all contain omega-3 fatty acids, which help reduce inflammation in the body. Aim for about 2-3 servings of fatty fish each week, especially when allergies are acting up. While they make great main dishes for family dinners, I love to toss some tuna or sardines right on my salad at lunch!
Here are some of the foods I tell my patients to stay away from (especially during allergy season!):
Sugar: Allergies are a result of an immune system in overdrive, and managing this immune system dysfunction means keeping gut bacteria balanced and intestinal yeast, like Candida, in control. Start by removing sugar from your diet so you can boost your immune system and lower your allergic response. Do your best to keep your sugar consumption under 40 grams or 6 teaspoons of sugar per day. (Sounds easy, but you’ll be surprised by how many foods have hidden sugar!)
Dairy: Milk, butter, eggs, cream, cheese—all can thicken mucus and congestion, only worsening allergy symptoms and making them more difficult to manage. Lower your dairy consumption to just a few servings per day and try healthier versions of dairy like yogurt, kefir, farmer’s cheese or paneer. And, whenever possible, buy full-fat, organic, dairy products.
My Go-to Supplements:
Cutting-edge research has shown that probiotics may hold the keys to preventing and treating allergies. They do this by boosting your immune system, enhancing your body’s defense against foreign substances. I like using probiotics with at least 5-10 billion CFU (check the bottle). Look for higher lactobacillus quantities (gut-friendly bacteria) and with strains of bifidobacteria.
DHist and DHist Jr.
With my little ones, I love using this chewable tablet packed with natural flavonoids, antioxidants, enzymes and botanicals. It works to maintain healthy histamine levels and safely promote healthy nasal and sinus passages for children and adults.
Lately, my patients have been very inquisitive about using essential oils (EOs) for allergy relief, and for good reason. For thousands of years EOs have been used as a therapy for respiratory conditions. The most common varieties for allergy relief include lavender, lemon and peppermint, which work wonders separately as well as together when combined. For more information, read my article on essential oils for allergy relief, but be careful when using them around little ones, as they should never be used on children under the age of three due to their thinner skin and developing immune systems.
When to reach for OTC:
If you’ve tried natural remedies but still cannot find relief for your seasonal allergies after about a month, see your doctor. He or she may recommend trying over-the-counter allergy medications which may give you that stronger dose you need.