If you’re still huddled inside saying “brrr” on a regular basis, it might seem a little early to talk about Spring and the allergies that seem to accompany warmer weather—but not really. Depending on where you live in the US, allergy season can start as early as February (a quick Google search for “when is spring allergy season,” will tell you the current pollen levels in your city). Around 50 million Americans struggle with seasonal allergies each year1, and the latest research shows that these rates are increasing, affecting as many as 30% of adults and 40% of children.2 Seasonal allergy symptoms include sneezing, running nose, trouble breathing, and itchy and watery eyes. As you transition from cold winter to warmer spring, not only will you go outside more often, you’ll also let the outside in by opening windows for fresh spring air. Here’s what you need to know to be prepared for this spring’s allergy season:
Why do allergies happen?
When there are higher traces of pollen and dust particles in the air, your body often goes into defense mode. Your immune system’s reaction is to attack these particles by releasing chemicals known as histamines into your bloodstream. It’s these histamines that trigger the symptoms of allergies we know all too well. Your immune system signals your body to make more mucus membranes to protect your eyes, ears, mouth, nose, and throat (hence the itching, sneezing, and running). Pollen comes from budding and blooming trees, grass, weeds and other plants. Allergy symptoms can also increase in response to increased pet dander because both cats and dogs shed more as the weather turns warmer. 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?
I always tell my patients to start from the inside out. Before heading off to the drugstore or doctor, try natural remedies. This should still be your first line of defense, and the best place to start is with your food. What you eat, as well as what you remove from your diet, can do a lot to reduce annoying allergy symptoms. In addition to using food as medicine, I also like to include some natural supplements, as well as some actions that can protect your home from too many irritating allergens. If, after trying both of these strategies, you are still struggling, then you can talk with your doctor.
Reduce Allergies with Your Diet
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 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! 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. Garlic is a natural anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, and anti-viral food. If you have trouble eating garlic, look for a coated supplement (not an odorless one, which can be less effective).
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 to 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! Check out my fish guide for your best options.
Allergy aggravating foods to avoid:
The two foods that cause the most havoc during allergy season are sugar and dairy. Here’s why you probably want to reduce or avoid these inflammation enhancing items 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.
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. Adults can also take this capsule of D-Hist.
Keep in mind, this isn’t an immediate fix and in my experience takes several weeks of consistent use and implementation of healthy eating and probiotic use.
Black seed Oil
Black seed oil is receiving more and more attention from the medical community. Its active constituents have been shown to modulate (i.e., restore the “intelligence” of) an out-of-balance immune system.
In clinical studies: Black seed oil exhibited a significant reduction in all the markers of allergic inflammation.3 Administration of BSO significantly reduced the level of allergen induced lung remodelling.4 (Lung remodeling refers to the gradual and permanent structural change in the airways if asthmatic inflammation is left unresolved.)
For adults, I typically recommend trying a teaspoon or two at a time several times a day to help reduce the symptoms associated with rhinitis.
Reduce allergies at home.
You can take steps to reduce allergies at home by trying the following:
For thousands of years, essential oils 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 when combined. For more information, read my article on essential oils for allergy relief, but be careful when using them around little ones. Children under the age of three shouldn’t be exposed to essential oils due to their thinner skin and developing immune systems.
These filters grab at least 99.7% of particles from the air, so these filters can help to reduce the amount of pollen in your home. Look for a vacuum cleaner with a built-in HEPA filter or use a HEPA air purifier in your home. Just remember that these are temporary measures that will treat symptoms in your home, which is still helpful because it gives your body some relief from the constant assault of pollen and other allergens.
When to talk to your doctor about allergy medications:
If you’ve put all the above suggestions to good use, but are still struggling with allergy symptoms, talk to your doctor. She may recommend some over-the-counter remedies or a prescription that will address your more severe and persistent symptoms.
1 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Allergies. https://www.cdc.gov/healthcommunication/ToolsTemplates/EntertainmentEd/Tips/Allergies.html (retrieved February 20, 2018)
2 American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology. Allergy Facts. http://acaai.org/news/facts-statistics/allergies (retrieved February 20, 2018)
3 Shahzad M1, Yang X, Raza Asim MB, Sun Q, Han Y, Zhang F, Cao Y, Lu S. Black seed oil ameliorates allergic airway inflammation by inhibiting T-cell proliferation in rats. 2009 Feb;22(1):37-43. doi: 10.1016/j.pupt.2008.11.006. Epub 2008 Nov 27.
4 Raza Asim MB1, Shahzad M, Yang X, Sun Q, Zhang F, Han Y, Lu S. Suppressive effects of black seed oil on ovalbumin induced acute lung remodeling in E3 rats. 2010 Dec 7;140:w13128. doi: 10.4414/smw.2010.13128.