Spring is Allergy Season
It's officially spring and you're still standing, which means you made it through flu season and can finally breathe a huge sigh of germ-free relief!
Or can you?
Actually breathe, that is?
Because the thing about spring is that while it's finally warmer and sunnier and the flowers and trees are starting to bloom, spring is, well, warmer and sunnier and the flowers and trees are starting to bloom. For seasonal allergy sufferers like you and me, that means itchy watery eyes, runny stuffy nose, sinus headaches, and non-stop sneezing, and not just for a few days like a winter cold or flu. Seasonal allergies cause suffering for an entire season, sometimes two.
While there's technically no single "cure" for seasonal allergies, there are ways to treat the sneezing, watery eyes, itchy throat, and nasal congestion, all characteristic symptoms of seasonal allergies, and we're not just limited to over-the-counter and prescription pharmaceuticals. My first line of defense in the fight for good health is nutrition, and after that, natural remedies. When allergies or illness aren't responding to those, then I turn to pharmaceuticals.
But first, a quickie lesson on how seasonal allergies work to understand the best way to treat the symptoms!
What is a Seasonal Allergy?
Seasonal allergies, like all other types of allergies, are part of the body's immune function. When an allergy-susceptible person inhales or comes into contact with an otherwise harmless compound like pollen, their immune system overreacts by setting off chemical reactions to "fight" what it thinks is a harmful foreign substance. The chemical reactions physically manifest as those tell-tale seasonal allergy symptoms.
Seasonal allergy treatments, whether over-the-counter and doctor-prescribed medications, or natural treatments in the form of vitamins, supplements, and other non-traditional methods, work by inhibiting those chemical reactions.
The most obvious and immediate solution for seasonal allergies is an over-the-counter allergy medicine like Allegra, Benadryl, Claritin, and Zyrtec. There are many types of allergy medicines, which differ in both the way they chemically work to treat similar symptoms, as well as how the medicine is delivered to your body. Antihistamines, decongestants, and steroids all work on different types of cells in the body; pills, liquids, nasal sprays, and eye drops are the various ways these medicines can be delivered to your body. Antihistamines block the compounds in your body that cause common seasonal allergy symptoms. Sometimes, antihistamines are paired with decongestants like Sudafed, which work to temporarily "unstuff" a stuffy nose. Natural solutions to seasonal allergies work on many of the same symptom-causing mechanisms as medicines.
If you just want the straight up "what" and don't need to know the "why," reference the following list of seasonal allergy remedies. Full descriptions follow in the post.
- Vitamin C
- Green Tea and EGCG Extract
- Fish Oil
- Stinging Nettle
- Bee Pollen and Honey
- Neti Pot and Nasal Irrigation
- Over-the-Counter and Prescription Medications
Top Natural Treatments for Seasonal Allergies
1. Vitamin C
Immune-boosting vitamin C isn't just for helping your body fight the cold and flu in the fall and winter. The potent antioxidant lowers blood-levels of histamine, which is what triggers the usual seasonal allergy symptoms. Studies have shown that 2,000 milligrams of vitamin C a day can reduce histamine levels in the bloodstream by up to 40%.
2. Green Tea and EGCG
Like vitamin C, green tea is one of those natural remedies that crosses over from fighting the cold/flu in the winter to staving off seasonal allergy symptoms in the spring. Green tea has a high concentration of the phytonutrient known as epigallocatechin gallate, or EGCG, that has been shown in laboratory studies to block the allergy symptom-causing compounds histamine and immunoglobulin E. Drinking green tea every day as part of your overall wellness strategy is a good idea, and during allergy season, you can power up with green tea supplements in pill form.
Is there anything probiotics can't do? From regulating your immune system to maintaining your mental health, the "good bacteria" that lives in your gastrointestinal tract is now believed to contribute to the body's tolerance for allergens. One study published in the journal Pediatrics found that children whose mothers regularly took probiotics during pregnancy were at a significantly reduced risk of developing allergies. Another study, in the Journal of Nutrition, found that people who ate seven ounces of yogurt daily for one year reported fewer allergy symptoms than those who didn't; probiotics in the yogurt are responsible for the decreased allergy symptoms.
Butterbur is an herbal plant (petasites hybridus) that may relieve seasonal allergy symptoms by acting as an antihistamine. Butterbur can improve nasal airflow by working the same way some prescription medications work: inhibiting leukotriene, a compound produced by the immune system that initiates many allergic reactions, including inflammation and swelling of the nasal passages. In fact, one doctor has called butterbur "the Singulair of the herbal world." A Swiss study, published in British Journal of Medicine, found that butterbur was as effective as the drug cetirizine, the active ingredient in Zyrtec. If you try the natural remedy butterbur, look for a product that has been labeled or certified as "PA-free," which indicates it's had potentially toxic substances called pyrrolizidine alkaloids removed.
If butterbur is the Singulair and Zyrtec of the herbal world, then quercetin is the natural equivalent of a NasalCrom, which works as an antihistamine by stabilizing mast cells in the body. Quercetin is a bioflavonoid that is found naturally in wine and foods like apples, broccoli, citrus fruits, lettuces, onions, parsley, and black tea. However, the amount of quercetin needed to effectively relieve seasonal allergy symptoms is much higher than what can be consumed and digested daily with just food. According to some experts, quercetin works well for prevention, so it’s best to start taking the supplement a few weeks before allergy season starts.
Bromelain is a naturally-occurring enzyme in pineapple juice and in the pineapple stem. The compound is often taken for its general anti-inflammatory properties, and there has been some promising evidence that bromelain is helpful specifically for fighting seasonal allergy symptoms by reducing nasal swelling and inflammation and thinning mucus, both of which makes it easier for people to breathe. If you're taking quercetin, taking bromelain in tandem increases the body's absoprtion of quercetin. In fact, there are supplements that combine both bromelain and quercetin in a single pill.
7. Fish Oil
We already know taking a fish oil supplement for the omega-3s is important just because it is, but a study in the European journal Allergy found that higher dietary intake of fatty acids is associated with a lower risk of developing hay fever allergy symptoms. Like quercetin and bromelain above, fish oil is a natural allergy remedy that works over time with your body's health, so start taking it now before allergy season kicks into high gear, and not just when you start sneezing.
If you've ever seen those trendy "unicorn foods" that feature a light, bright shade of baby blue, then you've probably seen the work of spirulina. But spirulina isn't just a plant-based food coloring; it is a blue-green algae that has anti-inflammatory properties, making it a potentially effective treatment for seasonal allergy symptoms as an antihistamine, significantly improving nasal discharge, sneezing, nasal congestion and itching. It appears that significant reduction in seasonal allergy symptoms occurs over a period of six months, with the positive effect growing stronger over time, so as with other supplements, it's best to start taking spirulina before the allergy season begins.
9. Stinging Nettle
The stinging nettle plant (urtica dioica), has carotene, vitamin K, and quercetin, which we've already mentioned has natural antihistamine properties. Ironically, the leaves of the stinging nettle plant also contain histamine, which might seem counter-intuitive: using the very thing that causes the allergy response to treat your allergy, but sometimes you fight fire with fire. Extract from the leaves has been shown to alleviate seasonal allergy symptoms in much the same way over-the-counter antihistamine medications work. Stinging nettle, sometimes labeled as "nettle leaf," is available in a few formats. Dried leaves can be brewed into tea, and extracts are available as pills.
10. Bee Pollen and Honey
Bee pollen is known for its ability to fight infections and support your body's immune system, which helps with allergy symptoms. Taking small amounts of bee pollen over time may help your body develop a type of immunity to it.
11. Neti Pot and Nasal Irrigation
While most of the seasonal allergy relief recommendations here are vitamins, supplements, and medications that you swallow (or inhale) for them to work biochemically at your body's molecular level, a neti pot works by physically rinsing away allergen particles from your nasal passages with a stream of distilled, sterile saline water. Neti pots are small, gravy boat-shaped containers with a spout that sends the salt solution through your nasal passages, which flushes out mucus and allergens from your nose, thereby relieving nasal congestion. When treating with a neti pot, use distilled, sterile water. Neti pots, bottled distilled water, and salt are available in grocery stores and pharmacies.
12. Over-the-Counter and Prescription Medications
There are prescription allergy medications like Singulair, stronger versions of nasal corticosteroid sprays similar to Flonase, and other prescriptions medicines that your medical doctor can recommend to treat your seasonal allergies.
After consulting with your doctor for your seasonal allergies, you can head to Kroger, which has a comprehensive set of tools and services to help make your wellness needs and medication adherence more convenient. Tools like MyPrescription, available online at Kroger.com/myprescription or in the mobile app, allows you to manage your whole family's prescriptions in one place and sign up for auto-refill. You can also get a comprehensive medication review in-store with a Kroger pharmacist or learn how to convert to a 90-day prescription and how to sign up for MedSync where you can coordinate pick up for all prescriptions each month.
This post generously sponsored by Kroger, who is a comprehensive resource for seasonal allergy relief, with everything from prescription and over-the-counter allergy medications in the pharmacy to natural solutions in their wellness department.
Disclaimer: The contents of this article are for informational purposes only and do not constitute medical advice. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Please consult with your physician or other qualified health provider with questions about your medical condition and before taking any medicines, vitamins and/or supplements.