Allergies : The Season for Sneezin’

Megan Witt, RD, LD

The days are a bit longer and you just spotted the first patch of spring grass. Finally winter is on its way out the door, and budding trees and blooming flowers are just around the corner. Not everyone may hold the same excitement. Besides die hard winter sports enthusiasts, those with seasonal spring allergies often look forward to the season with a bit of trepidation. All this new spring life can cause sneezing, nasal congestion, watery eyes and a runny nose. Fortunately, allergies can be managed.

What Causes Allergies?
Allergies occur when our immune system responds to an allergen, such as the pollen from trees, grass and flowers. During the allergic response, the body releases histamine, which brings on the well-known symptoms such as sneezing and watery eyes. This condition is also known as hay fever or seasonal allergic rhinitis. Depending on where you live, hay fever can be a problem for allergy sufferers in summer, fall or even winter. It all depends on what’s blooming and releasing pollen into the air. Common indoor allergens include mold, dust mites and pet dander. These allergens can be present all the time and may cause year round misery for those who are allergic. Frequent exposure to allergens can even lead to more serious conditions including chronic sinus infections and asthma.

Treating allergies
Avoiding the allergen is the most effective treatment, but usually not possible all of the time. Unless you’re willing to stay indoors for a while until the season winds down or part with dear Fluffy, then you will need to figure out how to best manage your allergies.

A few ways to reduce allergen exposure include the following:
  • Filter the air by using air conditioning or air purifiers.
  • Use protective covers on your bed and pillows to keep mold, dust and dust mites from escaping into the air.
  • Regularly vacuum and dust.
  • Rather than carpet, choose hard floor surfaces such as tile or wood where mold and dust mites cannot thrive.
  • Make sure your home doesn’t have places where moisture collects to avoid mold growth.
  • A protective mask can be worn if you need to work outside when the pollen count is high.
While some allergens can be “blocked”, there will likely be some left in the environment to contend with. Common conventional medicines used to treat hay fever and other allergies include antihistamines. They block the release of histamine which causes the sneezing, stuffiness and watery eyes. The main drawback to antihistamines is they usually cause drowsiness and are not practical for everyone. Newer antihistamines, such as loratadine (Claritin, Alavert) are not sedating. Oral decongestants and nasal corticosteroids are also available to help relieve stuffiness, but these too can carry some undesirable side effects.

Natural and Alternative Approaches
While it may be necessary to use conventional medicines when allergy symptoms are severe, there are therapies that can be used in conjunction with or as an alternative in mild or moderate cases. If you take prescribed medication, please talk with your doctor before adding new supplements to your regimen.

Diet
If you have any underlying food allergies or intolerances you should avoid those foods. Allergies are an inflammatory response, so eating an “anti-inflammatory” diet can help. Eat plenty of antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables and foods rich in omega-3 fats. Limit sugar and saturated and trans fats as these promote inflammation. A recent study published in the June 2006 issue of Public Health Nutrition found that people who had higher concentrations of carotenoids, reflective of a diet rich in various fruits and vegetables, were less likely to suffer from allergic rhinitis.

A 2005 study in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that a high intake of omega-3 fatty acids was associated with a reduced risk of allergic sensitization and allergic rhinitis. Good food sources of omega-3 fats include fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, tuna and anchovies. Flaxseed and walnuts are the best plant-based sources of omega-3 fats. If you don’t eat these foods then consider taking a high-quality third party tested fish oil supplement.

Supplements
Bromelain is an enzyme derived from pineapple. Studies suggest it can help relieve symptoms of sinusitis and may help reduce inflammation caused by hay fever. It is approved by the German Commission E to treat sinus and nasal swelling after surgery or due to trauma.

Quercetin is a flavonoid found in onions, apples, tea, and red wine. It appears to help block the production and release of histamine.

Research on butterbur suggests this herb may help reduce the release of histamine and similar compounds that produce symptoms of allergic rhinitis. Several clinical studies have shown it to provide some symptom relief. A 2005 study published in Phytotherapy Research even found butterbur to be comparable to a conventional antihistamine, but without the drowsiness.

Stinging nettle may cause irritation when touched in the wild, but this painful quality may contribute to its potential effectiveness. Preliminary research suggests this herb may help ease symptoms of hay fever.

L. Acidophilus is a probiotic available in supplement form or in smaller amounts in cultured foods such as yogurt. Probiotics may help reduce the risk of developing asthma and certain allergies in infants and young children.

Homeopathy
When using homeopathy, choosing the remedy that most closely matches your symptoms is important. Here are a couple sets of hay fever symptoms and the best remedy for each.

Symptoms Remedy
Constant sneezing followed by thick honey-color nasal discharge, throat burns with irritating cough, anxious and worried, and you feel worse from warmth. Arsenicum iodatum
A sore, dry throat, painful swallowing, eyelids are red and swollen, eyes water, frequent sneezing, headache, feel better from warmth and warm drinks, and feel worse from cold and cold drinks. Sabadilla officinalis

If you take prescribed medication, please talk with your doctor before adding new supplements to your regimen.

References:

Mayoclinic.com

American Lung Association

University of Maryland Medical Center, Center for Integrative Medicine

European Journal of Clinical Nutrition

HerbalGram. 2004;63:24, American Botanical Council

HerbalGram. 2006;69:30, American Botanical Council

Lockie, Dr. Andrew and Geddes, Dr. Nicola: Complete Guide to Homeopathy, Dorling Kindersley Limited, New York, 2000.

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