Spring Has Sprung A Leak From My Eyes and Nose: A Naturopathic Approach to Seasonal Allergies

Beautiful Spring is upon us in Maryland and none too soon.  I don’t know about you but I’m thrilled to be able to open my windows, pack up my Winter coat, and spend more time outdoors walking around Baker Park in downtown Frederick.  Spring is a time of renewal and starting fresh.  Just as the plants begin to poke up out of the ground and our landscape turns lush and green again, it is a time for us to start new projects or rekindle the motivation to improve your health, a motivation that may have been dormant during the Winter.

tinafranklindg / Foter / CC BY

The only thing that could dampen this excitement are the dreaded allergies that accompany this lovely season.  It’s hard to enjoy the new freedom from a Winter Wonderland when you have a runny nose, nasal congestion, itchy eyes and throat, sneezing, and fatigue.  Seasonal allergies (aka allergic rhinitis) affects 20% of the population and costs the United States well over $3 billion a year in direct medical costs.  While knowing that you are not alone in your struggle against allergies may not lessen your burden, but before you reach for the Claritin, rethink your approach by integrating some natural tools which may also provide some much needed and drug-free relief.

  • Food is medicine: Some simple nutritional modifications can have a great effect on the severity of your allergies.  Identifying and eliminating underlying food allergies from meals can help to decrease inflammation and potentially lessen your immune system’s response to seasonal allergies.  If identifying and commiting to avoiding your food allergies sounds like too much work, consider adding foods high in vitamin C, such as broccoli, cauliflower, citrus, bell peppers, allergy tip 1brussel sprouts, and rosehips. Vitamin C acts to prevent the release of histamine, a biochemical substance in your body that is responsible for the watery nose and runny eyes, from mast cells.  Vitamin C could be thought of as a natural Benadryl, which is an anti-histamine. And while cutting an onion to cook might make your watery eyes temporarily worse, the flavonoids they contain can also reduce allergy symptoms. Don’t forget, onions are great for that pesky cold or flu.
  • Supplement your nutrition: If you’re really looking for that extra support and don’t feel quite right without some supplements on board, quercitin and n-acetylcysteine may become your new BFFs.  allergy tip 2Quercitin, a flavonoid, also inhibits histamine being released as well as prevents inflammatory substances, such as leukotrienes, from being produced in the first place. In fact, quercitin is structurally similar to cromolyn sodium, an anti-inflammatory medication that is commonly prescribed for allergies.  N-acetylcysteine (NAC) is one of my personal favorites that I always keep on hand during allergy season. Not only does NAC, an amino acid derivative, break up mucous, but it’s a great antioxidant precursor.
  • Wash it away: Nasal irrigation has been used for centuries in India by yogis as a way to improve nasal breathing and thereby improve meditation.  It specifically works by flushing out the allergens like pollen that are causing your body to react with congestion and sneezing as well as decreasing some of the mucous causing the congestion. More recently, studies have shown that use of saline nasal irrigation (such as a neti pot) over a limited period of time improved nasal symptoms and quality of life, decreased use of medication, and had no adverse health effects.
  • Keep it clean: If you’ve been putting off Spring cleaning, you may want to break out the broom sooner rather than later.  allergy tip 3Dusting, vacuuming, and washing your linens at least once a week can help to reduce your allergen exposure, thereby decreasing seasonal allergy symptoms. And if you’re thinking about any home renovations soon, you may opt for hardwood floors or tile in lieu of carpet.  Carpets can trap allergens, allowing you to track in pollen and other offenders from the outside to re-expose yourself again and again.
  • Plants all around: Stinging nettle (Urtica diocia) has long been used as a natural antihistamine. Steep the tea for 8 hours or find freeze-dried nettles at your local health food store for some allergy relief. If tea’s not your thing, try greening up your space.  Indoor air pollution is 2-5 times worse than outdoor air pollution and can affect your immune system’s response to allergens.  Adding indoor plants to help lessen your indoor air pollution burden can help with allergies, not to mention enhance your decor.

Another consideration may be to keep track for days of high pollen exposure, using an app such as Weather.com, and be proactive by beefing up your anti-allergen regimen during that time. If you feel you need additional natural support to keep your allergies at bay, contact your naturopathic doctor for an individualized homoeopathic recommendation or other naturopathic tools.

Stay Radiant,
Dr. Russell

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