Spring…Unfortunately for some, it’s allergy time

Sneezing, itchy, watery eyes, nasal congestion and sore throat – all signs and symptoms of having allergies – can make it difficult to enjoy the beauty and rejuvenation of the Spring season.

For those of you suffering with seasonal allergies, here are some tips on how to reduce Spring allergic reactions and symptoms…

Home environment:

Keep your living and sleeping space as “allergy-friendly” as possible. I often recommend that folks look at their bedroom as an “oasis” from allergens, noise, distractions, electronics, etc. – consider it a peaceful room for relaxation and recovery, so you can do just that while you’re sleeping.

    • Use an air filter in your home, especially the bedroom. Electrostatic filters can be used in heating/cooling systems to remove dust from the air and stand-alone filters with a HEPA filter are also a great option. Make sure to clean ducts and replace filters regularly.
    • Use a HEPA vacuum cleaner to better trap and remove dust and other particles.
    • Reduce wall hangings, rugs and clutter as all will increase the amount of dust and allergen build-up. Wood or tile floors seem to work better.
    • Change pillowcases and bed sheets frequently to cut down on dust mites.
    • Shower and change your clothes after you get home for the day to remove pollen and other allergens from your skin and hair.
    • If you have pets, consider whether or not you are reacting to their dander and act accordingly. If you know you are reactive but are committed to keeping your pets (for which I can’t blame you) – try to at least keep them out of your bedroom and off the bed. (Again, think of the bedroom as a sanctuary and aim to get 8 hours of quality sleep in that environment in order to allow your immune system time to recover).
    • Keep humidity levels around 50% to reduce the growth of dust mites and mold. A dehumidifier and/or humidifier may be necessary, depending where you live.

Internal environment:

Allergies are essentially a reactive and unbalanced immune system which, sensing an “invader,” goes to town trying to destroy it.  The reason we end up with allergy symptoms, like running nose and itchy watery eyes is usually due to high levels of histamine in the body. (Histamine is released from immune cells who are trying to protect the body from foreign invaders). One thing we can do is “stabilize” these immune cells so they are not so quick to release said histamine. In addition, we can work to balance the immune system as a whole, so the body is less reactive and more able to tolerate exposures without having a negative response.  

Here are some ways to work with the internal environment:

  • Diet – Avoid food sensitivities in order to reduce inflammation and allow your system to calm. Some common aggravating foods when it comes to allergic rhinitis include dairy, wheat, chocolate, egg, soy, citrus, peanut, pork, trans-fats and chemical additives. Aim to eat whole, fresh foods like organic produce and high quality proteins and fats. Make sure you stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water as well.
  • Include flavonoid-rich foods – Bioflavonoids, such as quercitin, are the compounds that give fruits and vegetables their rich colors. They act as antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds in the body, helping to both mitigate damage from chronic inflammation and also preventing further inflammation. Quercitin also works as a stabilizer of cells that release histamine (i.e. it can reduce histamine release in the body), so it is particularly helpful with allergic conditions. Quercitin-rich foods include: onions, apples, citrus fruit, green tea, parsley, sage, grapes, dark berries (blueberry, blackberry) and dark cherries. You can also supplement with quercitin – usually 1500mg/day for adults is adequate.
  • Include essential fatty-acid (EFA) rich foods: Omega 3 fats help reduce inflammation and soothe mucous membranes – this includes fish, nuts (walnuts, almonds), seeds (flax, pumpkin) and olive oil. You can also supplement with EFAs in the form of Cod Liver Oil or Fish Oil. Make sure to get high-quality oils!
  • Probiotic-rich foods: Fermented foods supply important beneficial bacteria which can help improve gut health and therefore reduce inflammation and calm the immune system. Foods to consider would be sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir and pickled veggies. It’s important to note that through the process of fermentation, these foods will also be naturally high in histamine, so some folks may find they cannot tolerate them. In that case, I would recommend supplementing with a probiotic for a period of time to balance gut flora.
  • Herbs – Herbs are a wonderful addition to any allergy regime, as they often have a multitude of positive effects, such as toning and balancing the immune system, reducing inflammation and improving resistance. Some common herbs used for allergies include nettles, eyebright, khella, thyme, butterbur, feverfew, ginkgo, curcumin and yarrow. I typically recommend taking these herbs in tincture format, but teas and capsules can be used as well. Your Naturopathic Doctor or herbalist can custom-blend a formula for you, depending on your particular symptoms, triggers, etc. (You can also purchase prepared formulas or single herbs at health food stores and online – some quality brands are Herb Pharm and Gaia Herbs).
  • Supplements –Vitamin C, Vitamin E and minerals like calcium and magnesium can also be helpful during allergy season. Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant and improves immune function. For allergies, I would recommend starting with 500mg/day, but some folks need up to 3,000mg daily. I prefer a whole food-based supplement, rather than just the ascorbic acid component – some brands I like include Innate Response and Ecological Formulas.
  • Exercise – Moderate exercise helps improve peripheral blood flow and lower inflammation so try to get a good 30 minutes, most days of the week. You may want to head outside at times/days when the pollen count is on the lower end.

A note on prevention: Prevention is always my favorite approach in medicine. Consider taking local honey and/or a good amount of the herb nettles (as a tea or freeze-dried in capsules) during Winter months, or for at least 1 month prior to allergy season to prevent or reduce onset of allergic symptoms.

I hope these tips prove useful for you so that you can head outside and enjoy the beautiful Spring weather! As always, we are happy to help support you on your healing journey, so do not hesitate to come see us at Richmond Natural Medicine if you would like a personalized plan.

Happy Spring!

About the Author:

Dr. Bridget Casey

Dr. Bridget Casey is a Naturopathic Doctor at Richmond Natural Medicine, where she enjoys seeing patients of all ages and a variety of conditions, including hormone dysregulation and chronic digestive disorders. Dr. Casey utilizes various forms of natural medicine, including herbs, nutrition, homeopathy and lifestyle counseling. She received her doctorate in naturopathic medicine from the National College of Natural Medicine (NCNM), in Portland, OR and completed her residency in family practice right here at RNM.  Click HERE to learn more about Dr. Casey.

Note – the above are generalized recommendations and are not to be construed as medical advice. If you have a health condition or specific concerns, you should consult with your physician before initiating any therapies.

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