Spring has sprung! The flowers are blooming and trees are budding -it’s time to go play outside in the fresh grass! But for allergy sufferers, spring means staying indoors to manage the sneezing, runny nose, itchy throat and watery eyes that accompany this warmer weather. If this sounds like you, take steps this Spring to help manage your allergies and enjoy the outdoors.
WHAT ARE ALLERGIES?
Allergies are the result of our immune system working in overdrive. When working optimally, our immune system recognizes foreign invaders such as bacteria and viruses, and reacts to eliminate them from our system. In the case of allergies, our immune system reacts to particles that are not necessarily harmful to the body. When the immune system reacts, it causes of chain of events that leads to the release of mast cells, which subsequently release histamine, leukotrienes and prostaglandins – inflammatory chemicals which are responsible for causing typical allergic symptoms such as sneezing, watery eyes and congestion.
Which Season is worst for your Allergies?
In the case of seasonal allergies, otherwise known as allergic rhinitis, your body is over-reacting to proteins contained in pollen or spores of plants. Knowing the time of year your allergies kick in will help you determine the likely cause. Those with allergies that show up during April and May are typically reactive to tree pollen, while summer allergies are likely due to grass pollen or mold spores. Late bloomers with allergies in August and September are reactive to ragweed pollen.
Why do I get Allergies?
The immune system involves a very complex network of messengers in the body, and there are many factors which contribute to your propensity to develop allergies. Known risk factors include a family member with allergies, personal history of asthma and exposure to air pollution or cigarette smoke. Factors in early childhood also play a role, such as not being breastfed, developing asthma, and frequent antibiotic use.
Being Clean is making us more Allergenic
A leading theory behind the rise in allergies is called the hygiene hypothesis. According to this theory, our modern living conditions are to blame for our over-reactive immune system. Kids are being exposed to less dirt, fewer microbes and fewer diseases than they used to. However, the immune system wants to work, even in the absence of infection, so the result is an immune system that has not learned how to properly develop. Instead of learning to combat harmful agents, it has turned its attention to benign agents such as grass, trees, pets and certain foods.
NATURAL TREATMENT FOR ALLERGIES
Higher temperatures and shorter winters (maybe not on the East Coast!) have made for longer allergy seasons, and higher pollen counts so it is important to start allergy treatment early. The best time to start preparing for allergy season is 3 weeks before you typically experience symptoms.
Conventional pharmaceutical treatment for allergies involves over the counter medications of anti-histamines, nasal sprays and decongestants. These medications are effective at relieving symptoms, but may cause drowsiness and rebound congestion. So try some natural remedies this allergy season to alleviate your Spring sniffles.
A Few Tips for Dealing with Allergies
Avoid known allergens. Although this can be difficult in the case of seasonal allergies, once you learn what you are reacting to, you can better respond. Pollen counts are recorded on the weather network, so on days with a high pollen count, avoid long stretches outdoors. Generally warm, dry and windy days bring the highest pollen counts. Also avoid exercise outdoors in the early morning and dusk, when pollen counts are at their highest.
Use an air purifier in your home to filter pollen, dust and pet dander. Replace your carpet with tiles or hardwood as dust and pollen will accumulate on carpet.
Dietary changes can be very helpful for managing allergies. Incorporate anti-inflammatory foods such as fish (or fish oil), flax, walnuts, seeds and leafy greens. Spicy foods, garlic, turmeric and ginger can help clear congestion in the nasal and sinus passages. Fruits such as oranges, berries and kiwis are high in Vitamin C and can help regulate the immune system, as can a compound called quercetin found in onions, apples and tea. Avoid dairy products if possible, as this tends to increase mucus secrections, compounding your allergy symptoms.
Balance your gut bacteria. Eighty percent of our immune system resides in our digestive tract, and a well functioning immune system is highly dependent on having helpful bacteria. Supplement with a probiotic, or consume foods with natural beneficial bacteria such as yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, miso and other fermented foods.
Hydrate! Being properly hydrated will help thin out the mucus secretions to prevent sinus congestion.
Regular nasal cleansing using a neti pot filled with a lukewarm saline solution can ease breathing and cleanse nasal passages. Ensure your water is sterile, distilled or previously boiled to avoid any contamination.
Acupuncture can help relieve congestion and re-balance the immune system.
Herbal Treatments can be effective for treating allergic symptoms. Petasites (Butterbur) has been found to be as effective as anti-histamines for seasonal allergies, and Urtica dioica (Nettle) can also help relieve allergic symptoms. Talk to your Naturopath before taking herbal supplements to ensure they are safe for you, and to recommend an unadulterated preparation.
Vitamins and Supplements can be a very effective way to interfere with the inflammatory allergic pathway, and come with minimal, if any, side effects. Specific treatment is aimed at re-balancing the immune system to treat and prevent any future allergies. See a Naturopath to find the specific treatment plan for you!