If this sounds like you, you’re not alone. Allergies affect more than 50 million people in the U.S.—a number that continues to rise each year. But that doesn’t make the itching, sneezing, congestion and fatigue that we so commonly associate with this time of year any more pleasant. If you’re looking for relief this spring, try some of these natural remedies for allergies.
It’s likely your sniffing and sneezing is the result of many different environmental substances, as most people who suffer have a reaction to many allergens. Some of the most common allergens include:
If you struggle with seasonal allergies, that means when your body is mistakenly identifying these substances as harmful, releasing an immune system response to fight them off. During this response, your body releases histamine, which causes some of the telltale allergy symptoms like itchy, watery eyes, sneezing, and a runny nose. Luckily, there are a few natural ways to resolve your discomfort when spring hits.
I always see patients who load up on over-the-counter (OTC) drugs to dull their allergy symptoms. While these medications can offer temporary relief, they mask the underlying problem and often cause terrible side effects like headaches, drowsiness, dry mouth and fatigue, especially with chronic use.
While shutting out the outdoor air—and all the environmental triggers that come with it—seems like a good way to find some sweet relief, this can actually worsen indoor air quality and increase sneezing and congestion. While you definitely don’t want the wind blowing your allergens inside, it’s also not great to trap all of the toxins in your home in one place with no circulation. Many scientists and environmental experts claim that the pollution inside your home can often be worse than outdoor air pollution. The best way to reduce the build up of environmental toxins in your home is to open your windows, vacuum your carpets, furniture and upholstery and dust counters and tabletops regularly.
It’s many people’s first instinct to clear their house of any potential allergens, and this often involves a deep home cleaning. But if you’re using toxic cleaners, chances are you’re doing more harm than good. The toxins in many common household cleaners contain endocrine disruptors which can have negative impacts on our internal hormonal balance and immune function. In 2012 the Environmental Working Group (EWG) published a report unearthing harmful ingredients in many common household cleaners. The report found evidence of toxins including:
These toxins have been found to irritate skin, disrupt hormones, aggravate asthma, increase the risk of cancer and more. In fact, the use of many of these ingredients in consumer products has been banned in other countries. Opt for brands like Meliora or Pure Laundry that are made with natural ingredients or try experimenting with some common non-toxic cleaning products you likely have lying around at home including baking soda, castile soap, vinegar, lemon juice, olive oil, essential oils and borax (a boron mineral salt).
This spring, instead of suffering through the discomfort, follow these steps throughout your day to minimize discomfort.
During an allergic reaction, your immune system releases histamine to fight the substance it thinks is harmful. Antihistamines block this release to effectively stop your reaction. Some OTC antihistamines can leave you feeling drowsy, but a natural antihistamine will help you avoid the side effects. Natural antihistamines include ingredients from natural sources that are known to have the same effect as the OTC drugs. You can take a natural supplement—my favorite, D-Hist, contains stinging nettles and bromelain (the active enzyme in pineapples)—or increase levels through antihistamine-rich foods. Many herbs, like stinging nettle and butterbur, that can naturally relieve allergy symptoms are found in teas like this one from Traditional Medicinals .
Throughout your day, fuel your body with nutrients that will help fight your allergy symptoms. While you want to make sure you’re getting a balanced diet full of whole foods and nutrients to help you recover, focusing on fruits and vegetables that are high in vitamin C is one of the best things you can do. Vitamin C is a natural antihistamine that will help your body end the reaction causing your uncomfortable symptoms. Some of our favorite vitamin-C fortified foods include:
While vitamin D is a known builder of bone and immune system strength, recent science has also linked vitamin D deficiency to worsened allergies. Many studies show how low vitamin D levels help maintain low immunoglobulin (IgE) responses—these control the antibodies in your immune system that mistakenly react during an allergic reaction. Since so many people are vitamin D deficient due to the difficulty finding vitamin-D fortified foods and increased time spent indoors, experts predict this deficiency could contribute to the increasing number of allergic responses. Try taking a vitamin D supplement to ensure you’re reaching the recommended daily intake (600 IU per day for adults ).
You could spend all day cleaning your home but unknowingly tracking in pesticides and environmental allergens on your shoes. We can’t control the outside allergen exposure completely, but you can greatly decrease your exposure by taking your shoes off as soon as you walk in the door. Slip into a comfortable pair of socks or slippers that you only use inside your home.
There can be a few underlying causes contributing to worsened symptoms when allergy season hits. I have seen allergies disappear once we heal a patient’s gut. Eighty percent of our immune system is in our gut, so if your gut health is out of whack, your immune system becomes weaker and you are more prone to develop new allergies or worsen existing ones. Leaky gut —a condition where the gaps that typically allow nutrients to flow through your intestinal wall become loose, allowing toxins to pass from your gut into your bloodstream—is one of the most common causes of chronic illness. Food sensitivities —even an undiagnosed one—can be another commonly overlooked cause of your symptoms. These can increase inflammation in your body which can actually exacerbate seasonal allergies. Some of the most common food allergens are gluten /wheat, milk, eggs, tree nuts, peanuts, soy and shellfish. We recommend in-depth testing to determine your overall health and see how it’s affecting your immune system.
Photo courtesy of UnSplash.
Dr. Tiffany Lester is a board-certified Integrative Medicine Physician who has practiced a holistic approach to health for over a decade. She is a graduate of the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, where she completed her training in internal medicine. She also graduated from the Integrative Medicine Fellowship at the University of Arizona with Dr. Andrew Weil, and has extensive training in functional medicine through the Institute of Functional Medicine. Dr. Lester is also featured as a teacher for the Institute of Integrative Nutrition and regularly contributes to national wellness publications.