Season allergies are the result of environmental changes in response to the weather. The primary cause of an allergic reaction is pollen, although dust mites, mold spores and pet dander may exacerbate your seasonal episodes. Symptoms generally include a runny nose, sneezing, itching, swelling or asthma, according to Medline Plus. They are normally at their worst in spring, summer and fall and hay is usually not a factor. Pollen -- from trees, grass and weeds -- proves the real culprit. According to MayoClinic.com, allergic reactions take place when your immune system identifies a harmless airborne substance as dangerous and releases histamine, which cause the symptoms. If you have allergic rhinitis, you have plenty of company. MayoClinic.com notes that 1 in 5 people suffer from the condition. Many people turn to natural remedies to treat seasonal allergies. Always consult your doctor before taking herbs or supplements.
The 2011 spring allergy season was a miserable one, with record-breaking pollen levels, just as the 2010 allergy season was before it. So should we expect each spring allergy season to be worse than the last, in an eternal one-upmanship that sends us running for the tissue box or the asthma inhaler? Probably so. And the pattern could hold true for fall allergies as well. A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that the length of ragweed season in various areas of the country increased by as much as 27 days between 1995 and 2009. The culprit? Climate change, the researchers said.
"The seasons are getting longer—they're starting earlier and pollens are getting released earlier," says Stanley Fineman, MD, president-elect of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology and an allergist at the Atlanta Allergy and Asthma Clinic. "And not only is there warmer weather, there tends to be more CO2 in atmosphere." CO2, or carbon dioxide, feeds plants and leads to a greater release of pollen, and sometimes that pollen is more potent and more allergenic than it was when there was less CO2 in the atmosphere.
Managing your allergies on a day-to-day basis may, however, be easier and offer a more immediate solution than trying to solve climate change. And it's important to keep them from getting out of control. Past research has linked allergies to problems as diverse as poor sleep, clinical depression, and even low sex drive. "There's no question about it," Dr. Fineman says. "People with allergies feel run-down, have difficulty concentrating, and don't have as much energy as they normally do. When you feel that way, it affects your whole mood."
Here are five tips for coping with your spring allergies:
#1: Know the triggers. Just because you sneeze during spring doesn't necessarily mean you're allergic to May flowers, or even pollen for that matter. You could be allergic to mold or fungus, both of which are exacerbated by April showers. Grass and trees are other common spring allergy triggers, and knowing your enemy will help you learn what to avoid. Dr. Fineman recommends visiting an allergist and getting a skin prick test, which is the most accurate way to diagnose an allergy.
#2: Then, avoid them. Keeping your windows shut and staying indoors on dry and windy days, when pollen is more likely to get blown around, will help if you're allergic to pollen. But staying inside on rainy or excessively humid days could help, too, if mold is what triggers your allergies. Though rain washes pollen away, "fungus and mold spores love the humidity," Dr. Fineman says. "That's why it's important to find out what's triggering your allergy."
#3: Get help from a goat. Goats can mow your grass for you, saving you the hassle of dealing with allergenic grass clippings. Neti pots, those strange-looking teapot-type things you see in natural health stores, have been scientifically shown to reduce allergy symptoms. Not convinced? Try one of these other natural allergy remedies.
#4: Evict chemicals from your kitchen. Certain household chemicals can aggravate or even cause both indoor and outdoor allergies. The primary culprit is triclosan, the active ingredient in antibacterial soaps. Scientists from the University of Michigan recently found that people who commonly used products containing the ingredient were more likely to suffer from allergies or hay fever.
#5: Watch what you eat. People who are allergic to pollen can also have oral allergy syndrome, which affects about a third of seasonal allergy sufferers. Your immune system sees a similarity between the proteins of pollen and those in some foods, such as apples, cherries, pears, apricots, kiwis, plums, or nuts. Avoid these when your allergy symptoms are at their worst, and opt instead for leafy greens (spinach, collard greens, and kale, for instance) and citrus fruits, all of which are full of allergy-fighting folic acid.
Foods that Fight Spring Allergies
This precious piece of produce serves two purposes in annihilating your allergy symptoms. It's high in allergy-relieving vitamin C and it's a member of the crucifer family, plants that have been shown to clear out blocked-up sinuses. Researchers have found about 500 milligrams (mg) of vitamin C a day can ease allergy symptoms, and just one cup of raw broccoli packs about 80 mg.
#2: Citrus Fruits
To hit that 500-milligram vitamin C level from whole food sources, you can also turn to oranges, grapefruit, lemons, and limes. A large orange contains nearly 100 mg of C, while half of a large grapefruit contains about 60 mg.
Don't just admire kale as a garnish. Eat it! This superfood packs a one-two punch against allergies; like broccoli, it's a member of the crucifer family, but it's also rich in the carotenoid department, pigments believed to aid in fighting allergy symptoms.
#4: Collard Greens
Highjacked by hay fever? Put collard greens on the menu for the same reason as kale. Their phytochemical content, mainly, carotenoids, eases allergy issues. To increase the amount of carotenoids your body absorbs, eat the veggie with some sort of fat source. One idea? Lightly cook it in olive oil.
#5: Stinging Nettle
You can't discuss natural allergy remedies without hailing stinging nettle. It helps stifle inflammation that occurs when you're experiencing allergy symptoms. Stinging nettle contains histamine, the chemical your body produces during an allergic reaction, so it helps you acquire tolerance. Look for 500-mg freeze-dried nettle capsules in your natural health store, and take three times a day. That's the best form for allergy relief; it won't sting because it's freeze-dried. Long-term use of the herb is not recommended, since it can deplete your potassium stores.
Leaves and roots of the butterbur shrub contain compounds called petasines, which can block some reactions that spark allergies. Does this plant really work? Science says yes, though its use is not generally recommended for young children, people older than 65, or those with ragweed allergies. A large British meta-analysis of six studies looking at butterbur as an allergy reliever found five studies supported the claim. The roots of the perennial shrub generally contain high levels of pyrrolizidine alkaloids, which can damage the liver, so herbalists recommend looking for butterbur products that specify no pyrrolizidines, or ones that use a CO2 extracting process, which limits the amount of pyrrolizidine alkaloids. Swiss and German researchers found that butterbur was just as effective as the prescription antihistamine cetirizine (Zyrtec) after two weeks of treatment. It's also been shown to relieve sneezing, itching, runny nose, stuffiness, and watery eyes in just five days.
Immune-strengthening elderberries are often hailed as a natural flu treatment, but the berries serve a purpose in natural allergy relief, too. Try elderberry wine, juice, or jam to tap the fruit's beneficial flavonoids that reduce inflammation.
#8: Onions and Garlic
Quercetin is another secret weapon that helps fight allergies by acting like an antihistamine. Onions and garlic are packed with quercetin, as are apples. (If you go with eating apples, just make sure they don't stimulate oral allergy syndrome.)
According to Michael Castleman, author of The New Healing Herbs (Rodale, 2009), parsley inhibits the secretion of allergy-inducing histamine. (Parsley is a diuretic, so talk to your doctor before taking supplements or eating large amounts of it.)
#10: Anti-Allergy Soup!
There's nothing like a warm bowl of soup when you're feeling sick, and while this usually pertains to chicken soup for the flu, an expert on herbs developed this soup to naturally battle allergies. In The Green Pharmacy Guide to Healing Foods: Proven Natural Remedies to Treat and Prevent More Than 80 Common Health Concerns, herb expert James Duke, PhD, recommends this allergy-fighting soup recipe:
Boil an onion (with skin) and a clove of garlic.
Add ½ cup chopped leaves and diced taproots of evening primrose.
After boiling for about 5 minutes, add a cup of nettle leaves and a cup of diced celery stalks, and boil gently for another 3 to 10 minutes.
Before eating, remove the onion skins and eat the soup it's while still warm.
Season with wine vinegar, black pepper, hot pepper, turmeric, curry powder, or celery seed.
This potent antioxidant flavonoid comes from buckwheat, citrus or eucalyptus. According to Earl L. Mindell and Virginia Hopkins, authors of “Prescription Drugs and Their Natural Alternatives,” quercetin is very effective in preventing allergy symptoms.In a 2009 study published in the "International Journal of Allergy and Immunology," quercetin effectively reduced allergy symptoms such as itchy eyes, nasal and ear congestion and runny eyes.
Mindell and Hopkins indicate that a quercetin dose of 1,000 to 2,000 mg per day can help to relieve allergies. There are very few side effects associated with quercetin, but in rare cases it may cause headaches and tingling in the hands and feet.
Allergies Treatment using Nutrients
Certain nutrients have been found beneficial in the prevention and treatment of allergies. Often the intake of vitamin B5 or pantothenic acid brings great relief to the sufferer. This vitamin may be taken in a dose of 100 mg daily for a month. In such cases, liberal amounts of pantothenic acid help even though the recovery takes several weeks. A dose of 400 mg of vitamin E taken daily for four to six weeks is also beneficial as this vitamin possesses effective anti-allergic properties.
Allergies Treatment using Castor Oil
It is found that five drops of castor oil added to half a cup of water or any fruit or vegetable juice, if consumed on an empty stomach each morning, can be beneficial for various allergic reactions that affect the intestinal tract, skin, and nasal passages.
Allergies Treatment using Lime
Lime is considered an effective remedy for any kind of allergy. Half a lime may be squeezed in a glass of lukewarm water and sweetened with a teaspoon of honey. It can be taken once daily first thing in the morning for several months. This remedy not only flushes the system of toxins but also acts as an antitoxic and antiallergic agent.
Allergies Treatment using Vegetable Juices
A quantity of 500 ml carrot juice or a combination of carrot juice with beet and cucumber juices, has been found beneficial in the treatment of allergies. 100 ml each of beet and cucumber juices should be mixed with 300 ml of carrot juice to prepare 500 ml or half a litre of mixed juice. This should be consumed at least once a day
Allergies Treatment using Gingko Biloba
Gingko biloba is one of the best herbs for allergies like asthma and other respiratory allergies. The leaves of gingko biloba contain vital properties which help in activating platelets in the body which in turn help in fighting allergies like asthma. It also contains natural antihistamines and anti-inflammatory chemicals which are very effective in fighting various allergies.
Allergies Treatment using Reishi Mushroom
The Reishi mushroom has been widely used in Chinese medicine for problems like allergies, asthma, hypertension and various other liver problems. The Reishi mushroom is one of the most effective natural herbs for allergies as it contains powerful anti-inflammatory properties and antihistamines which can effectively fight a variety of allergies including asthma.
Natural Alternatives for Antihistamines
Horny Goat Weed
Horny goat weed has antihistamine effects in that it reduces the levels of allergic reaction-related immune cells, says the University of Michigan Health System. A 1997 test tube study found that certain flavonoids contained in horny goat weed had stimulating and inhibiting effects on the immune system, and helped to suppress the immune system actions involved in allergic reactions. Also, a 1989 study conducted in China found that horny goat weed helped to effectively treat allergic rhinitis symptoms and reduced allergic reactions, the University of Michigan notes. You can make a tea by simmering 1 tsp. of horny goat weed in 1 pint of water for 10 to 15 minutes and drink the tea three times daily for the antihistamine effects.
Tinospora Cordifolia and Tylophora
The herb Tinospora cordifolia may offer antihistamine effects and possibly help to treat allergic rhinitis, says the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. A 2005 double-blind clinical trial found that taking 300mg of Tinospora standardized extract three times daily for two months reduced allergic rhinitis symptoms substantially better than placebo, notes the University of Michigan Health System.
Another herb used in Ayurvedic medicine in India is tylophora, which has antihistamine and anti-inflammatory effects. Tylophora inhibits mast cells in the lung airways from releasing histamines, the University of Michigan explains. For antihistamine effects and allergy symptom relief, you can take 200 to 400mg daily of dried tylophora for up to two weeks.
Goldenseal, or Hydrastis canadensis, can be found growing in the woodlands and meadows of many parts of North America. Its gnarled underground root is collected for medicinal use. Goldenseal possesses powerful anti-inflammatory properties, making it effective in combating the effects of histamine. Goldenseal has been nicknamed the "cure-all" herb because it can be used for a wide range of ailments, including periodontal problems, eczema, heartburn, infections and painful menstruation. AltMD.com advises only taking goldenseal for short periods -- not more than three weeks at time -- because it can build up in your tissues and become toxic.
Aloe vera is a succulent plant that has been used since ancient times. It is considered healing and soothing, and is commonly used to treat burns, rashes and other skin conditions. Aloe juice is used internally to treat digestive disorders, relieve joint pain and treat other inflammatory conditions. In her book "How Can I Use Herbs in my Daily Life?," author and herbalist Isabell Shipard describes aloe vera's actions as astringent, antioxidant, analgesic, antihistamine, anti-inflammatory, demulcent and soothing. Herbalists sometimes use aloe vera juice to relieve symptoms associated with seasonal allergies.
Rooibos, also known as redbush, is made from the leaves of a legume, native to South Africa. It may work as an antihistamine in both the nasal passages and stomach. This may help those with respiratory and food allergies. It has also been used in folk medicine to treat viruses and bacterial infections such as syphilis. It is most commonly consumed as a tea but may also be used as an extract. It may interfere with iron absorption and should not be taken by those with iron-deficiency conditions. According to Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, it should also not be taken by those with estrogen-related hormone conditions. Talk to your doctor about all your medical conditions and medications that you are taking before self-treating with rooibos.
Scutellaria, also known as Chinese skullcap, is native to both China and Russia and has had an important place in Asian medicine for over 2000 years, according to the "Prescription for Herbal Healing." It may work to treat allergies and asthma by preventing the release of histamine in a manner similar to the medication cromolyn sodium. It may also have anti-infective properties against some bacteria, viruses and fungus and may help to prevent complications associated with allergies. It should not be confused American skullcap and may need to be obtained from a Chinese herb store.
Chen-pi, also known as bitter orange peel, is derived from the fresh peel of the Mandarin orange. It has been used for many years in traditional Chinese medicine to prevent and treat allergic reactions. Some Chinese practitioners also advise the use of the whole fruit. The herbal medication is most often used as a tincture or tea but can be taken as a supplement in pill form. It has also been used to treat gastrointestinal conditions such as diarrhea, indigestion and cramping but should not be taken by women who are pregnant or have menstrual difficulties as it may stimulate contractions of the uterus in large doses.
Lycopodium treats allergies in people who have symptoms worse on the right side of the body, such as the right eye, nostril and so forth, according to Robert Rister in the book "Healing Without Medication." This herb helps desensitize the body to allergic reactions and relieve respiratory congestion, itchy eyes, breathing difficulty and bloody nose, Lee Freund and Jeanne Rejaunier say in their book "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Allergies."
Children tend to be more sensitive to allergies and will respond heavily during seasonal changes, according to Paul Herscu in the book "The Homeopathic Treatment of Children." Natrum nuriaticum helps relieve environment-induced allergic reaction, which appears as hay fever-like symptoms from dust, molds and pollen, Herscu says. This herb may also be effective in paroxysmal attacks of sneezing during the spring and fall.
Goldenseal Rhizome and Rootlets
Goldenseal rhizome and rootlets is an astringent the stimulates and tones mucous membranes, which is helpful during a seasonal allergy attack, according to the article "Goldenseal" by Kathi Keville published in the "Vegetarian Times" in 1989. Keville says that goldenseal is unsurpassed for nasal infections caused by allergies and helps reduce congestion of the nose and throat, as well as reduce irritation to the skin and eyes.
Natural Cures for Children's Allergies
If your child suffers from allergies, it's natural to... well, to want a natural cure. After all, standard allergy medications, such as antihistamines, have side effects like dry eyes, dry mouth, fatigue and an inability to concentrate. Luckily, natural relief can be as easy as taking a supplement, making a dietary change or cleansing the sinuses.
According to a research report published by the American Institute of Nutrition's Journal of Nutrition in 1991, "Blood histamine was significantly depressed in the high ascorbate group compared to the adequate and low ascorbate groups." Granted, the study was done on guinea pigs; but the bottom line is, ascorbic acid was found to block histamine release, which is what triggers seasonal allergy symptoms. That means giving your child his daily vitamin C, either as a supplement or through foods like oranges, broccoli and 100 percent fruit juices can't hurt.
In a study done by the National Institute of Health Sciences in Tokyo in October, 1994, and published in the U.S. National Library of Medicine, researchers discovered that the amount of "histamine in alpha-linolenic acid-treated cells was remarkably lower than that of untreated cells." This means that if you give your child alpha-linolenic acid, her level of histamine, and hence allergy symptoms, will decrease. An easy way to do that is with a fish oil supplement containing EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosohexanoic acid), since that's what the body converts alpha-linolenic acid into. EPA is also found in the essential fatty acid omega-3. Good dietary sources include salmon, haddock and cod, as well as canola oil and walnuts.
Another related essential acid is GLA (gamma-linolenic acid) which also has anti-inflammatory properties. It's found in herbal-based oils such as borage oil, evening primrose oil, and black currant seed oil.
Cut Out Dairy
Author, columnist and natural health specialist Andrew Weil, M.D., says that his first recommendation for treating allergies is to eliminate dairy products. "Milk protein, or casein, increases mucus production in most people and acts as an immune system irritant when allergies are present. Even if skin tests don't show a true allergy to milk, removing it from the diet often leads to improvement in such allergic conditions as asthma and eczema," he explains.
Eat Less Protein
Cutting down on protein may also help. Dr. Weil believes that high-protein diets can irritate the immune system in some people, which can aggravate allergies and autoimmune diseases.
Supplements and dietary changes may take time to work, but nasal irrigation can have an immediate effect by flushing pollen from the sinuses. A neti pot looks like a little teapot, and is designed to pour saline solution through the nostril to clean it out. If your child will let you, use it on him morning, afternoon and night. Another option is to use an eyedropper to put the saline solution in his nose, and a bulb syringe to draw it back out. Use 8 oz. of filtered water and ¼ teaspoon of salt to make your own solution.
Garlic is a powerful immune system enhancer, which is important because a weakened immune system will be more sensitive to aggravating substances, and more likely to react to allergens. Garlic also aids digestion, which is important because when food is not digested properly, it can result in large food particles entering the blood stream. When the immune system notices these food particles in the blood, it attacks them and allergic symptoms result. Balch recommends taking a kyolic-aged garlic supplement, because it is thought to be the most medicinally effective. If you want to reduce the amount of supplements you give to your child, using garlic liberally in cooking may also be beneficial.
Eucalyptus and Thyme Leaves
If your child suffers from nasal congestion or swollen, puffy eyes, then steam inhalation therapy may be helpful. Balch recommends boiling a cup of water and adding an ounce of either eucalyptus or thyme leaves to the water. Inhaling these herbs can help clear sinuses and ease congestion.
As the name implies, this herb is used to treat inflammation of the eyes. Herbalists use eyebright for itchy, inflamed eyes, cataracts, colds, conjunctivitis and sinusitis. According to Clayton College of Natural Health it is a natural anti-inflammatory and blood cleanser. It can be taken internally, in capsule form or as an external eye wash. For children, add two to three drops of eyebright tincture to a small cup of warm water. Bathe the eye thoroughly.
Consult your doctor and a licensed homeopathic practitioner before giving your child any type of homeopathic medicines. While most offer safe relief without side-effects, it is important to ensure they are appropriate for your child. Allium cepa, an extract derived from the red onion, can help calm red, watery eyes accompanied by a clear runny nose. Since children's seasonal allergies often worsen during pollen season, try to minimize their symptoms by keeping them indoors as much as possible on dry, windy days. Sulphur, a remedy based on the mineral with the same name, also offers relief for itchy, watery eyes in addition to alleviating a throbbing headache and a stuffy nose. Consider Euphrasia to help your child's swollen, irritated eyes that hurt when exposed to light.
Help ease your child's runny nose and congestion using Kali bichromicum, which can be especially useful in relieving sinus pain. Arsenicum album can offer relief for a burning, runny nose and a wheezy cough. Your child might also complain of chills and exhibit anxiety. If your child's nose alternates between being stuffed up and running constantly, Nux vomica might offer them some much-needed relief. In an asthmatic child with an irritated, mucous nose, many practitioners recommend the use of Solidago virgaurea. This remedy can also help with a nagging cough and sneezing fits. If your child exhibits any signs of a severe allergic attack such as difficulty breathing or swelling of the face or lips, seek emergency care for your child immediately.
Headaches and Sinus Pressure
Utilize Antimonium tartaricum if your child experiences a tight feeling in his forehead, perhaps even accompanied by mild dizziness. Aching in the back of the head or neck as well as a flushed face might indicate a need for the Gelsemium remedy. If your child complains of a dry and itchy feeling inside the head and nose, offer Wyethia, which can help address severe itchiness as well as a runny nose. Consider using Sabadilla in a child who suffers from a runny nose as well as a headache that occurs when trying to concentrate on school work.
A common manifestation of allergic reactions, hives sometimes can be itchy, driving both your child and you to distraction. Dr. Stanley Wolf, clinical professor of pediatrics at George Washington University School of Medicine, recommends that you have your child soak in a tub that has been half-filled with warm water, to which has been added half cup of baking soda, cornstarch or an oatmeal-based skin care product called Aveeno.
Most seasonal allergy treatments have few, if any, side effects if used short-term. Some types of seasonal allergy treatments, such as decongestants, stop working or cause a rebound effect, making symptoms worse, if they are used over long periods of time. Others, such as oral corticosteroids, may cause serious side effects such as cataracts when overused. Older versions of antihistamines may cause drowsiness, but newer formulas do not have this side effect.
Sometimes, the most effective treatment for seasonal allergies is to avoid experiencing symptoms in the first place. Being aware of the daily pollen count, using indoor air filters, wearing a dust mask and living in an area with fewer allergens are all strategies for reducing exposure.