Seasonal/Environmental allergies are just an overreaction of the immune system to certain substances, like pollen, but also mold, animal dander, dust, dust mites, and even smoke.
The symptoms can be relentless and include:
- Runny nose
- Itchy eyes
- Sinus congestion
- Throat irritation
- Loss of smell
- Post nasal drip
- Breathing through your mouth
- Dry or watery eyes
In NC, beginning in the late winter and early spring, the main allergy culprits are the oak, maple, birch, hickory, pecan, ash, elm, sycamore, and poplar trees. In the summer and fall the main culprit for most people tends to be Ragweed, which by the way has more than one species. Ragweeds are flowering plants in the genus Ambrosia in the aster family, Asteraceae, and grow all over the US. A single ragweed plant, for instance, can produce a billion pollen grains in a season, and can be spread for miles via the wind.
Other plant culprits of seasonal allergies include the following:
- Mountain cedar: Arkansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Texas
- Ryegrass: throughout North America
- Maple: throughout North America
- Elm: throughout most of North America
- Mulberry: throughout the United States (but rare in Florida and desert regions of the country)
- Pecan: Southeastern United States
- Oak: throughout North America
- Pigweed/tumbleweed: throughout North America
- Arizona cypress: Southwestern United State
- English plantain
- Lamb’s quarters
- Ragweed (which affects nearly one in five Americans)
OTC and Rx Medications
The most common drugs used for allergies are Claritin (Loratadine), Zyrtec (Cetirizine), and Allegra (Fexofenadine), which are antihistamines. There are many others that also work by the same mechanism, or as mast-cell stabilizers, decongestants, and steroids. The problem with these medications is that they are temporary solutions, and come with a host of possible side-effects. Some of the most common side-effects include the following: dry mouth, nausea and vomiting, restlessness, increased appetite, vision problems, confusion, urination problems, low libido, and weight gain.
Nasal polyps are benign tumors (noncancerous) that form in the nose or sinuses. They look like seedless, peeled grapes and are usually found around the areas where the sinuses open in to the nasal passages. They are associated with allergic rhinitis, sinus infections, and asthma, as well as sensitivity to non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen or aspirin. They may be caused by lack of sinus drainage and chronic nasal irritation. Also, there does seem to be some genetic predisposition. The symptoms of nasal polyps may include:
- a sensation that your nose is blocked
- runny nose
- postnasal drip, which is when excess mucus runs down the back of your throat
- nasal stuffiness
- nasal congestion
- reduced sense of smell
- breathing through your mouth
- a feeling of pressure in your forehead or face
- sleep apnea
- bad breath/halitosis
Sinusitis, or inflammation of the sinuses, can be caused by anything that does not allow the sinuses to drain. One of the most common causes of sinusitis is seasonal allergies because they cause the lining of the nose to swell and thus block the sinuses. Another cause related to seasonal allergies, as noted above, are nasal polyps. Any condition that does not let the sinuses drain can result in a perfect environment for bacteria, viruses and fungi to grow and wreak havoc on your quality of life.
What are some Natural Approaches
OK, so now that we have a little back ground into what causes seasonal allergies we can come up with some natural approaches that will help alleviate the problem, and also reduce the need for OTC and prescription meds. Also, keep in mind that the body’s natural approach to getting rid of the allergens is at least one of the symptoms of season allergies, and that is a runny nose. Based on knowing this it may not be wise to constantly use nasal decongestants because you are inhibiting the body’s natural response. So how can we help accelerate the body’s natural response while at the same time keep us from sneezing and snotting up our clothes and those unfortunate people near us?
- Make sure you are well hydrated with water. All my allergy suffers are told to drink at least 16 – 20 ounces of water first thing in the morning. Unbeknownst to many, water is actually a mild antihistamine. If you have been reading my previous email newsletters than you know that adequate water intake is one of my favorite cure-alls.
- Practice avoidance – Keep the allergen dust to a minimum by cleaning up your home regularly during allergy season. Also, think about changing your air filters on a regular basis in order to keep the levels of allergens down. Think about keeping windows closed during peak season too.
- Use Xlear Nasal by Spry – Unlike OTC or Rx nasal sprays, Xlear, can be used as needed for as many times as you want. It contains a natural substance called xylitol that appears to inhibit allergens from attaching to your nasal mucosa. Also, the saline in it will act to prevent harmful microorganisms from setting up residence in your nose and sinuses.
- Try eating small amounts of local raw honey or local honey bee pollen – There is some research that small exposures to allergens can prevent the allergy misery. There are even a few studies specifically showing that raw honey helps to reduce allergy symptoms. Make sure the honey is local and raw to insure that there is local pollen in it. The local honey pollen may be a little more difficult to find, but not impossible if you have local food co-ops near you or know of some honey bee farmers. The local fair is actually a good place to meet some honey bee farmers.
- Natural Eye Drops – The two products that I use the most in our clinic are Similisan for Allergy Relief and Ophthacare by Himalaya. Both can take the edge off of the allergy misery, and are very safe, and can be used as needed.
- Use a Neti Pot – This is best to be used when you feel the symptoms of sinus congestion coming on. Also, I think it works better when you add xyltiol with saline. My clinic has an available handout on how to use it. You can find Neti Pots at many drug stores and health food stores.
- Aggravating foods – Any food(s) that one may be allergic or sensitive to, or are stereo-typically known to be mucus-forming, like dairy and refined carbohydrates, should be minimized or avoided.
- Using essential oils – Essential oils can help prevent sinusitis. All one needs is a diffuser, or you can make a steam tent, or simply sprinkle them in your hot bath or shower. My favorites for this are thyme and eucalyptus, however any essential oils will help. Inhaling the steam mixed with the essential oils will help kill bacteria, viruses and fungi while allowing your sinuses to drain.
- Humming – Studies show that humming helps treat and prevent sinus congestion. Not only does this create vibration within the sinuses, it also causes the secretion of nitric oxide which also helps to open up the nasal passages.
Supplements For Allergies
- Quercetin – is a flavonol found in many fruits, vegetables, leaves and grains. It is found in highest amounts in onions, peppers, cocoa, dill, tarragon, cranberries, and lingonberries. It best to supplement with quercetin because it is difficult to get a therapeutic effect with food alone. However, if you eat a diet high in fruits and vegetables it will go a long way in helping you to minimize the misery of seasonal allergies. Dosages usually range from – 500 mg/day – a few grams per day.
J Biol Regul Homeost Agents. 2006 Jul-Dec;20(3-4):47-52.
- Nettles (Urtica dioca) – also known as stinging nettles are ubiquitous throughout North America, Europe, and Asia. Their common name, stinging nettles, is well-deserved as they can cause temporary painful skin irritation if touched in the wild. In supplemental form this cannot happen, and paradoxically quells irritation by alleviate seasonal allergies. Doses usually range from 600 mg/day to 1200 mg/day.
- Bromelain – is an enzyme found in high concentrations in the stems of pineapple. It has research supporting its use, especially in high doses, for the relief of both asthma and seasonal allergies. Again, unfortunately, your are not going to get enough to relieve your symptoms by eating pineapple or drinking the juice. Dosages usually range for 500 mg/day – 3 grams/day
B-ENT. 2013;9(3):217-25 Altern Med Rev. 2006 Sep;11(3):196-207
In my clinic I usually use a combination product of Nettles and Quercetin. I also tend to use Bromelain alone to get the dosing higher. With that being said, there are many natural medicines that are really good at helping to alleviate allergies, some of which include: Feverfew, Vitamin C, Zinc, Yarrow, and Eyebright. At the very least, someone who suffers from allergies should take a good high quality Multi-vitamin.
Chinese Herbal Formulas
The Chinese have a very long clinical history of treating allergies with herbs. My two favorite herbal formulas, because of the effectiveness, ease of use, safety, and tradition are:
- Bi Yan Pian
- Pe Min Kan Wan.
There are many others that can help, but these two formulas can be found in almost any Chinese herbal shop, online, or in any Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) acupuncturist’s office.
Allergies can be miserable, and may require pharmaceutical treatment. However, your use of these drugs can be greatly reduced if you put some the information above into practice. Also, know that the natural treatments above can be used with the pharmaceutical treatments if necessary, during the same day. As far as supplements go I always recommend taking your natural drugs (supplements) at least an hour or two away from your synthetic drugs. My hope, and what I have seen in my clinic, is that the synthetic meds can be at least be reduced or avoided completely.
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Dr. Keoni Teta