Natural Remedies for Seasonal Allergies: 10 Tips to Make the Season Easier
As spring and summer are approaching, the days are getting longer and warmer, which is a delight for most humans who just slogged through winter. But if you are an allergy sufferer, this can be your most challenging time of year. The warmer weather sparks the trees, plants and flowers to start to grow and bloom… and release those pollens that can make a human feel super duper lousy. Symptoms like itchy eyes, runny noses, coughing and scratchy throats can come racing back as soon as the last frost has passed.
What’s a human to DO?! Sure, there are drugs, but some of them can make you drowsy or make it hard to function. But worry not! There other more natural options that can help you to enjoy the magic of springtime without the sneezies et al, and without popping drugs with questionable preservatives, stabilizers, coloring, etc.
What Causes Allergies?
Seasonal allergies, like other allergies, usually develop when the body’s immune system is overloaded with something in the immediate environment. In spring or summer it is usually due to certain plants, grasses or tree pollination.
Allergies can be caused by many other things like dust, animals, food, and pollution.
If you feel you have “seasonal allergies” all year long, you need to talk to a functional medicine provider to get evaluated for things like chronic mold and other more systemic concerns.
Other Causes of Allergies
There is research showing that your overall health, and especially your gut health, can also be a factor in your seasonal allergies.
High levels of your body’s own histamines can be causing gut problems, and gut problems like Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO) can lead to an overload of histamine in your body. This in turn can be worsening your allergies, as allergic reactions are a result of high histamine levels.
If you are interested in finding out more about your gut health and histamine levels then read all about it here
Here are some simple things you can do while having allergies, and all year round to prevent all those yucky allergy symptoms next year when the seasons begin to change.
What goes in, comes out…
I see a huge improvement in people’s allergy symptoms after they do a careful 30 day elimination diet. I see particularly impressive changes when folks go off of dairy products, particularly cow’s dairy. It’s worth taking a month off dairy (and gluten and sugar – why not be thorough?!) to see if it helps your symptoms – it usually does. What do you have to lose other than sinus headaches, itchy watery eyes, snot galore, sore throats… et hmmm…
Probiotics, especially those containing Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium species, support a healthy immune system. They help to heal the gut, and can reduce inflammation in your GI system which can help with overall inflammation. Systemic inflammation can lead to more leaky gut, much as leaky gut can lead to systemic inflammation (I’ll link to my podcast on this here!) and both can worsen your sniffly, sneeze, watery-eyed Spring Time Blahs.
You can take a good quality probiotic supplement, but also remember that food is the best medicine. Do your best to include probiotic rich foods like kefir, sauerkraut, yoghurt or kimchi into your diet on the daily my loves!
Freeze Dried Stinging Nettles
Nettles are one of my Favorite herb, and are an amazing health-booster overall and are rich in minerals and vitamins. Nettles are also a natural antihistamine. This means that they can block histamine receptor cells and can stop immune cells called mast cells from degranulating, or releasing chemicals that trigger allergy symptoms.
Nettles can be taken as a tea for overall health and nutrient support, but the freeze dried form generally has better results for allergy management.
N-Acetyl Cysteine (NAC)
NAC is a supplement form of cysteine. Cysteine is an amino acid. It is an important amino acid as it helps with chronic respiratory conditions. It is also an anti-inflammatory and has mucolytic capabilities, meaning it thins snot-like secretions in your nose, throat and lungs, and can help to relieve nasal congestion associated with allergy symptoms.
Bromelain is an enzyme found in the core and juice of pineapples and is available as a supplement. It is a remedy for inflammation, especially for the sinuses. Research suggests that bromelain reduces allergic sensitization and allergic airway disease.
It’s also a nice digestive enzyme, and I use it in a chewable form for bellyaches! Ohh Nature – you’re so amazing!
Quercetin is a bioflavonoid and is a natural antihistamine. It stabilizes the release of histamines and helps to control allergic reactions. It is found in foods like onions, broccoli, cauliflower, green tea and citrus fruits. It can also be taken in supplement form.
It is not advised to take during pregnancy because of potential harmful effects on fetal growth.
Dosing: I like to use Douglas Labs brand Quercetin and Bromelain capsules – I recommend a loading dose of 2 caps three times/day as allergies ramp up (usually about 2 weeks), then 2 caps/day through the season as needed.
Raw Local Honey
Raw local unprocessed honey contains wee amounts of pollen from the environment. Honey is a fabulous (and tasty!) immune booster. I recommend using a small amount, like 1-2 tsp/day, for the few weeks before your allergy season and until the season shifts.
Fake honey is a major issue (ugh). So make sure you’re buying your honey right from the farmer or apiarist (amazing word for the fabulous folks who raise bees). Skip the honey in a little plastic bear from the supermarket or box store. I’m sorry to be the messenger here, but it’s probably not actually honey. Super UGH.
Daily XLear is a saline spray/pump that contains xylitol, which prevents allergens and bacteria from sticking to your sinuses.
I start this as soon as allergy symptoms begin – 2 spray/nostril, 1-2 times/day – more if you’re having more symptoms, less if less – easy peasy.
This is a lovely way to reduce symptoms and really helps keep those sinuses clear.
Sinus rinsing with a neti pot is an ancient practice. Neti is used to help you to rinse mucus, debris and those pesky pollen bits from your sinuses, so they stop causing trouble. Studies have shown that nasal irrigation helps to reduce the irritation and mucus in the sinuses, and helps to improve overall quality of life in sufferers of sinus allergies.
It is very important to use it with distilled or boiled water to reduce your risk of infection or contamination with yucky things in municipal water. I filter my water with a Berkey filter – it’s amazing.
I’ve been using a neti pot since 1997 (what’s up Oberlin College – teaching me the hippie stuff at such a tender age!) any time I’m sniffly, allergy-riddled or feel a cold coming on and it’s been a GAME CHANGER for me. I do the Neti and THEN use the Xlear to get that xylitol all up in there.
Bi Yan Pian
This is my go-to for nasal congestion, runny nose, or never-ending nasal drainage/post-nasal drip. I add Bi Yan Pian, an awesome blend of Traditional Chinese Medicine herbs, as needed. I recommend 2 tablets three times/day.
After symptoms are in control, folks can go back to using the above plus Bi Yan Pian as needed, such as before bed if AM symptoms are worse.
There’s a Drug For That…
I know, I know – you come here for natural, holistic healing. And while I TOTALLY prefer supporting our bodies to do the healing they’re so good at doing, sometimes it’s just not enough.
For example, if you are dealing with leaky gut, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth of other digestive concerns, herbs may not be enough while you’re healing. This is when I turn to the power of pharmaceuticals. There aren’t a lot of drugs I like. There is usually a safer alternative that supports our bodies in actually healing. And while we’re doing our best to heal through diet, mindfulness, thoughtful supplementation… sometimes ya just need a break from your symptoms, knowwhatimean?
And that’s when I turn to Cromlyn Sodium nasal spray. This is a well-tolerated, generally low or no symptom treatment for elevated histamine and allergies. Best part? It’s available over-the-counter (OTC), and it’s relatively affordable. The trade name is NasalCrom.
For those folks who are chemically sensitive or who don’t like the smell/taste of the OTC, there’s another option. You can ask your primary care provider to write a prescription for the inhalation version of Cromolyn. You can then put that liquid into a glass nasal spray bottle. I generally do 1-2 spray/nostril, 1-2 times/day or as needed for symptom relief.
I know, it’s a drug. But not all drugs are all evil. For me, being truly holistic means recognizing when supplements and herbs can do the job and when it’s helpful to bring a little pharmaceutical on board.
These solutions are simple to use and generally have very little or no side effects. Most of the research shows with using these natural remedies all year round, you can greatly reduce your risk of suffering from seasonal allergies.
Try them out and see which ones make the most difference for you. There are fabulous natural alternatives to living with stuffy noses, watery eyes and the rest!
Furrie E. Probiotics and allergy. (2005)
Rabago D, Guerard E, Bukstein D. Nasal irrigation for chronic sinus symptoms in patients with allergic rhinitis, asthma and nasal polyposis: a hypothesis generating study. (2008)
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Victoria Albina, NP, MPH is a licensed and board certified Family Nurse Practitioner, herbalist and life coach, with 20 years experience in health and wellness. She trained at the University of California, San Francisco, and holds a Masters in Public Health from Boston University and a bachelors from Oberlin College. She comes to this work having been a patient herself, and having healed from a lifetime of IBS, GERD, SIBO, fatigue, depression and anxiety.
She is passionate about her work, and loves supporting patients in a truly holistic way - body, mind, heart and spirit. A native of Mar del Plata, Argentina, she grew up in the great state of Rhode Island, and lives in NYC with her partner. A brown dog named Frankie Bacon has her heart, and she lives for steak and a good dark chocolate.
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