Spring is a lovely time of year. Flowers are blooming and birds are building their nests. However, for 1 out of every 10 Americans, spring also marks the beginning of allergy season.
What Are Seasonal Allergies?
Seasonal allergies, commonly known as hay fever, are a cluster of somatic reactions triggered by pollen and mold spores. These allergens activate the body’s immune system, causing a reaction. Pollinating trees like birch and elm, grasses, and flowering plants like ragweed are the most common triggers of seasonal allergies. However, IgE antibody allergy testing can determine the exact cause.
Allergy symptoms include sneezing, watery eyes, and itchiness. Seasonal allergies are also one of the most common triggers for asthma, a chronic respiratory disorder that causes the lung’s mucus membranes and airways to swell up. If not well-managed, allergic asthma can lead to serious complications such as labored breathing and chest pains.
Many people use over-the-counter or prescription-strength antihistamines to manage their symptoms. However, the allergy season is gradually starting earlier and lasting longer.
Taking antihistamines over a prolonged period of time can cause problems. Their effectiveness tends to wane over time, which means people will need to take stronger doses to achieve the same effect. Further, many allergy medicines are not safe to take during pregnancy or breastfeeding.
Fortunately, there are many natural, medication-free ways to minimize allergen exposure and reduce symptoms.
Track Pollen Levels
While seasonal allergens are almost always present in the air between February and October, their levels vary based on different factors. For example, trees and grasses tend to release their pollen at specific times of the year.
Weather conditions can also affect allergen levels. Rain can wash pollen and spores away, while hot and dry conditions tend to cause allergen levels to spike. Most weather reports publish daily allergen reports and will share alerts if levels are exceptionally high. There are also many allergen tracker apps that will notify users if allergen levels are expected to exceed normal levels in the coming days.
Limit Outdoor Activity
On high allergen days, people with seasonal allergies should take extra precautions. For example, avoid hanging clothes and linens out to dry as allergens can cling to the fibers. If possible, keep all windows and doors closed to prevent pollen from blowing into the home.
Skip any outdoor exercises or gardening until allergen levels subside. If outdoor activities cannot be avoided, try to schedule your responsibilities during the morning or evening when allergen levels are lowest. Wearing a mask can also prevent pollen and mold from entering the airways.
Vacuum More Frequently
Outdoor allergens often end up inside by sticking to clothing or blowing in through a window. Allergy specialists recommend vacuuming all areas of the home at least twice a week. However, as vacuums can reintroduce dust and allergens back into the air, make sure the filters and dust bags are completely cleaned out between uses.
Increase Liquid Intake
Drinking any beverage can wash away allergens accumulating in the mouth and throat. However, some drinks have additional symptom-relieving benefits.
For example, green tea is a natural antihistamine. Drinking two or three cups a day can noticeably reduce allergy symptoms. Likewise, alkaline water can counter systemic inflammation and improve hydration.
Use Natural Remedies
Neti-pots are a natural treatment originating from ayurvedic medicine. These teapot-shaped containers clean out irritants by delivering a stream of warm, sterile water through the nasal passages. Neti-pots can be used multiple times a day and have no side effects.
Steam inhalation can also reduce allergy symptoms by opening the airways. The easiest way to set up a steam treatment is by filling up a deep sturdy bowl with boiling hot water. Then, take deep breaths over the bowl, covering the head and neck with a towel.
This keeps the steam trapped and slows evaporation. Steam treatments should last between 15-20 minutes. Like neti-pots, they have no direct side effects. However, boiling hot water can cause severe burns, so this treatment is not recommended for young children.
Eat an Allergy-Fighting Diet
There are also many foods that support the immune system and inhibit allergic responses. Foods rich in antioxidants such as blueberries, leafy vegetables, and citrus fruits help the body balance histamine levels and reduce inflammation. Vegetables from the allium family, like garlic and onions, can open up airways and reduce post-nasal drip and congestion. Spicy foods also produce the same mucus-thinning effect.
Honey can fight seasonal allergies in a different way. Since pollen is a precursor for honey, there is some evidence that eating a small amount every day can help the immune system build a tolerance to common allergens.
However, this effect is more powerful for locally produced honey, as the pollen is more likely to have come from surrounding plants. However, manuka honey, which is made from a rare plant found only in New Zealand, may have wider benefits than regular store-bought honey.
In addition to consuming allergy-fighting foods, seasonal allergy sufferers should also reduce or eliminate some ingredients from their diets. For example, dairy products can stimulate mucus production, which can exacerbate allergy and asthma symptoms. Likewise, excessive sugar intake can make the body more reactive to allergens by increasing inflammation.
Try Plant-Based Remedies
While plants are the main triggers of seasonal allergies, they can also be a solution. The stinging nettle plant, which causes a painful burn if touched raw, can actually reduce symptoms if cooked and consumed. Stinging nettle supplements can also be found in pharmacies or online.
The eucalyptus plant itself is an allergen for many people, but the oil it produces can alleviate nasal and chest congestion. Food-grade eucalyptus oil can be applied topically or added to a neti pot to clean the nasal passages.
Many houseplants serve as natural air filters by removing mold spores and trapping pollen. Dragon trees, peace lilies, and Areca Palms filter out allergens without releasing any additional pollen. As an added benefit, they are easy to maintain and absorb harmful gasses from the air.
Avoid Other Triggers
Since seasonal allergens can send the body’s immune system on high alert, people may become more sensitive to other triggers. For this reason, allergy specialists recommend steering clear of other known allergens such as cigarette smoke, pet dander, and dust mites.
Since many of these allergens can be brought indoors on shoes, clothing, and hair, allergy sufferers should launder their clothing immediately after entering their homes. They should also take a shower before bed and wash their sheets, carpets, and other soft furnishings frequently.