Allergies seem to be on the rise! More and more people seem to be more and more allergic to more and more things! Certainly all too many of us are familiar with seasonal allergies. Although we may love the budding of spring, the busy growth of summer, and the golden glory of fall, we may suffer from the pollen-induced allergies during these seasons. Is there anything we can do besides limp along on meds while yearning for the temporary relief that rain or winter might afford? Fortunately some positive alternatives are available, that can both alleviate and moderate symptoms.
What Are Seasonal Allergies?
An allergy could be best described as an abnormal reaction by a person’s immune system to a normally harmless substance. People with allergies tend to have elevated levels of the class of antibodies known as IgE. When these antibodies react with pollen or mold in a sensitive person, they activate special white blood cells called mast cells and basophiles. These white blood cells release inflammatory chemicals such as histamine leukotrienes, which trigger allergic symptoms.
Approximately 20-30% American adults suffer from seasonal allergic rhinitis (often refer to as the misnomer “hay fever”). Its prevalence is increasing worldwide. Seasonal allergic reaction occurs when substances such as pollen or fern spores trigger an immune response as within the upper respiratory tract during certain times of the year. As a result, an inflammatory process is stimulated in the mucosal membranes lining the nasal cavities and sinuses. Then symptoms such as sneezing, runny, stuffy, or itchy nose, watery itchy eyes, dry cough, fatigue, irritability, hives, or asthma can develop.
Seasonal allergies can also cause sinusitis, or inflammation of the sinuses. The signs and symptoms of sinusitis include headache, toothache, earache, and facial pain or tenderness over the four areas where the paranasal sinuses are located.
Allergic symptoms occurring during the spring are usually related to tree pollens. Grass pollen is a common cause during the summer, and ragweed, sagebrush, and tumbleweed are frequent triggers during autumn. If symptoms persist year-round, food allergies, mold, dust mites, or pet dander may be responsible for the allergy.
So what can allergy sufferers do?
Clean Air and Exercise
Because morning exercise is especially helpful in building the adrenal cortices that secrete cortisol, a natural anti-inflammatory hormone, try to do at least 20 minutes of exercise every morning. Because the pollen count is generally higher between 5 to 10 a.m., you may need to exercise indoors during that time. It may also be helpful to avoid much outdoor activity on days when the pollen count is especially high or it is windy since wind spreads pollen.
If you become exposed to high levels of pollen (for example, by wiping tree-pollen buildup off you car), it might be helpful to shower, wash your hair, and change clothes as soon as possible. This will wash off the allergens and reduce further contamination and contact. Because the fur of pets can attract and harbor pollen as well, it would be a good idea to keep your furry friends out of your bedroom in order to keep the air as free of allergens as possible during your nighttime sleep.
Using HEPA air filters can also improve air quality by removing 99.98% or greater percent of airborne particles sized 0.3 micrometers (um) in diameter. This size of particle is the most difficult to filter and is thus considered the most penetrating particle size (MPPS). The filters filter particles that are larger or smaller with even higher efficiency. Be sure to keep ducts and air-conditioner filters clean. Dirty filters can cause trouble. If vacuuming, use only those models containing clean air filters.
The Diet that Helps Allergies
Eat at least 2 servings of omega-3 rich foods daily because deficiency of this special fatty acid increases risk of allergies. Walnuts, chia seeds, spinach, soybeans, or ground flaxseed are good vegetarian sources of essential anti-inflammatory alpha linolenic acid. Although olive oil is not an omega-3 fat, it also exerts anti-inflammatory effect and can be used in moderation with good results.
Reduce any consumption of omega-6 fats (including corn, safflower, sunflower, or peanut oils). Excessive use of these fats, as opposed to omega-3 ones, tends to increase inflammation in the body.
Seriously limit sugar; if shifts body chemistry toward inflammation.
Emphasize intake of foods containing LOX inhibitors. LOX enzymes are involved in the production of pro-inflammatory leukotrienes, which are key contributors to allergies and asthma. Inhibitors reduce their formation. Fortunately, a wide vatiety of plant foods contain them. Anthocyanins, the phytochemicals that compose the purple, red and blue pigments in foods, are natural LOX inhibitors. Certain phytochemicals from pomegranates, garlic, onions, sesamin from sesame seeds, and resveratrol from red grapes and blueberries, inhibit both leukotrienes and another pro-inflammatory enzyme called COX-2.
Vitamin D is an important immune-regulator and a natural anti-inflammatory agent. Be sure you are not deficient in this essential vitamin. The main vitamin D metabolite, calcitriol, suppresses development of the Th-1 cells. Th-1 cells are a type of helper T-lymphocytes. When they become overactive, they play a key role in allergy development. Recent evidence indicates that vitamin D deficiency may play a major role in the development of allergies. Its supplementation could help reduce some allergic reactions. Sunlight exposure is a precursor to vitamin D synthesis in the body. When weather permits, daily exposure on the skin without sunscreen application is most valuable. The amount of tie needed depends on skin color and the intensity of the sun. One caveat: Since vitamin D insufficiency is common in North America and Western Europe, if you have allergies, have your vitamin D level checked. It is a simple blood test.
- Rosemary, sage, and basil: The rosmarinic acid in each of these common herbs reduces inflammation in the sinuses and lungs. Unlike antihistamines, rosemarinic acid suppresses pro-inflammatory responses and decreases the activation of immuno-responder cells that promote swelling and other symptoms of allergy- induced inflammation. However, pregnant or lactating women should not use medicinal amounts of rosemary or sage. If you are taking any medications, be sure to check with your pharmacist before using herbs in medicinal amounts so as to avoid any potential adverse drug-her interactions.
- Natural antihistamines: The herb stinging nettle contains naturally occurring antihistamine, and studies suggest that it can be moderately effective in reducing allergic symptoms. It is generally regarded as safe. However, the fresh plant can irritate skin, so pick with caution and/ or protection, or better yet, get it in capsule form. Vitamin C, quercetin, and pine bark also contain natural antihistamines agents, unlike many pharmaceutical drugs, these naturally occurring substances will not cause drowsiness.
Hum and Sing!
Did you know that humming and singing could actually prove physiologically therapeutic? Healthy sinuses contain high concentrations of nitric oxide, which is known to be broadly antifungal, antiviral, and antibacterial. Nasal nitric oxide has been shown to be increased 15-to 20- fold by humming, compared with quietly exhaling. One case study found that humming 60 to 120 times a day and for and hour before bedtime can be especially beneficial for individuals with an inflammation or infection of those nose and sinuses.
Studies show that singing also increases IgA in saliva. IgA is a class of antibodies that guard the mucus membranes in the body, including the respiratory mucosa. Of course, you might not want to sing around others if you have an upper respiratory tract infection since it could spread your germs. But otherwise, singing will improve your breathing capacity, reduce stress, and probably lift your spirits! A merry heart, indeed, does well like a medicine!
Contrast (hot and cold) showers are also a helpful therapy for allergy symptoms, including sinus congestion. Try focusing the water spray on the face; the alternating hot and cold to this area will improve blood flow to the sinuses. The basic practice is approximately 3 minutes of hot followed by 30 seconds to 1 minute of cold. Repeat the sequence three times. Dry off vigorously, then rest warmly in a draft-free area for at least 20 minutes.
Irrigating your nasal passages with a saline solution can be helpful for seasonal allergies and many types of sinusitis. This simple therapy works by promoting mucociliary clearance through the removal of mucus, pus, superficial bacteria, viruses, and crusted materials. It moistens the lining of the nose and sinuses, thins mucus, and reduces tissue swelling in the nasal passages. Researchers at the University of Michigan Health System discovered, in a random study of 121 adults with chronic nasal or sinus symptoms, that nasal irrigation for 8 weeks is more effective than commonly used saline sprays for treating chronic nasal and sinus symptoms. After 8 weeks of nasal saline irrigation, only 40 percent of participants in the irrigation group reported frequent (defined as “often or always”) nasal and sinus symptoms compared with 61 percent in the spray group
To make your own saline, combine:
- ½ teaspoon non iodized salt
- A pinch of baking soda
- 1 cup of warm water (filtered or previously- boiled)
Combine the ingredients in a clean container. Draw solution up into a nasal-bulb syringe or pour it into an irrigation pitcher, such as a net pot. Stand over the bathroom sink. If using a bulb syringe, place the syringe in one nostril and tilt the head down. Note that keeping your mouth open during the procedure will help prevent fluid from passing into your Eustachian tubes. Squeeze gently, propelling the fluid out through the other nostril. If you experience discomfort in your ears of gag reflex, you may be squeezing too vigorously. If using the neti pot, tilt your head sideways and pour into one nostril, allowing solution to flow out the other nostril. You may notice that mucus comes out of the nose with the fluid comes out clear or until you have used half of the solution. Repeat the full process for the other nostril.
After rinsing, it is best to wait 30 to 60 minutes before using any prescription nasal sprays. Because the saline will continue to drain for a period of time after the rinses are performed, any nasal sprays used immediately or shortly after the irrigation may be ineffective. It is also not recommended to perform sinus rinses less than an hour before going to bed, since the saline will drain down the back of he throat, and could cause a cough.
Saline irrigation may need to be performed on a daily (or even several time per day) basis for people with severe symptoms improve. Individuals with an acute sinus infection, however, should avoid this procedure, because it may encourage the spread of harmful bacteria.
Nothing to Sneeze At
Seasonal and other common allergies can contribute to chronic coughing, ear infections, inflammation of the esophagus, deficient sleep, intensified asthma symptoms, and possible increased risk for stroke. If these suggestions and natural remedies do not provide significant relief, we would recommend seeing an allergist or ENT (ear, nose, and throat) specialist. As you can do all you can, look forward to that time when no one will ever again says, “ I am sick,” where “nothing shall hurt or destroy” in that wonderful world made new!
This article is adapted from the e-book, Keys to Optimal Health and Happiness, and is used by permission of The College of Health Evangelism in Wildwood, GA.
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