I had an allergy panel done a while ago – the kind where they prick your back. I had rows and rows of pricks testing seasonal and animal allergens. The good news: I’m not allergic to horses! The bad news, my doctor explains, is that “You’re basically allergic to everything else.” GREAT. Then he sketched me an enlightening but not uplifting line graph showing the severity of my allergies as a function of the time of year. “In the spring, you are allergic to tree pollen,” he says as he draws a rising and falling slope. “Then just as the tree pollen is starting to die down, in come the summer grasses, which you are more allergic to.” For the grasses he draws a larger mound overlapping the first. “Then,” he says, drawing one final, large, hump on my allergy graph, “with fall, the weeds pollinate, and you react even more!” My graph looks like a roller coaster with increasingly terrifying peaks. One you can’t get off of and must ride year after year. Oh, and instead of making you dizzy it makes your head hurt, nose run, eyes puff out and the back of your throat itch (which you ineffectively try to scratch with your tongue – you get this if you’re with me!).
SO, what are some options for preventing and treating seasonal allergies? This won’t be a comprehensive list, but I’m going share what I currently do and a couple things I’d like to try out. I know these remedies have varying degrees of “legitimate” scientific backing, so I’ll be honest about that based off of my research and experience. Here we go:
The Neti Pot. This one I swear by, and although it is a natural remedy, you’ll hear mainstream medical doctors and resources recommend it all the time. That’s because it works, and it’s awesome. My college roommate was the first person I ever saw use it, and I have to say it was a source of comedy for all of us as we watched her pour water up her nose. But for many, the neti pot can provide relief from sever allergy and sinus problems that even medication can’t touch. Amazing, really, considering that all it involves is using a mini tea-pot looking thing and warm salt water. You simply hold the spout to one nostril and tip your head so that the water flows into your nose and irrigates your nasal passages, cleaning out irritants and allergens along the way before it drains out the other nostril. It’s not that bad! And it’s worth it – I’ve come to identify a direct link between using the neti pot each night and preventing a sinus headache the next day. I love my neti pot!
Timing and Cleanliness. It is said that the highest pollen counts are in the first half of the day – some sources say between 5am and 10am, and others say that pollen peaks at noon. I’ve also read it’s an old wives tale. So you can try scheduling your outdoor activities for the evenings, but we know that whether there are worse times of day or not, there are never NO allergens. So, after working or exercising outside during a bad time of year for your allergies, put all your clothes straight in the wash, take a shower if you can, and use that neti pot right away! The idea is to clean those irritants off of your body and out of your system before they have a chance to really make you uncomfortable. Even if you weren’t particularly active outdoors on a given day, consider showering at night during allergy season so that you don’t take those particles to bed with you. Just think – snuggling into a pillow each night that has been accumulating allergens from your skin and hair day after day – not helpful!
Local Bee Pollen. This is something I’m adding this year because I was so lucky and blessed to get a few pounds of precious honey comb from my neighbor’s hives. The benefits are said to be best if you have a local source, and mine is literally in my backyard! The theory is that ingesting the small amounts of pollen found in honey (or honeycomb, which contains a bit more pollen) makes you less sensitive to the allergen – a form of natural immunotherapy in a similar vein to allergy shots. Although there is anecdotal evidence for this idea, I will say that the current research does not support it. A good point against its effectiveness is that bees don’t pollinate the trees, weeds and grasses that often cause allergies. Nonetheless, no doubt honey has a host of other health benefits, so what harm is there? (Of course, never give honey to infants 12 months and younger, and consume raw foods at your own risk – I do 😉 )
Quercitin. Quercitin is a plant-derived flavonoid (gives plants their color) with many medicinal properties, which continue to be researched. One of its many qualities is that it suppresses the activity of mast cells, which are responsible for releasing the histamines that cause allergy symptoms. So in short, plain English, quercitin is a natural antihistamine that doesn’t make you drowsy like some medications can. The recommendation is to start taking daily doses of quercitin weeks in advance, so you might want to start now before your allergies really mow you over. Although quercitin is a natural property found in many foods, there are considerations when taking a concentrated dose, so be sure to read labels carefully. I used quercitin last summer and it seemed to help, although I got started late. I’m interested to see if starting earlier this year will help even more.
Stinging Nettle. Yes – this is the “weed” that burns your skin when you touch it. But when dried or cooked, the stinging properties are neutralized, and it’s an incredibly nutrient-dense food – high in vitamin A, calcium, iron and protein. Furthermore, there are thousands of years of historical use plus current research to support its use medicinally for a number of ailments. Nettle prevents allergy symptoms by inhibiting several of the reactions responsible for inflammation and a histamine response in the body. I’m getting on the stinging nettle bandwagon this year and am especially excited because it grows wild everywhere. You are likely to find it along the edges of woodsy areas, around ditches and in your own backyard! Use gloves or a scissors and a bag to collect stinging nettle, harvesting the top few pairs of leaves, which are the most tender. Prepare it as you would other greens: sauté, steam or boil and dress with butter and salt, or add to stir fry or pasta. It’s also popular to steep leaves for nettle tea. For guidance on identification, read more here.
That sums up my seasonal allergy protocol! Please comment below with your own tricks! What else should I add?!