Seasonal allergies are most commonly associated with springtime. But the flare-ups U that occur in the summer can be just as bad-if not worse-due to the added discomfort caused by unpleasant climate conditions, such as heat and humidity.
Interesting new fact: Allergy symptoms may be lasting even longer due to extended pollen seasons brought on by climate change, according to a recent analysis. And heavier amounts of snow and rain can lead to bigger problems with tree pollen.
That's why it's more important than ever for the 40 million Americans who suffer from seasonal allergies to use the most effective therapies—with the fewest side effects.
Good news: You don't have to fill your medicine cabinet with powerful drugs that simply temporarily relieve your allergy symptoms and potentially lead to side effects ranging from headache and drowsiness to difficulty breathing. Instead, you can get relief from the natural remedies described in this article.
The Root Of The Problem
Most doctors treat allergies with a regimen that includes oral antihistamines, such as loratadine (Claritin) or cetirizine (Zyrtec), to block the release of histamine so that runny noses and itchy eyes will be reduced...and/or inhaled steroids, such as triamcinolone acetonide (Nasacort) or flunisolide, to reduce inflammation, mucus production and nasal congestion.
Problem: Aside from the side effects these drugs can cause, many allergy sufferers experience a "rebound effect"—that is, when the drug wears off, the histamine that has been suppressed by the medication explodes, causing an even bigger allergic reaction.
Important: To transition from medication to the natural regimen described here, first take the natural remedy with the medication, then slowly wean yourself off the medication over a few weeks.
Try these three natural approaches…
Mother Nature has tools that work with your body to stop allergy symptoms. The following naturally occurring substances have few side effects and often are just as effective as over-the-counter and prescription allergy medications.
My advice: Try quercetin, then add others in severe cases.
- Quercetin is a bioflavonoid, a type of plant pigment that inhibits the production of histamine. It's found in citrus fruits, apples and onions but not in amounts that are sufficient to relieve allergy symptoms. For optimal relief, try quercetin tablets.
Typical dose: Up to 600 milligrams (mg) daily depending on the severity of your symptoms. Quercetin also can be taken as a preventive during allergy season. Discuss the dose with your doctor. Quercetin is generally safe. Rare side effects may include headache and upset stomach. People with kidney disease should not take quercetin—it may worsen the condition.
Good brands: Quercetin 300, 800-545-9960, www.allergyresearchgroup.com...or Quercetone, 800-228-1966, www.thorne.com.
- Stinging nettle is a flowering plant that, when ingested, reduces the amount of histamine that the body produces in response to an allergen. Look for a product that contains 1% silicic acid (the key ingredient).
Typical dose: 500 to 1,000 mg once or twice a day depending on the severity of symptoms.
Caution: Some people are allergic to stinging nettle. In rare cases, oral stinging nettle may cause mild gastrointestinal upset.
Good brands: Nature's Way Nettle Herb, 800-962-8873, www.naturesway.com...or Solgar Stinging Nettle Leaf Extract, 877-765-4274, www.solgar.com.
*Consult a doctor before trying this regimen if you are pregnant or have a medical condition.
- Fish oil. The same potent source of omega3 fatty acids that is so popular for preventing the inflammation that leads to heart disease also helps with allergies. Look for the words "pharmaceutical grade" and "purified" or "mercury-free" on the label. This ensures that the product is potent enough to have a therapeutic effect and has undergone a manufacturing process that removes potential toxins. Choose a brand that provides at least 500 mg of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and 250 mg of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) per capsule.
Typical dose: Take 2,000 mg of fish oil per day. Consult your doctor if you take a blood thinner.
Good brands: Nordic Naturals Arctic Omega, 800-662-2544, www.nordicnaturals.com... or VitalChoice fish oils, 800-608-4825, www. Vitalchoice.com.
Step 2—Nasal Cleansing
Inflammation in the nasal passages due to allergies prevents the sinuses from draining and can lead to sinus infection.
Self-defense: Nasal cleansing once daily during allergy season reduces the amount of pollen exposure and can prevent the allergic reaction in the first place.**
One option: Flush your nasal passages with a neti pot. A neti pot looks like a miniature teapot with an elongated spout (available at drugstores for $8 to $30). Add one tablespoon of aloe vera gel and a pinch of salt to the warm distilled water you place in the pot.**
What to do: While standing over a sink, tilt your head horizontally, left ear to ceiling, and gently insert the spout into your left nostril. As you slowly pour the mixture into the nostril, it will circulate through the nasal passages and out the right nostril. Continue for 10 seconds, breathing through your mouth, then let the excess water drain. Repeat on the other nostril. Be sure to run your neti pot through the dishwasher or clean with soap and hot water to disinfect it after every use.
Alternative: If using a neti pot feels uncomfortable, try using a syringe bulb...or cup warm water (mixed with salt and aloe) in your hand and breathe it in slowly.
**Nasal cleansing may be irritating for some people. If you experience any irritation, discontinue immediately.
Even better: Use a nasal irrigator, which is more thorough and takes less effort than a neti pot. This instrument forcibly expels water ---and uses the same aloe/salt/water mixture as you would in a neti pot.
Recommended: The Grossan Hydro Pulse Nasal & Sinus Irrigator, developed by ENT doctor Murray Grossan, 800-560-9007, www.bydromed online.com, $76...or SinuPulse Elite Advanced Nasal Sinus Irrigation System, 800-305-4095, www.sinupulse.com, $80.
Step 3—Acupressure Or Acupuncture
Acupuncture and acupressure can relieve allergies by stimulating certain pressure points to encourage blood flow, reduce inflammation and release natural painkilling chemical compounds known as endorphins.
- Acupressure. For 30 to 60 seconds, push (with enough pressure to hold your head on your thumbs) each thumb into the area where each brow meets the nose. Then, press your thumbs just below your eyebrows and slide along the ridges. Finally, press beneath both cheekbones, moving outward with both thumbs toward the ears. Do this sequence three times daily.
- Acupuncture. While acupressure helps relieve allergy symptoms, acupuncture is generally more effective. I recommend six to 10 sessions with a licensed acupuncturist during allergy season.
- Allergy shots and drops. These traditional approaches are in many ways quite natural. Small amounts of an allergen extract are injected. After a number of treatments, you build up a natural resistance to the allergen. Allergy drops (placed under the tongue) are an alternative to allergy shots and work in much the same way.
- Speleotherapy and halotherapy. Used for centuries in Europe, these treatments are gaining popularity in the US. With speleotherapy, patients spend time in salt caves. Halotherapy uses man-made salt rooms that simulate caves. The salt ions combined with unpolluted air seem to improve lung function in those with respiratory and sinus ailments as well as allergies.
Salt mines and salt rooms are not always easy to find. Search online under "salt therapy."
Recommended: During allergy season, four to 12 speleotherapy or halotherapy sessions may be helpful. A 45- to 60-minute session typically costs about $45.