Springtime is considered the worst time of year for allergy sufferers due to the abundance of grass and tree pollen. But it doesn't stop there. In virtually all parts of the US, pollen from various grass and weed species is a problem throughout the summer and into the fall, keeping many people miserable as late as October in some parts of the US.

Often mistaken for a "summer cold," allergies that occur in the summer usually cause the same symptoms triggered by spring pollen—runny nose, itchy eyes, sneezing, wheezing and shortness of breath.

The antihistamines that most allergy sufferers reach for, such as loratadine (Claritin), fexofenadine (Allegra) and cetirizine (Zyrtec), work by blocking the effect of inflammatory compounds called bistamines, which produce allergy symptoms. A newer, even more powerful class of medications, including montelukast (Singulair and zafirlukast (Accolate), block the action of a different group of inflammatory compounds called leukotrienes.

Problem: These medications suppress symptoms but don't halt the underlying allergic event. Stop taking them at any point during allergy season, and symptoms come back worse than ever because the body overcompensates for a lack of response to the histamine production.

Solution: By combining preventive strategies with the right natural remedies, most people can establish a simple regimen that keeps even severe allergies under control without resorting to drugs.

Step 1: Reduce your exposure to certain foods. Many people with seasonal allergies have cross-sensitivities to foods containing proteins similar to the airborne allergens they're sensitive to. These foods may cause no problems the rest of the year, but during allergy season, they can make typical pollen allergy symptoms significantly worse and may also trigger symptoms of their own.

This phenomenon, known as oral allergy syndrome, causes symptoms such as tingling, itching or swelling of the mouth, tongue or throat, itching of the scalp or skin, wheezing and/or unusual fatigue.

Raw foods (especially their skins) are more likely to trigger allergic reactions.

Foods that can trigger cross-sensitivity reactions include…

  • Fruits, especially apples, bananas, melons and peaches.
  • Certain vegetables, including cucumbers, tomatoes and zucchini.
  • Foods that are made from grain (particularly wheat).
  • Milk from grass-fed cows—it may contain microscopic undigested grass particles.

My advice: Keep a food diary during allergy season, and note the foods that seem to worsen symptoms. If you suspect that a food is affecting you, avoid it for several days to see if symptoms improve.

Also, avoid red meat, sugar and junk foods, all of which have inflammatory effects that contribute to allergy symptoms.

Step 2: Reduce your exposure to pollen. Best approaches…

  • Don't exercise outdoors in the morning. Exercising between 5 am and 10 am can increase your pollen exposure tenfold.
  • Keep windows shut during this same period (or all day, if possible) to keep pollen out of your home.
  • Use a HEPA filter. It's the most effective device for removing pollen from the air in your bedroom and other heavily used rooms.

Good brands: Austin Air and Honeywell.

  • Remove outer clothes when coming inside after you have been outside for an hour or more.
  • Vacuum often (every day if pollen levels are high) with a HEPA-filter vacuum.

Step 3: Try allergy-fighting supplements.* Supplements of the nutrient quercetin (300 mg to 600 mg daily) and, if needed, extract of the herb stinging nettle (500 mg to 1,000 mg daily) both reduce the body's histamine response. It may take up to a week to see improvement in allergy symptoms.

If this combination doesn't provide relief, try adding the herb butterbur. Evidence suggests that it relieves pollen symptoms by reducing both histamine and leukotriene production. Butterbur may be toxic to the liver and kidneys in some people, so consult your doctor first.

Typical dose: 50 mg/day.

*Speak to your doctor before starting any supplement regimen. For children's doses, consult a physician.

For additional symptom relief, consider trying the following supplements—add them one at a time if you need greater symptom relief…

  • Vitamin C. This powerful antioxidant helps stabilize the body's mast cells, which facilitate histamine release.

Typical dose: 1,000 mg to 2,000 mg/day. If you have kidney disease, be sure to consult your doctor before taking this dose.

  • Pycnogenol (pine bark extract). This herb was found in a recent study to reduce hay fever symptoms.

Typical dose: 100 mg/day.

  • Bromelain. This enzyme has anti-inflammatory properties and enhances absorption of quercetin.

Typical dose: 1,000 mg/day.

  • Resveratrol. This grape derivative has potent immune-stimulating effects, which help stabilize your body's reaction to allergens.

Typical dose: 100 mg/day.

  • Fish oil capsules.

Typical dose: 2,000 mg daily for antiinflammatory benefits. Each capsule should contain a minimum of 250 mg of DHA and 100 mg of EPA.

  • Nux vomica. This homeopathic remedy can help relieve seasonal allergy symptoms in some people. Consider adding it to the above regimen if you need additional relief.

Typical dose: 30C up to four times daily. Do not exceed this dose. Nux vomica is a highly diluted remedy derived from seeds containing the poison strychnine. Extreme overdoses could result in anxiety, muscle spasms or even death.

Step 4: Consider allergy drops. Most people know about allergy shots, but allergy drops are another natural therapy that can be administered year-round or only during allergy season. Sublingual allergy drops contain the same purified substances used in allergy shots and are a good option for people who strongly dislike shots. Drops are simply placed under the tongue daily.

Allergy sufferers who receive allergy shots get weekly injections containing small doses of the offending allergen. Over time, the immune system learns to stop overreacting to the allergens.

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