More than 45 million Americans suffer from seasonal allergies. Now some concerns are arising about common meds used for them. So this article addresses the question, “What natural remedies help allergies?”
Is Your Allergy Medication Affecting Your Brain?
Benadryl is one such drug and is classified as an anticholinergic drug. Anticholinergic medications block the neurotransmitter acetylcholine in the brain and body.
A recent study linked anticholinergic drugs to increased risk for Alzheimer’s in the elderly. In this study taking an anticholinergic med for the equivalent of three years or more was associated with a 54% higher dementia risk than taking the same dose for three months or less.1
Seasonal Allergies 101
An allergy is 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 basophils. These white blood cells release inflammatory chemicals such as histamine and leukotrienes, which trigger allergic symptoms.
Approximately 20-30% of American adults suffer from seasonal allergic rhinitis. Its prevalence is increasing worldwide. A seasonal allergic reaction occurs when substances such as pollen or fern spores trigger an immune response 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.
Signs & Symptoms:
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 a 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?
Chose the Right Time for Exercise!
Exercise regularly and breathe clean air, but how you do it counts. 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 usually higher between 5 a.m. to 10 a.m., you may need to exercise indoors during that time. Wearing large sunglasses will keep pollen from landing in your eyes. A hat will reduce pollen from sticking to your hair.
It may also be helpful to avoid much outdoor activity on days when the pollen count is especially high or when it is windy since the wind spreads pollen. If you become exposed to high levels of pollen (for example, by wiping tree-pollen buildup off your car), it might be beneficial 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.
HEPA Air Filter
Using HEPA air filters can also improve air quality by removing 99% or more 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 HEPA filters remove 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 Anti-Inflammatory Diet
Plant-Based Diet Benefits:
Emphasize a plant-based diet using predominately whole foods. Diets marked by greater intakes of meats, poultry, and seafood were associated with diagnosed allergy sufferers and hay fever sufferers.2 Whole plant foods contain an arsenal of anti-inflammatory compounds.
Eat at least two servings of omega-3 rich foods daily. A deficiency of these special fatty acids increases the risk of allergies. Walnuts, chia seeds, spinach, soybeans, and ground flaxseed are good vegetarian sources of essential anti-inflammatory alpha-linolenic acid. We do not recommend the consumption of fish for omega-3 fats. Why? Fish is a common food allergy. Because of a process known as bio-magnification, fish are known to accumulate toxins and pesticides. Evidence shows pesticides disrupt the balance of the immune system so essential in the prevention of allergies and autoimmune diseases.3 Fish are especially known to contain pesticides. The highly toxic dioxins are another environmental polluter which accumulate in fish and can cause damage to the immune system.
Allergy-Fighting LOX Inhibitors in Foods:
Emphasize foods containing LOX inhibitors. LOX enzymes are involved in the production of pro-inflammatory leukotrienes, which are key contributors to allergies and asthma. Please note: arachidonic fatty acid is the precursor of leukotrienes. Inhibitors reduce their formation.
Fortunately, a wide variety of plant foods contain LOX inhibitors. 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 in red grapes and blueberries, inhibit both leukotrienes and another pro-inflammatory enzyme called COX-2.
Avoid Dietary Bloopers:
Reduce consumption of omega-6 fats (including corn, safflower, sunflower, or peanut oils). Excessive use of these fats, as opposed to omega-3 fats, tends to increase inflammation in the body. One study found positive associations between hay fever and arachidonic acid.4 Sources for arachidonic fatty acids include meat, eggs, and fish. Seriously limit sugar; it shifts body chemistry toward inflammation.
When Good Food Triggers Seasonal Allergies
Sometimes even good food can aggravate seasonal allergies. According to Dr. Joseph Leija, “Those with grass allergies should avoid melon, tomatoes, and oranges. Ragweed allergies are also linked to allergies to bananas, cantaloupe, cucumber, zucchini, and chamomile tea. The spring allergy count in the Midwest is high in birch and oak, which usually triggers reactions to carrots, celery, almonds, apples, peaches, and pears in those with sensitive systems.”5
We would be amiss if we did not mention that a food allergy can give not only gastrointestinal symptoms but can also impact the respiratory system. So, if you have respiratory symptoms during the entire year, food allergies are a possibility that should be explored.
Probiotics May Help.
There is early evidence that probiotics may help allergies in some cases.6 Further investigation is warranted, but it might be worth a try. Getting probiotics in yogurt may not be your best option. The sugar in yogurt may undo the benefits of its probiotics! Sugar encourages inflammation.
Is Your Vitamin D Adequate?
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 the development of the Th-1 cells. Th-1 cells are a type of helper T-lymphocyte. When they become overactive, they play a key role in allergy development. Evidence indicates that vitamin D deficiency may play a major role in the development of allergies.7 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 time 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. Although a deficiency in Vitamin D needs to be corrected, vitamin D supplementation does not necessarily cure seasonal allergies but it may help reduce some allergic reactions.
Nasal Irrigation to the Rescue!
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 eight weeks is more effective than commonly used saline sprays for treating chronic nasal and sinus symptoms. After eight 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.8
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 the solution up into a nasal bulb syringe or pour it into an irrigation pitcher, such as a neti 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 or gagging, you may be squeezing too vigorously. If using the neti pot, tilt your head sideways and pour into one nostril, allowing the solution to flow out the other nostril. 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 the throat, and could cause a cough.9
Individuals with severe seasonal allergic symptoms may need to perform saline irrigation several time per day to see symptoms improve. Persons with an acute sinus infection, however, should avoid this procedure because it may encourage the spread of harmful bacteria.
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 water to this area will improve blood flow to the sinuses. The basic practice is approximately 3 minutes of hot, as tolerated, 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.10 One caveat here: If you have a bleeding disorder, either high or low blood pressure, or have experienced dizziness/ lightheadedness recently, please consult your doctor before trying this hydrotherapy treatment.
Even slight stress and anxiety can substantially worsen a person’s allergic reaction to some routine allergens.11 Stress, even perceived stress, aggravates allergic symptoms.12 Third-hand smoke, as well as second-hand smoke, exacerbates inflammation in the lungs.13 Third-hand smoke is the invisible remains of smoking left on the carpet, furniture, clothing, and other surfaces.
Allergic rhinitis may result from seasonal allergies or an exposure to other allergens (dust mites, cigarette smoke, etc.). One study compared ginger extract to Loratadine (Claritin) for allergic rhinitis (AR). In this study, ginger extract was as good as loratadine in improving nasal symptoms and quality of life in AR patients. Ginger extract caused less side effects especially, drowsiness, fatigue, dizziness, and constipation.14. Because dried ginger has more 6-gingerol than fresh ginger does, it appears to be more effective as a natural histamine than fresh ginger. The phytochemical 6-gingerol is one of the several of general compounds that inhibits histamine from the mast cells.15 Individuals who take blood thinners should not use ginger.
Curcumin is found in both ginger and turmeric. Researchers in one randomized, double-blinded study found that those participants who had allergic rhinitis and who took curcumin for two months alleviated their sneezing and congestion and improved nasal airflow compared to those who took a placebo.16 Curcumin is not easily absorbed. For more information on curcumin, its benefits, contraindications, and how to improve its absorption, see our blog post on turmeric.
Several studies (but not all) showed that the herb butterbur may be useful in the treatment of seasonal allergies.17 A study compared the efficacy of 100 mg butterbur with 10 mg cetirizine (Zyrtec) treatment daily for 4 weeks in patients with perennial allergic rhinitis and demonstrated that both options were equally effective.18 According to WebMD, butterbur may cause belching, headache, itchy eyes, diarrhea, upset stomach, fatigue, and drowsiness. But it seems to cause less drowsiness and fatigue than cetirizine (Zyrtec) when taken for allergies.
Other Herbal Helps
Stinging nettles supplements inhibit the release of histamines that trigger allergic symptoms. Early evidence suggests that this supplement may be useful for hay fever symptoms and allergic rhinitis.19The anti-oxidant seasoning oregano provides anti-histamine and anti-septic effects while thyme improves the clearance of excess mucus and provides anti-inflammatory actions. Additionally, thyme can help to relieve coughing.20 The herb rosemary inhibits inflammation by at least four known mechanisms. Its rosmarinic acid decreases the activation of immune responder cells that promote swelling and other allergic symptoms.
Be sure to check with your pharmacist if you are taking medication, if pregnant, or have a serious medical condition before using any herb in medicinal amounts.
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. In baby boomers, allergy shots reduced symptoms by 55 percent after three years of therapy. They decreased the amount of medication needed for relief of symptoms by 64 percent.21
© 2022, Wildwood Sanitarium. All rights reserved.
Disclaimer: The information in this article is educational and general in nature. Neither Wildwood Lifestyle Center, its entities, nor author intend this article as a substitute for medical diagnosis, counsel, or treatment by a qualified health professional.
- Gray, Shelly L. Cumulative Use of Strong Anticholinergics and Incident Dementia. JAMA Internal Medicine, 2015
- Rosenkranz RR. Dietary factors associated with lifetime asthma or hayfever diagnosis in Australian middle-aged and older adults: a cross-sectional study. Nutr J. 2012 Oct 12;11:84. doi: 10.1186/1475-2891-11-84
- Mokarizadeh, A. A comprehensive review of pesticides and the immune dysregulation: mechanisms, evidence and consequences. Toxicol Mech Methods. 2015 Mar 11:1-21
- Kompauer I. Association of fatty acids in serum phospholipids with hay fever, specific and total immunoglobulin E. Br J Nutr. 2005 Apr;93(4):529-35
- Loyola University Health System. “Spring allergies linked to specific food allergies, says specialist.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 7 April 2014. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/04/140407164836.htm
- Ukhanova M. Probiotics Lactobacillus gasseri KS-13, Bifidobacterium bifidum G9-1, and Bifidobacterium longum MM-2) improve rhinoconjunctivitis-specific quality of life in individuals with seasonal allergies: a double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized trial. Am J Clin Nutr. 2017 Mar; 105(3):758-767
- Wist, M., The Vitamin D Slant on Allergies. Pediatr Allergy Immunol, 2006.
Arnedo-Pena A. Sunny hours and variations in the prevalence of asthma in schoolchildren according to the International Study of Asthma and Allergies (ISAAC) Phase III in Spain. Int J Biometeorol. 2011 May; 55(3):423-34
- Pynnonen, M., et al., Nasal saline for chronic sinusnasal symptoms; A randomized control trial. Arch otolaryngol Head Neck Surg, 133(11):1115-20,2007
- Wong, C., What is Nasal Irrigation? About.com Dec.23,2008
- Thomas, C. Ho! My Sinus. J Health & Healing, 19(2):15, 1996
- Ohio State University. “Stress, Anxiety Can Make Allergy Attacks Even More Miserable And Last Longer.”. ScienceDaily, 17 August 2008. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/08/080814154327.htm
- Patterson, AM. Perceived stress predicts allergy flares. Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol. 2014 Apr;112(4):317-21
- University of California – Riverside. “Third-hand smoke just as deadly as first-hand smoke, study finds.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 30 January 2014. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/01/140130190453.htm
American Physiological Society. “Secondhand smoke may provoke inflammatory response in lungs.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 27 August 2010. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/08/100826141230.htm
- Yamprasert, Rodsarin et al. “Ginger extract versus Loratadine in the treatment of allergic rhinitis: a randomized controlled trial.” BMC complementary medicine and therapies vol. 20,1 119. 20 Apr. 2020, doi:10.1186/s12906-020-2875-z
- Prevention of allergic rhinitis by ginger and the molecular basis of immunosuppression by 6-gingerol through T cell inactivation. September 2015. https://www.researchgate.net/journal/The-Journal-of-nutritional-biochemistry-0955-2863
- Wu S, Xiao D. Effect of curcumin on nasal symptoms and airflow in patients with perennial allergic rhinitis. Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol. 2016 Dec;117(6):697-702.e1. doi: 10.1016/j.anai.2016.09.427.
- Koslov V. et. al., Evidence-based phytotherapy in allergic rhinitis. August 6, 2008. International Journal of Phytomedicine and Phytotherapy. https://clinphytoscience.springeropen.com/articles/10.1186/s40816-018-0080-0
- Skoner DP,, et al. Effect of cetirizine on symptom severity and quality of life in perennial allergic rhinitis. Allergy Asthma Proc. 2014;35(4):338–45. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24992553/
- Kemmerich B, Eberhardt R, Stammer H. Efficacy and tolerability of a fluid extract combination of thyme herb and ivy leaves and matched placebo in adults suffering from acute bronchitis with productive cough. A prospective, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial. Arzneimittelforschung. 2006;56(9):652-60. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17063641/
- American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology. “Allergy shots effective for baby boomers suffering from seasonal allergies: Symptoms were reduced by 55 percent after 3 years of therapy.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 9 February 2016. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/02/160209090347.htm