Breathe Easier During Allergy Season
‘Tis the season for sneezing, congestion, headaches, and itchy eyes. As the beautiful trees begin to bud and flowers push up through the ground, people return to the drugstore for over-the-counter and prescription remedies. As one dutifully takes medication to control annoying allergy symptoms, they may wonder if there are any alternatives to this expensive solution with varying effectiveness.
It is not just outdoor allergens like pollen and grasses that cause allergy symptoms. Inside the house there are a variety of allergenic particles such as dust, dust mites, pet dander, and mold. The symptoms are the same except that they may occur year-round instead of seasonally. Allergy testing can help to identify allergy triggers whether they are indoor or outdoor.
Choosing the best method to naturally treat allergies starts with understanding what happens in the body when it is exposed to an allergen such as pollen, dust, grass, or mold. The skin forms a protective barrier on the outside of our body, but inside the nasal and sinus cavities, eyelids, throat, and lungs there is a semi-permeable layer of tissue called a mucous membrane. Mucous membranes secrete mucous which is a protective substance. Also present in the mucous membranes are mast cells. Mast cells are part of the immune system. When triggered by small airborne particles they produce a cascade of inflammatory chemicals. This causes symptoms such as runny nose, itchy eyes, sneezing, and post-nasal drip. Particles of environmental allergens such as pollen are harmless. They do not cause infection or disease. People who develop allergies, however, become hypersensitive to these triggers through repeated exposure. A family history of allergies is the most important factor that puts someone at risk for allergic disease. There are several helpful things to try this season which may give relief without the use of medication.
A Neti Pot looks a little like a teapot. It is used to wash the sinuses and nasal passages, also known as nasal irrigation or nasal lavage. Allergens may be inhaled or ingested. The body can rid itself of these from coughing, sneezing, swallowing, blowing the nose, or by sending a white blood cell to engulf the particle. Rinsing the sinuses and nasal passages with a saline solution reduces the load of allergy-causing particles, which reduces the inflammatory reaction. This may shorten the duration or decrease severity of symptoms. I recommend doing it at least once a day before bed to help clear allergens that accumulated during the day.
Keeping allergens out of the bedroom is the number one priority. People typically spend more time in the bedroom than any other room of the house. In addition, allergy symptoms can disrupt sleep, which has other health consequences. Most allergens can be minimized in the bedroom with an air purifier, keeping pets out, removing rugs, and shutting windows during allergy season. Covers for mattresses and pillows may be helpful for dust mite allergies.
There are many effective alternatives to over-the-counter or prescription medication for allergies. The typical ingredients in an herbal allergy supplement may include bromelain, quercetin, vitamin C, bioflavonoids, N-acetyl cysteine, and stinging nettles. Most of these work by inhibiting mast cells, thinning mucous, and reducing inflammation. The different properties of these supplements are synergistic with each other.
Another factor to consider when allergy symptoms are present year-round is food sensitivities. Food sensitivities are delayed food reactions that manifest in a variety of ways. Most people would not think that congestion, sneezing, and post-nasal drip could be caused by reactions to food. Food sensitivities not only trigger allergy symptoms, but also headaches, joint pain, fatigue, and digestive problems. My rule of thumb is that year-round allergy symptoms may be caused by indoor allergies, food sensitivities, or both. Food sensitivity testing helps to identify specific foods which the body is reactive to. It is amazing how often allergies, even seasonal allergies, improve dramatically by removing or limiting food sensitivities.
Dr. Stacey Munro is a Naturopathic physician who specializes in prevention and treatment of chronic health conditions. Following Naturopathic philosophy, she looks for the root cause, rather than just treating symptoms. Dr. Munro prescribes dietary and lifestyle changes, nutritional supplements, herbs, and other natural therapies. Nature’s Helper Medical Clinic 178 Mountain Road, Suffield, CT (860) 758-7808 www.NaturesHelperMedical.com.