After a long cold northeast winter, the light and warmth of the spring season is always a refreshing balm to the body and soul. The fresh green growth, the sun’s mounting heat, the song of returning birds – these all call us to spend more time out of doors after our extended hibernation. Unfortunately for many individuals, this breath of fresh air is sullied by a rapid increase in uncomfortable allergic symptoms. Seasonal allergies are the fifth most common chronic medical condition in America, and sufferers will be all too intimately familiar with the typical presentation – itchy running eyes and nose, sneezing, upper respiratory congestion, and headache. Many people survive the season only with the daily use of one or more over-the-counter allergy medications, which do their part to reduce symptoms but often are accompanied by bothersome side effects such as drowsiness or irritability. Fortunately, there is another way to treat seasonal allergies, and in many cases even reduce them entirely.
Consider the Cause
So where do allergies come from? As with many medical conditions, there is a genetic component that is fixed. Parents that suffer from allergies tend to have more allergic children. But there are many other controllable factors as well. Unsurprisingly, air quality is a significant factor. Regular exposure to tobacco smoke and living in an industrialized (polluted) area both increase risk. Additionally, research increasingly shows that regular exposure to naturally present levels of bacteria and viruses earlier in life lowers risk of developing allergies later on. So parents are recommended to lay off the anti-bacterial soaps and wipes that seem to have increased in popularity in the past number of years. Children who have had more regular intake of fermented foods also show reduced allergic symptoms in adulthood, suggesting a relationship between the digestive system and healthy immune function. Indeed, from a naturopathic perspective, this a key consideration in getting to the potential underlying causes of many allergic conditions.
The Digestive Link
The last decade has seen an explosion of research into the vital function of the gut microbiome (a system of naturally occurring beneficial bacteria) in all manner of health issues. What has evolved is the understanding that there is a strong relationship between a healthy digestive system and a healthy immune system. In fact, 70% of our immune system is actually in our gastrointestinal system, within what is known as GALT – gut associated lymphatic tissue. So it should be of no surprise that maintaining a healthy digestive system is an imperative foundation for reducing all manner of allergies, including hay fever. Eating a broad spectrum of fruits and vegetables and avoiding heavily processed foods filled with sugar and preservatives is a great first step. It is also important to work with your physician to identify and eliminate any dietary allergies or intolerances, which may be causing an increased level of inflammation throughout the body. Clinically, we see this as one of the most important steps in actually reducing the severity of seasonal allergies over the longer term. Additionally, a broad spectrum probiotic supplement taken regularly can reduce seasonal symptoms.
As naturopathic physicians, we are always working to identify and treat the underlying causes of disease. But as springtime is upon us, it is also important to consider the many tools at our disposal in the reduction of allergic symptoms. Most people find a combination that works well for them without the uncomfortable side effects common with OTC medications.
Quercetin – A naturally occurring antioxidant, quercetin is found in many of the foods we eat, including apples, onions, grapes, and black tea. It has been shown to have anti-histamine effect when taken regularly in larger doses.
Vitamin C – We are all familiar with the importance of vitamin C for a healthy immune system. In addition to anti-histamine effects of its own, vitamin C increases the effectiveness of bioflavonoids such as quercetin, so these are most effective when used in combination.
Vitamin D – Levels of vitamin D are often lowest in the spring, following the long winter of reduced sun exposure. Maintaining optimal levels through the year can reduce seasonal allergy symptoms.
Herbal Medicine – There are many herbs that help to reduce the symptoms of seasonal allergies. One of our favorites at the office is stinging nettle (Urtica dioica). It has a powerful anti-histamine effect, and is very safe even at high doses. Additionally, nettle has a general anti-inflammatory effect in the body, and offers the added benefit of being high in vitamins and minerals.
Homeopathy – There are a number of homeopathic remedies that can be effective in the treatment of seasonal allergies. The correct remedy will often rapidly reduce symptoms, can be taken as often as necessary, and has no side effects. Your naturopathic physician can recommend the appropriate remedy based on your individual symptom picture.
Other Helpful Tips – For individuals suffering from seasonal allergies, it is important to take steps to reduce the allergic load – i.e., lower exposure to irritating allergens. This might include showering before bed, cleaning bedsheets regularly, or keeping a HEPA quality air filter in the bedroom. The daily use of a neti pot or sinus rinse can be life changing for many allergy sufferers, simply by removing the accumulated pollen from the nostril cavity where it is causing irritation.
Using naturopathic medicine to reduce symptoms in the short term, while working on improving digestive health and lowering overall inflammation is the best route toward reducing the impact that allergic rhinitis has on your life. In fact, the treatment of seasonal allergies is a yearlong endeavor. Research shows a strong connection between severity of allergic symptoms and levels of stress and anxiety – yet another reason to find tools to manage the daily stressors in your life. Your naturopathic doctor will work with you to develop a comprehensive plan to improve your health this season, and in the months and years ahead. You deserve to fully embrace the joy and delight that is springtime!
Dr. Fasullo has a family practice in Manchester, CT at Connecticut Natural Health Specialists. All of the physicians at the clinic are in network providers for most insurance companies and are accepting new patients. For more information or questions, please call (860) 533-0179 or visit www.ctnaturalhealth.com