Spring is blooming— plants, trees and flowers are all coming alive. But for people who suffer from allergies, the season that beckons you to come smell the roses brings with it a feeling of dread—along with sneezing, stuffiness and itchy eyes.
“Eight to 10 percent of adults and kids have hay fever,” says Amy Rothenberg, N.D., co-founder of Naturopathic Health Care in Northampton, Mass. This number is even higher in other countries around the world, usually between 10 and 30 percent, says Rothenberg, likely due to exacerbation from pollution.
In 2000, there were 8,455 grains of pollen per cubic meter in the United States. It is estimated that by 2040, this number will bypass 21,000 grains per cubic meter. What does this mean? “Allergy season is more prevalent, symptomatic and lasts longer,” Rothenberg says. “It has been lasting three to four weeks longer than it has in other years. And we have longer pollen seasons.”
So what to do if you’re an allergy sufferer? Short of planning a vacation until allergy season is over, there are lifestyle and supplement considerations that can help you fend off the worst of it. Start by cleaning up your diet, suggests Jody Shevins, N.D., of Longmont, Colo. “If you have food sensitivities or are eating sugar, you need to correct those things. If you have a dietary allergy, it will irritate you more if you eat those foods during allergy season,” she explains. “Eating sugar tends to make people more reactive.”
Sleep and stress should not be underestimated either, Rothenberg says. People are more susceptible to a weakened immune system if they have excess stress or an underlying illness, or are lacking sleep. Unmanaged stress can make hay fever worse, she adds.
The goal, Rothenberg says, is to develop a more robust and diverse immune system. For this, she recommends including fermented and cultured foods—such as yogurt, kefir, miso and kombucha—in your diet throughout the day. Having lower stomach acid also can help. For this reason, taking a daily dose of apple cider vinegar or bitters can optimize stomach function.
Another consideration, Shevins says, is pollen hygiene. “You want to keep pollen off of your dog and your own hair, eyebrows and clothing. If your kids are rolling around in the grass, have them come in, take a shower and change clothes. And wipe down your dog with a washcloth,” she says.
If pollen is flying around, don’t hang the sheets out to dry. If you keep your windows open during the day or at night, cover your bed and pillowcases so pollen isn’t drifting in and landing on the very place where you are going to rest your head. “Run a wet comb through your hair at night. Pollen is like Velcro; it sticks to everything,” Shevins says.
Ultimately, the aim of these efforts is to stabilize mast cells in your blood. These are the cells that release histamine and cause the allergic reaction. When allergens enter the body through nasal passages or the digestive tract, your mast cells react by overloading the body with histamine. So, if you’ve tried all these lifestyle suggestions and you’re still sneezing, consider these other options.
Often used to treat bronchitis and asthma. It has been shown to be as effective as Zyrtec and Allegra, Rothenberg says. In adults it helps battle hay fever. Recommended dose: 500 mg once or twice daily
Learn more about butterbur.
Enhances adrenal function. It is easy to get low on zinc, especially if you are stressed, Rothenberg says, but supporting the adrenals can lessen allergic reactions. Recommended dose: 15–30 mg a day
Learn more about zinc.
This fend-off-a-cold vitamin is also good for fighting allergies, because it’s a natural antihistamine. Recommended dose: Up to 1,000 mg, three to five times a day
Learn more about vitamin C.
Stabilizes the mast cell membrane, so when allergens show up, you don’t release as much histamine. It is also a flavonoid, so it can be found in colorful fruits and vegetables. If you eat the rainbow, you will get quercetin, Rothenberg says. Recommended dose: 1,000–3,000 mg daily
Learn more about quercetin.
Eighty percent of your immune system arises from your gut. A less diverse and robust microbiome compromises the immune system and makes it more susceptible to allergies. Rothenberg recommends taking probiotics but switching them up each month to support the microbiome and make it more robust and diverse to balance immune function. Rothenberg suggests taking probiotics before bed, so they are not competing with food digestion.
Use nasal saline to clear your nasal passages and remove pollen from your nose hairs. Also remember to hydrate. If you have dried mucous membranes, they will be more vulnerable to irritation, Shevins says.
Try using lavender and menthol essential oils to open the nasal passages. Turn on a humidifier, and drop a few of these oils in it to fill the air with moisture and a comforting aroma.
Clean Your Eyelashes
If you are prone to seasonal allergies, then you are likely familiar with having itchy, even weepy eyes. There are a few things you can do for this, experts say. First, wash your eyelashes in the morning when you wake up and again when you go to bed. If it is allergy season, you can even use mild soap or baby shampoo to give eyelashes a bit more of a scrub. Although we wash our face and hands, we do not intuitively think to wash our eyelashes. But our eyelashes are sticky, and they hold onto things such as pollen.
Raw Honey and Apple Cider Vinegar
Raw honey has been shown to diminish allergy symptoms—but it has to be local. Why? When you eat local honey, you are ingesting local pollen. So over time, you may become less sensitive to this pollen and may experience fewer seasonal allergy symptoms. Take honey with apple cider vinegar and water as a drink to balance immune function. It breaks up mucus and supports lymphatic drainage, Rothenberg says. Try: 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, 1 teaspoon honey.