April 24, 2017
It’s that time of year when flowers start to bloom, but it’s also the start of the itchiness and irritation that can come with seasonal allergies. Even in midtown Manhattan, the pollen count has been notably high in recent years—one drawback to being sandwiched between Bryant and Central parks.
Over-the-counter or prescription medications can be very effective in managing symptoms. For those who are affected strongly by seasonal allergies, medicine is often the only method that brings relief. However, here at Midtown Integrative Health & Wellness, we urge patients to try a range of natural remedies before turning to medication.
Acupuncture: This traditional Chinese medicine practice has helped many to relieve hay fever symptoms. The thin needles inserted into the body can diminish the effect of inflammatory immune system substances involved in allergic reactions.
Green tea: Green tea contains a compound (methylated epigallocatechin gallate) that has been shown in lab tests to have antioxidant properties that inhibit allergic reactions.
Dietary changes: “Unlike with food allergies, dietary changes for seasonal allergies will likely provide a more subtle relief,” says Willow Jarosh, our center’s nutritionist and registered dietitian. “In general, any foods that help fight inflammation, which are important anyway, are smart for seasonal allergy sufferers to add during this time of year.” Willow recommends:
- Foods rich in vitamin C, like strawberries, citrus, kiwi, sweet peppers, kale, broccoli, and tomatoes can help to reduce the amount of histamine in the body. Reducing histamine can help reduce allergic response.
- Foods rich in vitamin E, like almonds, avocado, sunflower seeds, and dark leafy greens might help to reduce inflammation in the nasal passages. Vitamin E is a potent antioxidant that helps to keep cells all over our body protected.
- A potent antioxidant called quercitin, has been studied for its potential to inhibit histimine (think of those anti-histimines you see sold for reducing allergy symptoms) and decrease inflammation. Quercitin is found in apples, onions, grapes, broccoli, green and black tea, and many herbs and spices.
- Local honey that hasn’t been heated or strained, so it still includes the local pollen, is anecdotally said to help our bodies build up resistance to local allergens. While this isn’t heavily researched, it doesn’t hurt to include local honey in your diet before allergy season strikes.
- A diet high in Omega 3s (including fatty fish like sardines, salmon, herring, walnuts, flax seeds, hemp seeds, and chia seeds), a natural anti-inflammatory, might help with allergies and certainly doesn’t hurt, as it’s been shown to have additional positive health benefits. A popular version is the Mediterranean diet, which includes lots of fruits, vegetables, beans, whole grains, fish, and olive oil, with a smaller amount of meat.
- Probiotic-rich foods, like yogurt, kefir, kimchi/sauerkraut and other fermented vegetables, water kefir, and kombucha all contain strains of bacteria that your gut really likes. And research continues to show that a happy gut supports a healthy immune system.
- Hot spices like ginger, horseradish, spicy mustards, chile, etc. can help to naturally clear the sinuses when you’re feeling congested.
- If you are experiencing abundant mucus in your sinuses and chest, reducing your dairy intake during allergy season may be something you want to try. While dairy affects people in different ways, there is some evidence that it may increase mucus production.
Nettle leaf or butterbur: Nettle leaf (pictured), which can be brewed as stinging nettle tea, has anti-inflammatory properties that provide relief from itchy eyes and running noses.
Butterbur, which can be found in extract form, is an herb that has been known to treat pollen allergies. It’s been used as an antihistamine to reduce nasal symptoms without the drowsiness associated with Benadryl.
Neti pot: There are those who swear by this drug-free method for clearing allergens from your nasal passages. To use one, you insert the pot’s spout into one nostril and tilt your head to the side to allow the saline solution to flow up the nasal passage and then out the other nostril. The technique is then repeated on the opposite side. The salt solution* loosens mucus to relieve congestion and clears out allergens such as pollen or pet dander (*a note to always use distilled water, not tap).
Eucalyptus oil: This fragrant essential oil can help clear your sinuses. It’s known for possessing anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties.
Allergy-proof your home: Make sure you wash your bedding with the hot cycle regularly to kill off any dust mites. Try allergy-free covers for your mattress and pillows, which are widely available at home stores.
Vacuum regularly and use high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters in your HVAC vents, which can contain allergens. Portable air cleaners can also help in rooms that need extra clean air such as your bedroom.
“I have patients who don’t realize how many allergens are found in their home,” says Dr. Robert Bos, an internist in our office. “Most contaminants are not visible and mold can be very prevalent, especially in the tri-state area.”
Also, try to use natural or organic cleaning products as opposed to chemical-laden household cleaners.
If you use a humidifier, be sure to disinfect it regularly (daily if possible) with white vinegar diluted with filtered water.
Get in the habit of changing out of your outside clothes and into a set of “home clothes” that have not been exposed to the allergens found outdoors. Wash the clothes you wear outside more frequently to get rid of pollen and other pollutants.