That’s a trick question, really, because you probably are ready for a change in season, but are you ready for what that change is going to bring? It has been quite a winter for many people across the country, and from California to the East Coast, many of us have had something in common: a lot of winter moisture. Now that temperatures are rising, all that moisture will surely help produce a gorgeous array of spring color. While beautiful, these blooms can also be a bit tortuous to some.
If you suffer from springtime allergies, there are several strategies that you should consider to prevent and control symptoms. Maintaining healthy sinus and upper respiratory tracts and increasing antihistamines can greatly reduce symptoms. Facing a potentially harsh spring, the earlier you begin, the better.
Saline sprays and Neti pots have become increasingly popular and serve to decrease reactivity for many. Simply used to rinse the nasal cavity, this process helps flush out allergens and irritants before your body has too much time to react to them. Starting this regime before your allergies begin can help delay the onset of your allergy season; maintaining this habit can decrease daily reactivity even after allergies begin. Neti pots tend to be a more complete flush, but if you can’t stand the idea of the pouring water into your nose, the gentler nasal sprays are a good alternative.
It is also important to improve the health of your sinus cavities with the use of a probiotic. Probiotics are good flora or bacteria that inhabit our mucous membranes. Good flora defends against allergens, so probiotics should be initiated prior to the onset of symptomsfor chronic sufferers. Continue to use probiotics throughout the season, as constantly inoculating the sinus cavities can prevent seasonal allergies from progressing to a bacterial sinus infection. Probiotics should be at least over a billion in count and of mixed species. I prefer refrigerated capsules or powders. Yogurts and fermented foods contain naturally occurring good bacteria, but at a smaller amount, which may not be effective in the prevention or treatment of allergies. Yogurt is also not always the best source for allergy sufferers because the dairy can increase mucous production and foil your preventive efforts.
If your allergies come with a lot of congestion, an amino acid called n-acetyl-cysteine (NAC) works as a safe and effective mucolytic (it thins mucous to prevent congestion). NAC is found in chicken, especially its bone broth, or you can take via supplement at 600mg one to three times daily. Initiating an NAC might cause an initial increase in postnasal drip, but this should lessen after a couple of days and help prevent any long-term sinusitis issues that frequently plague chronic allergy sufferers.
In addition to improving the health of your sinus and upper respiratory tract, antihistamines should be started at least as exposures to histaminic producing allergens begin. Controlling histamine is the most common traditional strategy for allergy treatment, and there are a handful of nutrients that work in the same manner as popular antihistamine medications. Vitamin C (at 1000mg 3-4 times per day) and bioflavonoids, including quercetin and hesperidin (typically at 250-500mg 2-3 times per day), act to stabilize mast cells. Mast cells contain histamine, and when they come in contact with allergens, they literally burst open and release histamine into your system. This causes runny nose, sneezing, and watery eyes, which are basically your body’s way of pushing the allergens out. Antihistamines serve to make mast cells less susceptible to bursting, preventing such a dramatic histamine release, and reducing your symptoms. Bioflavonoids can have some contraindications, especially with healing, so this combination should be reviewed with your physician before beginning a high dose.
There are also several herbs which function as antihistamines or that have been used anecdotally for allergies including goldenseal, Urtica (stinging nettles), feverfew, and butterbur. Many sufferers find relief by using combination herbs throughout the season. Dosages vary based on combinations, and as with all herbal treatments, a physician should be overseeing possible medication interactions.
Homeopathic forms of herbs can also be symptom relieving for many. Using very small amounts of problematic trees, blooms, and grasses from your area, these remedies serve to expose you very slightly to the allergens that are causing your symptoms so that your body can react to and defend against the allergen, but without the dramatic symptoms. Allersodes, as they are often called, are formulated for many regions in the U.S. so that you can take the allergens from the trees, grasses, and blooms that you are most exposed to.
Naturopathically, beyond stabilizing your mast cells, we consider other allergens that could be contributing to your “allergic threshold.” When possible, we decrease your exposure to not only airborne allergens such as blooms, dander, and mold, but we often investigate food intolerances. If foods that your body reacts to can be removed from your diet, your threshold will be higher, and you will not be as symptomatic, even when you are exposed to airborne allergens. You can be tested via bloodwork for food intolerances so that you can avoid those foods in particular. If you do not want to test for intolerances (which often needs to be repeated from year to year to be effective for allergy control), you can initiate a generally hypoallergenic diet prior to and throughout the season. Common food intolerances to avoid include dairy, wheat, egg, and soy.
Spring is a beautiful time of year and this spring promises to turn the winter moisture into beauty. Start early and be consistent with your treatment, and even if you are a chronic allergy sufferer, you too can enjoy the great season ahead.
Stay healthy & be well!
Amy Whittington, NMD