Pollen counts are predicted to be especially high this year in the northeast, the result of increased precipitation from Hurricane Sandy and a couple of nor’easters as well as a cold March — meaning that, seasonal allergies (also known as hay fever and allergic rhinitis) are expected to be worse than ever.
Pollen is a fine dust from the male parts of a plant. When it’s cast into the air, and into our noses and throats, our immune systems go into overdrive and produce imunoglobulin e, an antibody that causes cells to release histamines. These result in the symptoms of seasonal allergies.
A report from the Environmental Protection Agency has suggested that climate change could make allergies worse as icreases in temperature, carbon dioxide and precipitation “tend to favor the proliferation of weedy plant species” known to produce allergenic pollen. Some plants may even grown faster, bloom earlier and produce more pollen.
If you’re looking for relief from a runny nose and watery eyes and are trying to avoid routinely taking medications like Claritin, non-drug treatments exist. Even the experts acknowledge that these are not as effective as drugs but they also are not stimulants or have other side effects like drowsiness.
The first thing you can do is to be pro-active and, instead of waiting for the pollen to hit your sinuses, take some measures in advance, the Mayo Clinic underscores. Follow allergy reports and, when high pollen levels are predicted, avoid being outdoors in the early morning when pollen counts are high. Keep the air inside your home clean by using high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters in your bedroom; use the same in a vacuum cleaner.
Quercetin is a natural substance found in fruits, vegetable, red wine, black tea and some grains. Some studies have found that it alleviates some of the effects of pollen by helping to block the release of histamine that causes inflammations. As with any dietary supplement, it’s a good idea to consult with your physician before trying it as a long-term allergy treatment.
Derived from a common weed in Europe, butterbur does not cause sleepiness and seems to function as a leukotriene inhibitor, blocking some of the chemicals that cause swelling in the nasal passages. Some research suggests that extracts of butterbur root can be “as effective at relieving nasal symptoms as prescription drugs like Zyrtec and Allegra.”
Do exercise some caution about taking butterbur, says David Rakel, MD, founder and director of the University of Wisconsin Integrative Medicine Program: the long-term effects of taking it are not known; do not eat raw, unprocessed butterbur root as it is dangerous. As butterbur is actually a distant cousin of ragweed, which many are allergic to, taking it (or some other natural allergy supplements such as echinacea) could make your symptoms worse!
4) Allergy Fighting Foods
Some studies have found that those regularly eating foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids were less likely to have allergy symptoms. Foods including flaxseed oil, walnuts and cold-water fish may help to fight inflammation and the other results of having seasonal allergies. A dose of chili pepper, horse radish or wasabi added to your food can also be a natural, temporary decongestant.
5) Nasal irrigation
Flushing out your nasal passages and sinuses with salt water — somewhat in the way that some use nasal sprays — has been shown to be a “mild and effective” way to treat hay fever symptoms in children. Some recommend using small vessels called Neti pots that have long been used in India.
Patients who receive allergy shots (specific immunotherapy) are injected with small amounts of allergens, to help them build up immunity over time. But these shots don’t work for everyone (and can cause severe reactions in some); they can take up to three years to be effective.
There is another form of this therapy, sublingual immunotherapy (SLIT), in which patients are directed to put very, very small drops of an extract of their allergen (initially a 1:1,000 dilution) under their tongue for two minutes, then swallow. SLIT has been used in Europe for the past two decades but allergy extract has yet to be approved by the FDA in the U.S.
Acupuncture, in which tiny needles are inserted under the skin at specific points, has been found to alleviate seasonal allergies in some people. It’s not clear how it does this, but it is another alternative for allergy sufferers who’ve found that other treatments do not work. More research (including a recent study in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine and a 2008 one done in Germany) backs up acupuncture as a way to help those enduring runny noses and itchy eyes.
How do you manage your allergies in the season of sneezing?
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