From the day I came into this world I’ve had allergies. In elementary school I was that snotty little kid on the playground with dark circles under her eyes and a ring around the bridge of her nose from so much rubbing. My nose was constantly itching. Despite the allergy shots, occasional nebulizer, sterilized home environment, and avoidance of foods that set me off – my allergies plagued me all the way into my 20’s. I had regular sinus infections, rounds of antibiotics, headaches, inhalers, nosebleeds from over drying anti-histamines, and Sudafed fatigue. As a child my allergies were so bad that it led to a condition called “failure to thrive” because I was sick so often.
I know allergies intimately - but I dumped them a long time ago.
The trifecta that set me on the course to an allergy free life was a diet upgrade, a well-timed supplement regimen, and acupuncture. Those of us that are allergic to pollen, dust, mold and pet dander know that the spring and fall are when we’re most susceptible to really getting sick with sinuses full of garbage.
Keeping your allergies to a minimum is all based on managing inflammation, minimizing allergen exposure and immune response. Next week I’ll do a deep dive into why acupuncture works to mediate histamine immune response – but in the meantime, there are plenty of things you can do to control your body’s inflammatory response and reduce your exposure to allergens without having to rip out all the carpeting in your home.
9 Ways to Survive Allergy Season
1. Avoid foods that cause inflammation, which means cutting out wheat, dairy, sugar, and alcohol from your diet – even if it’s just for the season. Allergies are an immune mediated inflammatory response – your body doesn’t like what it came in contact with and is going to set off whatever alarms it can to motivate you to get out of the situation. Regular consumption of wheat, dairy, sugar and alcohol cause low-grade chronic inflammation that sometimes ride just under the radar. If you’re already inflamed and have contact with an allergen, the reaction is going to be worse than if your systemic inflammation was kept to a dull roar. By cutting these foods out and letting your system cool down, you may discover that the edge has been taken off your allergies.
2. A few choice supplements: A simple regimen of daily high quality probiotics, Quercetin, Vitamin D and Omega 3’s will give your body the resources it needs to keep your allergies from going into complete chaos. These are all things that can be found in food, but it’s difficult to get the amount necessary to alleviate allergies from food alone. This regime works best when you allow it some time to build up in your system, so start about 4-6 weeks before allergy season to help prevent symptoms. Even if you feel you missed the boat – it’s never to late to start.
- Probiotics: I can’t sing their praises enough. In 2008, researchers published a study where they discovered that people who took probiotics throughout allergy season had lower levels of an antibody that triggered allergy symptoms. They also had higher levels of a different antibody (IgG), thought to play a protective role against allergic reactions.
- Quercetin is naturally found in foods like citrus or broccoli and is a natural bioflavonoid that helps stabilize mast cells to keep them from releasing histamine. It’s also a potent antioxidant that is said to help reduce inflammation – so you really do get a two for one with this. To be effective, you need to start with 300mg twice a day and should only use for the season. If you’re nursing, pregnant or on other medications – get the green light from your doctor before starting.
- Vitamin D is all the rage and it’s regularly tested for in blood panels because 80% of us are deficient. Vitamin D is necessary to immune health and is also highly anti-inflammatory. Vitamin D helps inhibit pulmonary inflammatory responses while at the same time helping our internal defense mechanisms against respiratory pathogens.
- Omega 3 Fatty Acids – there’s still debate in the scientific community as to how well Omega 3’s actually help with respiratory allergies. Clinically, however, I’ve seen it work with patients. I often recommend Omega fats and am a huge fan of Udo’s 3-6-9 oil – which you can now purchase in capsules. It’s vegan and has the right ratio of Omegas your body can properly use it.
3. See your acupuncturist: Yes, as an acupuncturist I’m biased; however, the studies back me up. In a small but significant study of 26 hay fever patients published in the American Journal of Chinese Medicine, acupuncture reduced symptoms in all 26 -- without side effects. A second study of some 72 people totally eliminated symptoms in more than half, with just two treatments. This is one arena where acupuncture truly shines. The best time to receive acupuncture is prophylactically before allergy season kicks off; however, you can still expect to receive some relief even if you start your appointments mid-season. I have a number of patients who come in for “allergy tune-ups” a couple times a year since that’s all they really need!
4. Wash your nose: Neti pots – love them or hate them, they keep your nose clean. They’re an ancient form of nasal irrigation that cleanses the sinus cavity with saline solution and flushes out pollen, dust and other environmental irritants. They rinse out thin mucus without drugs or side effects – and there’s something vaguely satisfying about washing the inside of your nose. I recommend using them often, but personally don’t have the coordination to use them myself. Instead, I use Ocean Nasal Rinse as an alternative because I find the delivery system to be a bit easier.
5. Shower before going to sleep: Pollen and spring allergens enjoy hitching a ride in you hair and on your clothing when you’re running around outside all day. Make sure your clothes go directly into the dirty laundry hamper and be sure to wash not only your body, but wash your hair as well with shampoo and water to get everything rinsed off. Dry shampoo removes oil and dirt but won’t remove dust or pollen.
6. Upgrade your sleeping scenario: The bedroom is where we spend about one third of our lives and is where we often experience prolonged contact with allergens. Cover your pillows, mattress and box springs with an allergy-proof casing and keep your bedding fresh by changing your sheets once a week. Quilts and blankets are some of the worst allergy offenders simply because they never get washed. So use a duvet cover and set aside the decorative quilt at night.
7. Keep the air moist: Don’t pack up the humidifier quite yet. Water droplets bind to the allergens, which then get heavy and fall to the floor so you don’t inhale them. Use clean water with a touch of vinegar to prevent mold from growing since spring isn’t as dry as winter and you’re try to relieve the allergen scenario, not create more.
8. Clean up the joint: With so many of us working long hours and coming home late, a clean house is often the least of our worries. But if you’re suffering from allergies, buy a good air filter and take a few hours on Sunday to catch-up on some chores.
- Vacuum smarter and more often: Curtains, carpets and upholstery harbor pollen that comes in through open windows or brought in from outside on your clothes. Frequent vacuuming (especially by a vacuum with a HEPA filter) will reduce indoor triggers. These vacuums are more expensive but are absolutely worth the investment because they’re built with micro-fine filters that prevent allergen particles from kicking back up into the air.
- Wash your curtains and blinds: Open windows are always a welcome relief. However, curtains will often harbor pollen and dust allergens because not only does the material tend to catch everything getting blown in from outside, but we rarely clean them. Clear the winter dust off your curtains by putting them in the washing machine and gently drying them. Don’t hang them outside to air dry since they’ll pick up pollen that you’ll be tracking back into the house.
- Clean the air: Air filters are a small miracle when the pollen counts start to creep up. A stand-alone air filter can help allergy and asthma sufferers breathe easier, because they are designed to trap smoke, pollen, dust and other larger particulates in the air. The best types to use are UV air purifiers or HEPA air filters that can capture at least 90 percent of particles as small as 0.3 microns. They’re especially great to run next to the bed while you’re sleeping. Another option is replacing furnace filters with HEPA air filters designed to trap bothersome particles as they travel through heating vents.
9. Wash your pets: Our little buddies are our family. When they’re traipsing about outside though, they carry things in with them. As annoying as it is, wash your pets weekly to keep dander levels low and allergens that stick to them to a minimum. It’s unrealistic to expect one to keep pets out of the bedroom or rooms with upholstery, so be sure to brush your buddies as often as possible between washes.