It's that time of year again! The crocuses are sprouting from their thawing terrain, the weather is slowly turning warmer, allowing us to shed our cocoons of winter clothing... is that sound of a robin I hear?
Achoo! Hold on, that's not the sweet song of our red breasted friend but rather the chorus of the ever uninvited guest, seasonal allergies!
For many the seasonal transition from winter to spring includes not only thoughts of warmer weather, gardening, and lighter clothing, but also the bothersome and downright annoying symptoms of seasonal allergies.
These symptoms can include, but are not limited to, itchy and watery eyes, runny nose, cough, as well as aggravate asthma in some individuals.
While there are any number of culprits when it comes to seasonal allergies, the main players often include common ragweed (Ambrosia artemisiifolia), pollen, mold and grass [9, 10, 14].
The warmer weather of seasonal change signals for plants to grow and release particles into the air in the hopes to spread their seeds and propagate . Unfortunately, when potential allergy sufferers inhale these same particles, an allergic reaction is triggered and the body mounts an IgE (immunoglobulin E) immune response, releasing histamine in the body [3, 14].
This histaminic response is your body's way of trying to eliminate these unwanted particles via routes of elimination from your lungs, skin, eyes and nose . While this might be your body's way of protecting itself, unfortunately this response can be exaggerated in some, giving rise to a variety of allergy symptoms [9, 10, 14].
So what's an allergy sufferer to do when you're literally itching to get outside?!
While there are any number of pharmaceuticals to take to decrease your allergy symptoms (ie. anti-histamines), giving some more natural options a try might be just what you need to send your seasonal allergies back into hibernation, especially in advance of when you typically start to experience spring sniffles.
The 3 Best Ways to Send Seasonal Allergies Back Into Hibernation - Naturally
1. Natural Anti-Histamines:
We all know the key to any problem is to look at the source, and our health is no different. Anti-histamines are chemical structures that block the binding of histamine to its receptor sites in the body, helping to evade our body's exaggerated allergic response and symptoms .
Foods high in vitamin C and bioflavonoids (which contribute to the bright colours of fruits and vegetables) are natural anti-histamines and also have the bonus properties of helping to prevent cancer and cardiovascular disease [4, 6].
- Try incorporating foods such as oranges, lemons, peaches, papaya, mango, sweet peppers, broccoli, brussel sprouts, organic strawberries, garlic, spinach, and green tea into your diet for their anti-histamine effects 
- Quercetin and spirulina can be taken preventatively for those with all types of allergies, including seasonal, pet, dust, and food . Quercetin is a natural anti-histamine that promotes heart health and decreases inflammation and oxidative damages . It is sometimes combined with digestive enzymes (bromelain, papain) and vitamin C to minimize the inflammatory response of the immune system.
2. Say Goodbye to Stress:
Stress affects everyone in many different ways, however when it comes to allergy sufferers, the experience of and one's ability to deal with stress, can influence the severity of allergic symptoms .
In fact, research has shown that even slight stressors can substantially worsen one's allergic reaction to even routine allergens, and also lead them to get worse over time . While we cannot always control stressful situations and events in our lives, we CAN control our responses to them. Meditation, regular exercise, as well as healthy eating are all ways to help combat stress.
Vitamins and minerals, such as B12, B5, and magnesium are also great at helping our bodies cope, improving our body's response to stress.
- Try including foods high in B vitamins and magnesium such as legumes, salmon, sardines, seafood, meat, fowl, eggs, avocado, dark green veggies, green peas, cauliflower, nuts, seeds, dates, fruit, sweet potatoes, and whole grains to control your allergic symptoms .
3. Natural decongestants:
If you've ever suffered the effects of a cold you know the misery of nasal congestion (and who of us hasn't). While our bodies are designed to breathe through both our nose and mouth, this only gets us so far when we're trying to get a full night of sleep without a clear nasal passage.
While you might think that a blocked or stuffy nose is due to mucus accumulation, nasal congestion is actually the result of swollen blood vessels in the mucous membranes lining our nose. Nasal decongestants relieve nasal congestion by narrowing, or constricting, these blood vessels, helping to reduce swelling and allowing you to breathe more easily . While there are plenty of nasal decongestant available over the counter, you might want to try some natural ones.
- Try bitter orange peel, spices (peppermint, cayenne pepper), horseradish, raw garlic, ginger, and onion to help loosen mucous build-up and open up the nasal passages .
"Spring has sprung... a leak" is perhaps a better phrase to reflect the symptoms commonly experienced by allergy sufferers this time of year, from watery eyes to leaky noses. Being ready for seasonal transition with natural solutions is crucial when it comes to controlling allergy symptoms and something to should incorporate into your healthy lifestyle.
It's time to spring into action!
→ Download and print off the easy-to-read Spring Into Action Cheat Sheet HERE, and find out the Top 8 ways to Spring Clean Your Body and Mind for OPTIMAL VITALITY
References1. D. E. Bianchi, D. J. Schwemmin and W. H. Wagner, Jr. Pollen Release in the Common Ragweed (Ambrosia artemisiifolia), Botanical Gazette; Vol. 120, No. 4 (Jun., 1959), pp
2. Dave, Ninabahen D. et al. "Stress and Allergic Diseases." Immunology and Allergy Clinics of North America 31.1 (2011): 55-68. PMC. Web. 25 Mar. 2016. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3264048/
3. Feliu A, González-de-Olano D, González E, Rodriguez B, Ruiz-Hornillos J, Jimeno L, de la Torre F; ESPLORA group. A multicenter study of sensitization profiles in an allergic pediatric population in an area with high allergen exposure. J Investig Allergol Clin Immunol. 2013;23(5):33.
4. Garg, A., Garg, S., Zaneveld, L. J. D. and Singla, A. K. (2001), Chemistry and pharmacology of the citrus bioflavonoid hesperidin. Phytother. Res., 15: 655-669.
5. J.A. Duke. The Green Pharmacy Guide to Healing Foods. Rodale, New York.
6. Murray MT. "Flavonoids." Encyclopedia of Nutritional Supplements. p. 320-3
7. NPS Medicinewise. Nasal Decongestants. www.nps.org.au/medicines/ear-nose-mouth-and-throat/nasal-decongestants. Accessed March 2016
8. Ohio State University. "Stress, Anxiety Can Make Allergy Attacks Even More Miserable And Last Longer." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 17 August 2008.
9.Settipane RA, Kaliner MA. Chapter 14: Nonallergic rhinitis. Am J Rhinol Allergy. 2013 May-Jun;27 Suppl 1:S48-51
10. Smith M, Cecchi L, Skjøth CA, Karrer G, Šikoparija B. Common ragweed: a threat to environmental health in Europe. Environ Int. 2013 Nov;61:115-26.
11. Stevens LJ, Kuczek T, Burgess JR, Hurt E, Arnold LE. Dietary sensitivities and ADHD symptoms: thirty-five years of research. Clin Pediatr (Phila). 2011 Apr;50(4):279-93.
12. Takano H, Osakabe N, Sanbongi C, Yanagisawa R, Inoue K, Yasuda A, Natsume M, Baba S, Ichiishi E, Yoshikawa T. Extract of Perilla frutescens enriched for rosmarinic acid, a polyphenolic phytochemical, inhibits seasonal allergic rhinoconjunctivitis in humans. Exp Biol Med (Maywood). 200
13. Therapeutic Research Faculty, publishers of Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database, Prescriber's Letter, and Pharmacist's Letter. Available at http://naturaldatabase.therapeuticresearch.com/home.aspx?cs=&s=ND
14.Yalcin AD, Basaran S. The effects of climate and aero allergens changes in allergic rhinoconjunctivitis and allergic asthma patients in Mediterranean region between 2011 and 2012. Med Sci Monit. 2013 Aug 28;19:710-1
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Health expert Dr. David Dragoo recommends changing your clothes when you come in from outside, as well as wiping down your shoes before entering your house. Clean your floors, keep windows closed, vacuum regularly, wash bedding and stuffed toys weekly, and change your AC filters. A cyclonic vacuum that spins dust and dirt away from the floor is also a good choice, Dr. James Sublett, president of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology says, or you can get one with a HEPA filter.
Switch to HEPA filters from regular air filters, or consider getting a HEPA air filter in your home if you don’t already have one. Sublett recommends looking for filters with a MERV rating of 11 or 12. Using a dehumidifier at home may also help, Dragoo said. And if your car’s AC has a feature allowing you to recirculate the air inside instead of bringing in air from outside, he suggested using that.
"Bathrooms, basements and areas that are tiled can be especially prone to mold,” Sublett said. Controlling moisture is the key to avoiding mold: use your bathroom fan, clean up any standing water immediately, and avoid vaporizers and humidifiers. "You can also help ward off dust mites and mold by keeping home humidity below 50 per cent and cleaning gutters regularly,” he advised. If you do see visible mold, scrub it off with detergent and water then dry it completely.
Along with pollen, outdoor mold can cause allergy problems in the spring, Sublett said, and counts are particularly high on windy days and after thunderstorms. "Activities such as raking leaves, cleaning up plant debris from over the winter and mulching can lead to significant mold exposure,” he said.
It’s tempting to start digging in the garden once the weather warms up, but you could end up sneezing as a result. Dragoo recommends avoiding outdoor chores that can stir up pollen, like gardening or cutting the grass. “Delegate that to someone in your household who doesn’t suffer from allergies,” he suggested. If that’s not possible, Sublett recommended wearing gloves and a NIOSH-rated N95 filter mask. If you do need or want to spend some time in the great outdoors, try to time it for just after the rain, he said, which decreases the effects of pollen. And wear glasses or sunglasses when outside, Sublett suggested, to help keep pollen from getting in your eyes.
"A common allergy mistake to avoid is to wait until symptoms begin to start taking your allergy medication,” Sublett said. "It’s best to begin medicating about two weeks before symptoms typically begin.” If you’re looking for a medication to help relieve your symptoms, Dragoo suggests looking for one with an antihistamine and/or decongestant — both if your allergies are severe. Antihistamines block the effects of histamine, which is produced by your body in response to allergens and causes symptoms like sneezing and itchy eyes.
"First-generation OTC antihistamines available in the United States can cause drowsiness, and regularly taking them can lead to a feeling of constant sluggishness, affecting learning, memory and performance,” Sublett advised. "Newer antihistamines, now generics — such as lorataine, fexofenadine, and ceterizine and Clarinex and Xyzal, available by prescription — are designed to minimize drowsiness while still blocking the effects of histamine."
"If the over-the counter medication doesn't protect you well through the entire day, it might be time for prescription medicine,” Dragoo advised. Both steroid and antihistamine sprays are more effective than oral medications, Sublett said. Most of these are available with a prescription.
Allergy shots, also called allergen immunotherapy, are actually the most natural and best way of treating allergies, Sublett said. The shots contain extracts of the things that set off your particular allergies. They do require committing to visiting your doctor for the shots regularly.
"Although nasal rinses like the Neti pot may remove mucous and are recommended during a bout of a sinus infection, they should be used with caution,” Sublett advised. "Many times the sinuses are not actually infected, and the symptoms are the result of tissue swelling. If the rinses get into a sinus, they themselves can trigger symptoms.” If you use a Neti pot or other nasal rinse, use sterile water like bottled distilled water or boiled water that has been cooled.
A board-certified allergist is the best-trained health professional for performing allergy testing and treating your allergies and their related conditions effectively, Sublett said. "Self-treating with over-the-counter allergy medications can be ineffective. Allergy sufferers should be under the regular care of a board-certified allergist who will provide the best, individualized treatment for their allergies.” If you don’t currently have an allergist, talk to your family doctor about getting a referral.
To keep pesky pollen, grass and other allergens at bay, keep your windows closed in the morning and at dusk, when allergens are at their peak. Avoid exercising during those times, as well. "If you're running at that time of day, you're basically inoculating yourself," says Lee. Take a shower after being outside to scrub off pollen and other allergens. Same goes for Fido. Give your pets a good washing so they're not dragging pollen into the house. More from AOL Health: Spring Cleaning for Allergy Sufferers Surprising Side Effects of Allergy Medication Worst Allergy Season in 10 Years
The fewer allergens you have in your system, the less you'll sneeze and sniffle. Take a deep breath outside, however, and you'll inhale pollen and other allergens that stick to your mucus membranes. That's where a Neti Pot comes in handy. The hypertonic saline wash can flush out these allergens in your nasal passages. "Pre-made nasal irrigation solutions found at the drugstore are perfectly fine to use," says Lee. She recommends using the Neti Pot twice a day.
This ingredient, found in many spicy foods, comes from the chili pepper plant and can act as a pain reliever. It may also clear up your congestion. An over-the-counter nasal spray for allergies, called Sinol, uses capsaicin. "The spray has an apparent effect on nasal membranes to reduce irritation by allergens such as pollens," says Clifford Bassett, M.D., a member of the faculty at New York University School of Medicine and assistant clinical professor of medicine at the Long Island College Hospital SUNY at Brooklyn.
Oily fish, green leafy vegetables, flaxseed and hemp seed are all rich in omega-3. "The trouble is most people don't get enough in their diet," says Lee. "I prescribe omega-3 for general health as an ant-iinflammatory." This can help reduce inflammation, which amplifies an allergic response. Lee recommends eating oily fish such as salmon, tuna, herring and sardines once or twice a week. If you're not a fish eater, take one to three grams of omega-3 fatty acids from supplements each day.
Found in sunlight and naturally occurring in some foods, such as egg yolks, herring and cod liver oil, vitamin D is vital to protecting muscle strength as we age and in preventing cancer, diabetes and autoimmune diseases and may offer asthma and allergy protection. Ask your doctor to check your vitamin D levels. Lee recommends taking 2,000 international units of vitamin D3 a day if they're low. Or, if it's a warm, sunny day, expose one-third of your body to the sunshine for 10 minutes.
Your spice cupboard is home to a host of tasty allergy remedies. "Get involved in your senses and enjoy spices that inadvertently make your food healthier," says Lee. Both tumeric and ginger are powerful anti-inflammatories that may help reduce nasal and sinus inflammation. And unlike medications, they are also high in antioxidants. Lee says you can reduce inflammation and add more vitamins to your diet all at once by drinking two to three cups of ginger tea a day or cooking with two to four grams of tumeric a day. "It's kind of like getting two medicines in one."
Your body's mast cells are filled with chemicals that cause inflammation. Exposure to an allergen can cause the mast cell to rupture, releasing chemicals that start an allergic reaction. Stinging nettle and quercetin are anti-inflammatory supplements that can act as mast cell stabilizers. Lee recommends taking two to four capsules of stinging nettle every four to six hours. Quercetin works like a natural Benadryl, Lee says. Take 500 mg twice a day.
This herbal supplement avoids the chain reaction of an allergy attack and decreases swelling. "It helps with itchy eyes, swelling in your nose and coughing." Lee recommends taking about 50 mg twice a day.
This ancient medical practice can alleviate many allergy symptoms. But, Lee cautions, you should find an acupuncturist who has trained for at least four years. Lee says you may want to visit an acupuncturist as often as twice a week when your symptoms are at their worst. During the winter when allergies subside, you may not need to see someone at all.
Pollen isn't the only thing that makes a bad allergy season. Chronic stress can contribute. "People with asthma have far worse asthma when they're stressed," says Lee. Allergies are similar. To alleviate stress, Lee recommends an anti-inflammatory diet and deep breathing exercises. AOLHealth.com Related Articles: Spring Cleaning for Allergy Sufferers Surprising Side Effects of Allergy Medication Worst Allergy Season in 10 Years
Follow Dr. Alison Chen, ND on Twitter: www.twitter.com/DrAlisonChenND