Seasonal changes mean misery for many people who suffer from hay fever.
No sooner is someone exposed to pollen, that the immune system is triggered; mistakenly perceiving the harmless allergen to be a dangerous invader, causing sneezing, wheezing, runny nose, watery eyes and sore throat among other symptoms. “Mast cells” in the immune system release histamine, a substance which attaches itself to blood vessels. As these enlarge, the symptoms begin.
Every change of season affects more than 50 million people per annum, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI). The annual cost is more than $18 million as those who suffer from allergic rhinitis scramble to find the best remedies for seasonal allergies.
Fighting Histamines With Antihistamines
Many people seek over-the-counter (OTC) medications to alleviate their pain, and they turn to antihistamines which work by physically stopping histamines from reaching their targets and decreasing the body’s reaction to allergens. Drugs like Claritin (loratadine), Zyrtec (cetirizine) and other drugs work to relieve symptoms but they each come with their own side effects. The problem for most people, however, is that pharmaceutical shelves are filled with antihistamines and decongestants and this can be overwhelming for your average patient without medical knowledge.
Too often people who self-medicate choose the wrong antihistamine or mix these together without relief, according to the Harvard Health Publishing’s journal. To choose the right antihistamine, allergy sufferers should understand the root cause of their allergies. The patient needs to be aware that different antihistamines target different symptoms, while others may clash with other medical conditions or cause side effects. If OTC remedies don’t work, it may be time to visit your doctor for prescription drugs.
When the Cure Causes More Problems
Antihistamines come with their own set of problems. Some of the older OTC drugs caused drowsiness. People have also reported other side-effects, such as vomiting, nausea and even mood swings when taking medicines to combat seasonal allergies.
The People’s Pharmacy, a go-to source for health information, points to withdrawal symptoms which can be caused when some decongestants or antihistamines are stopped suddenly. Certain drugs, such as steroid nasal sprays, can become addictive. For instance, Afrin nasal spray to calm inflammation should not be used for more than a few days. In some cases, long-term use of antihistamines in eye drops or sprays can make symptoms worse.
Soothing Through Natural Remedies
In mild cases, it is better to look to mother nature – and grandma’s herbal remedies – for relief. And there have been studies looking at time-honored ways of treating allergies and whether they have a place in today’s world. In some cases of inflammation, research suggests they may be the best remedies for seasonal allergies.
- Butterbar: Swiss researchers published a study in the British Medical Journal showing that one tablet of butterbur extract four times daily was as effective as an antihistamine drug in controlling seasonal allergies, and their findings were given the seal of approval in a second study by a group of British researchers at the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology’s (AAAAI) 60th meeting.
- Turmeric: A pilot study of 241 patients, published in 2016, found that those who took a turmeric supplement over two months saw a reduction in their allergic rhinitis symptoms.
- Garlic: Raw garlic contains quercetin which was found to suppress beta-hexosaminidase, whose inhibition was found to be beneficial in boosting the immune system to stop allergic reactions according to a 2012 study published in the International Journal of Food Science and Technology, however others see minimal benefits.
- Rosemary: A number of studies have explored the benefits of rosemary, with one study in the European Respiratory Journal showing that rosmarinic acid can have anti-inflammatory effects to combat seasonal allergies.
What to Eat and Drink (Or Avoid)
No food is a cure but there are some foods which can help reduce or worsen seasonal allergies. It is best to add foods which help boost the immune system as these help protect you from histamines.
- Antioxidant quercetin, a natural chemical which reduces seasonal allergy reactions, can be found in apples, onions, dark berries, parsley, cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower. Foods rich in vitamin C, a natural antioxidant, are also helpful, and these can be found in citrus fruit and strawberries among others. Pineapple is also helpful as it contains bromelain, an enzyme which can reduce allergy irritation.
- Foods rich in Omega 3, such as salmon and tuna, are also helpful when taken on a regular basis.
- Magnesium-rich foods such as cashews, soybeans and dark chocolate also help.
- Studies have also found reishi mushrooms to be helpful when dealing with clogged up sinuses.
- Friendly bacteria can help fight seasonal allergies. Probiotics found in kefir or yogurt, with ‘live active cultures’, help boost the body’s immune responses to inflammation caused by allergies. Fermented food (kimchi, sauerkraut, etc.) are allergy fighters. Another home remedy is mixing a teaspoon of organic cider with ‘the mother’ (colony of beneficial bacteria) into a glass of water and drink this three times a day.
- Drinking fluids is important, especially water which helps keep you hydrated and helps flush out foreign irritants from your system while also thinning out the mucus to support sinus drainage. Teas also contain natural antihistamines while also releasing steam to help thin out nasal passages. Drink nettle tea, as nettles are a natural antihistamine, while ginger, mint and green teas are also beneficial due to their anti-inflammatory properties.
- What to avoid: Alcohol, however, is to be avoided along with salty and spicy foods which contain an abundance of histamines. Those suffering from grass pollen allergies should also avoid peaches, tomatoes and melons when allergy season is at its peak, while bananas and cucumbers can trigger ragweed allergy symptoms.
Other Forms of Sinus Therapy
Aromatherapy and essential oils are believed to provide some relief when seasonal allergies are at their peak. Types of oils especially beneficial are lavender, peppermint and eucalyptus to help open the nasal passages.
Nasal irrigation can also help clear nasal airways. Neti pots flush out allergens and loosen mucus. They work by rinsing out the nasal cavity using a saline solution. Available at local drugstores and Amazon, many of them have great reviews though users are warned to use boiled or distilled water rather than tap water filled with dangerous organisms. Alternatively, nasal squeeze bottles work in the same way.
Prevention Is Better Than Cure
When searching for the best remedies for seasonal allergies becomes futile, it may be good to avoid allergens altogether or at least minimize contact. Chronic sufferers especially would do well to avoid the outdoors on dry, windy days, preferring instead to head out after periods of rain.
Certain activities, such as gardening, should be delegated to others to minimize the contact with allergens and regular showers will help rinse pollen from your sheet and hair. Wearing masks while doing outside chores will help chronic sufferers, and laundry should be left to hang inside during seasonal changes as pollen can stick to clothing.
If All Else Fails
Seasonal allergies may significantly reduce a person’s quality of life and ability to function. If that is the case for you, then you shouldn’t have to suffer. Allergy shots, which build immunity by exposing the body to a low dose of the allergen, can reduce hay fever symptoms by 55 per cent, according to a study published in the Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology in 2016 which examined 65-75 year-olds suffering from seasonal allergy.
Allergy shots are rarely the go-to place as far as treatments go but they are among the best remedies for seasonal allergies for those who have tried everything else and want a long-term solution. The negatives of allergy shots include non-life threatening side effects and the fact that they can take up to six months to bear results and around three years for immunotherapy treatment to bear fruit.
The good news for allergy sufferers is that there are many treatments to consider, and better still is the fact that allergies have a way of changing over time. It is still a mystery as to how people can outgrow allergies or even notice variations in the way they experience them over time. So if you’re suffering there’s lots to explore, but also plenty of hope for the future.