Seasonal respiratory allergies are nothing to sneeze at! Learn how to treat them, naturally.
Canada has some of the world’s cleanest air, reports the World Health Organization, yet one in five Canadians still suffers from respiratory allergies to pollen, dust, and other particulates. These allergies are nothing to sneeze at, costing us all in medical fees, lost productivity, and more.
Runny nose nation
Vancouver and Ottawa boast some of the nation’s cleanest breezes, according to Environment Canada, while Montreal and Calgary rank on the bottom of the list. But even so-called “clean” cities aren’t exempt from blustery sneezes, stuffy noses, and itchy eyes. Urban allergy audits have found high percentages of extremely allergenic, pollen-producing trees in all major Canadian cities.
It’s time to give your nose a break. Combine simple lifestyle changes and natural supplements to survive—nay, thrive—this allergy season.
1: Read the pollen horoscope
Unlike other areas of our lives, when it comes to seasonal allergies, we really can see into our future. In Canada, trees start releasing pollen in early spring. Grasses begin contributing to our stuffy sinuses in early summer, and weed pollen joins the crowded airspace in the early fall. Every morning, we can check local pollen levels and adjust our planned activities as necessary on high pollen count days. Environment Canada doesn’t monitor pollen levels itself, but recommends theweathernetwork.com/outdoors/pollen/list.
In general, attempt to stay indoors in the morning, since pollen levels tend to peak before noon.
2: Stop, drop, and wash
After enjoying the great Canadian outdoors, change your clothes immediately to avoid tracking pollen and dust into your home. While you’re at it, wash your hands and face, too. A saline spray and saline eye drops can quickly flush out pollen, dust, and other pollutants from sensitive noses and eyes. Studies have found that saline nasal irrigation (using a spray bottle or neti pot) may improve various upper respiratory conditions, including allergic rhinitis (inflammation of the nose).
3: Freshen indoor air
Canadians stay indoors 90 percent of the time, so it’s no surprise that Health Canada describes good indoor air quality as essential for our health.
“Untreated air can contain many contaminants,” says Tony Abate, a certified indoor environmentalist, “such as dust, allergens, spores, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), bacteria, and germs that can trigger allergic reactions and cause eye, nose, and throat irritations.” What’s more troubling, Abate says, is that when we are exposed to allergens continually, some of us may develop hypersensitivities that make us more prone to allergic reactions at lower and lower levels of allergen exposure.
Health Canada suggests using an air cleaner to enhance indoor air quality. Invest in a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter with a clean-air delivery rate of 350 cubic feet per minute or higher.
4: Get steamy
Dry air can exacerbate our allergy symptoms. A home humidifier or vapourizer helps replenish airborne moisture. Aim for humidity of approximately 30 to 50 percent. Too much humidity can make things worse, leading to problems with mold and dust mites.
5: Maximize magnesium
“Magnesium is a natural bronchodilator and antihistamine,” says Yang. He notes that this important mineral can help relax airway muscles and reduce inflammation. Natural sources include pumpkin seeds, soy cheese, and beans.
6: Try antiallergy antioxidants
When we have allergies, our immune system goes into overdrive responding to dust and similar false triggers. This puts a lot of stress on our bodies, and research suggests that persistent stress can make our allergies worse. Recover with antioxidants from local health food stores.
Vitamin E: “Vitamin E helps decrease oxidative stress and reduces the allergic inflammation,” says integrative health practitioner Jingduan Yang, MD, “[and] helps lower … the frequency of allergen sensitization.” Rich sources of vitamin E include almonds, sunflower seeds, and broccoli.
Vitamin C: Yang recommends vitamin C for allergies because it prevents the formation of histamine, a substance released by certain cells that plays a major role in many allergic reactions. “It is better to take vitamin C with bioflavonoids,” says Yang. This increases vitamin C’s efficacy and may also play a role in the secretion of histamine.
7: Undo the hairdo
Sticky hairsprays, gels, and other hairstyling products can trap floating allergens. Go au naturel to lower your risks and breathe a little more freely. No matter your hairstyle, keep it clean. “If you suffer allergies to pollen, be sure to wash your hair often,” says Abate. “The hair, almost like an air filter, can catch and hold pollen, which then can find its way to your nose and throat.”
8: Walk away from carpet
Remove or reduce all carpeting in your home. “Carpets can trap contaminants that can be easily kicked back up into the air,” warns Abate. He also notes that wet carpets can be a source of mold growth— a common indoor allergen. Hard-surface floors are easier to keep clean, especially near doors or windows where air pollutants may enter a home.
9: Clean green
Regularly cleaning counters, floors, and other hard surfaces helps to limit the buildup of dust, pollen, and other allergens. However, only use green cleaning products, available at natural health food stores. “Many household products and cleaners contain chemicals and VOCs that can cause allergic-type reactions,” says Abate. “There are now many green options and low-VOC-emitting [alternatives] that do not contain the harsh chemicals that can cause these reactions.”
10: De-fuzz furry friends
Our animal companions can track in allergens from the outdoors. Pet dander itself is also a common allergen. Wipe your dog down each time he or she comes indoors, and bathe regularly. For cats and other water-shy animal companions, a moist pet wipe can work instead.
If possible, start taking homeopathic remedies approximately one to two months before the start of the allergy season. This allows the remedies to sufficiently prepare your body for exposure to allergens. Hay fever, an allergic reaction to pollen and other substances, is a common allergy in Canada, and Vancouver homeopath Nicole Duelli has a few recommendations.
“Homeopathic medicine is different from herbal medicine in that it is always given according to the symptoms a person experiences,” she says.
Onion (Allium cepa)
“It’s a classic homeopathic hay fever remedy,” says Duelli. “It’s most useful when the nose drips constantly. There may be sneezing and runny eyes, too, but the constant drippy red nose is the main symptom.”
Eyebright (Euphrasia spp.)
Duelli recommends Euphrasia if the symptoms are in the eyes, such as burning, itching, or constant watering.
Sabadilla (Schoenocaulon officinale)
“It works best when sneezing is intense, even debilitating,” says Duelli, “along with drippy eyes, nose, and an itchy palate.”
How to use
“[Homeopathic medicine] typically comes in the form of tiny pills you put on or under your tongue, which taste pleasantly sweet,” says Duelli, “so even kids like it!” She recommends starting with a 30C potency three times daily.
“If your symptoms just started, you should notice improvement within hours,” advises Duelli, “but if you’ve had them for a while, it may take a day or so.”
Talk to your natural health care practitioner before beginning any type of new treatment to optimize safety and effectiveness.