It's a documented fact: the allergy season is getting longer. All the more reason to check out gentle natural treatments for seasonal allergies, such as vitamin C, probiotics, and nettles.
Hay fever, also known as allergic rhinitis or seasonal allergies, can affect not only our productivity at work or our tolerance to outdoor activities, but also our energy levels during the day and our quality of sleep at night. Seasonal allergies can also be a trigger for asthma attacks and may predispose us to infections of the sinuses and lungs. Natural treatments for seasonal allergies offer an alternative, effective option.
What causes seasonal allergies?
Allergy symptoms occur when the immune system overreacts to different allergens in the environment, such as pollens blowing in the wind. When an allergen enters the body, through the nose, eyes, or mouth of a person who is predisposed to allergies, it triggers an immune response. This immune response produces allergen-specific IgE antibodies, which trigger mast cells to release a chemical called histamine. Histamines irritate and inflame the moist membranes of our nose, eyes, throat, and ears, and cause the classic symptoms of hay fever.
Hay fever symptoms
Do you suffer from these common symptoms?
- runny nose and nasal congestion
- watery, itchy red eyes (allergic conjunctivitis)
- itchy throat and cough (due to postnasal drip)
- swollen, blue-coloured skin under the eyes (allergic shiners)
- itchy ears and nose
When do seasonal allergies occur?
Allergic symptoms can come on at different times of the year depending on what environmental allergens your immune system reacts to. Pollens from trees, grass, weeds, dust, spores from mold, and cat and dog dander are all common allergens. In milder climates, like BC’s West Coast, pollen levels rise earlier in the year, and seasonal allergy symptoms can occur as early as February. Moreover, if your symptoms last year-round, you may be reacting to something in your house or workplace, such as dust, mold, and cat or dog dander.
Hay fever seasons in Canada
|April to May||June to July||August to October|
|Tree pollen counts are highest in April and May||Grass pollens are highest in June and July||Weed pollens and mold spores are highest between August and October|
How are allergies diagnosed?
Environmental allergies are typically diagnosed through clinical presentation and findings found during a physical examination. Blood tests and scratch tests can also be done to determine the exact allergen you’re reacting to. Scratch testing is usually the testing method of choice, since it’s a quick and easy test that can be done in office by an allergist or naturopathic physician.
A small amount of the allergen solution is placed on the forearm, and then the skin is gently scratched through the small drop with a sterile needle. If you react to the allergen, the skin will redden and a small hive will form. In cases of chronic inflammatory skin diseases, where a clear patch of skin cannot be accessed for skin testing, or in people who are at high risk for an anaphylactic reaction to skin testing, blood tests are the preferred method.
Natural treatment options
Anyone who has environmental allergies should be able to feel good, enjoy outdoor activities, and sleep well at night. Learn how to reduce your hay fever symptoms this allergy season with these seven evidence-based natural allergy treatments.
Quercetin is a bioflavonoid found in plants and foods such as onions, apples, berries, and green tea. This natural plant compound stabilizes mast cells and prevents histamine release, thereby providing anti-inflammatory and antihistamine effects in the body.
Stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) is a common weed found in Europe, Asia, northern Africa, and western North America. The leaves of stinging nettle have been used for centuries by herbalists to reduce allergy symptoms. Modern research has supported these health claims and has shown that nettle extract inhibits pro-inflammatory pathways in the body, including histamine release.
A randomized double-blind study of 69 patients found that 600 mg of freeze-dried nettle leaf taken daily reduced allergy symptoms. Fifty-eight percent of patients reported allergy symptom relief, and 48 percent claimed that nettles were more effective than over-the-counter allergy medication.
Probiotics are beneficial micro-organisms that line our digestive tract and influence many bodily processes, including immune system reactions. Multiple systematic reviews have concluded that multistrain probiotics, including Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, may prevent allergy reoccurrences, reduce allergy symptoms, and improve quality of life in people with allergic rhinitis.
Food sources of probiotics
Probiotics are found in fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, and yogurt, and fermented drinks such as kefir and kombucha. They can also be bought as supplements in capsule or powder form from your local natural health store.
4) Vitamin C
Vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, is a water-soluble vitamin found in fruits and vegetables. This vitamin is a potent antioxidant and mast cell stabilizer that has been shown to reduce histamine levels and have anti-allergy effects. Studies show that oral vitamin C or intravenous administration of vitamin C significantly reduces histamine levels. Naturopaths routinely administer vitamin C intravenously. Intravenous nutrients bypass the digestive tract and help prevent unwanted side effects, such as gastrointestinal distress and diarrhea, which may occur with high doses of oral vitamin C.
5) Albizia lebbeck
Albizia has a long history of use in Ayurvedic herbal medicine for the treatment of seasonal allergies and allergic rhinitis. This tree is a member of the legume family that grows in tropical and subtropical areas of Asia and Africa. The stem and bark of the plant contain the active medicinal constituents, which appear to suppress histamine release in the body.
6) Sublingual immunotherapy
Sublingual immunotherapy involves exposing a person to small doses of an allergen solution under the tongue, which retrains the immune system to be less reactive to the allergen. This process is called allergy desensitization, and it’s used to safely and effectively reduce symptoms of hay fever and allergic rhinitis.
In order to find the right medicine for you, a naturopathic physician or allergist will perform an allergy scratch test or blood test to determine which environmental allergens you react to. From there, allergy drops are custom compounded with the individual antigens you react to. Sublingual immunotherapy can be used during the allergy season, or preventively 30 to 60 days prior to allergy season.
7) Dietary interventions
A healthy whole foods diet may be helpful for controlling many health conditions, including allergies. Specifically, diets high in fruits and vegetables have been shown to elevate antioxidant levels in the body, which may have protective effects on hay fever and allergic rhinitis. Diets higher in sugar, trans fat, and processed foods, on the other hand, have been correlated with a higher incidence of allergies and other associated diseases such as eczema and asthma.
The Mediterranean diet, which is known primarily for its heart health benefits, may also be beneficial for allergy sufferers. This diet is high in fruits and vegetables and focuses on eating lean meats, whole grains, and good fats such as olive oil, nuts, seeds, and fish.
Tip: Quail eggs to beat allergies?
A 2014 randomized, double-blind clinical trial found that an extract from quail eggs may provide relief from seasonal and environmental allergens. These include trees, grass, ragweed pollen, dust mites, and cat and dog dander. The quail egg supplement improved breathing and relieved itchy eyes, runny nose, and nasal congestion.
Always consult your health care practitioner for proper dosage instructions before taking new herbs or supplements. Check to make sure they won’t react with medications you’re taking.