Seasonal allergies lead to sniffles, runny nose, itchy eyes, sneezing, and other irritating symptoms. Fortunately, natural remedies offer relief.
Itchy eyes, runny nose, sneezing, fatigue, and general misery—these are the symptoms of seasonal allergies. This year, like all those before it, will bring a variety of pollens and other airborne allergens to torment those who suffer from seasonal allergies. Fortunately, natural remedies can offer relief.
When do allergies occur?
While some people will have symptoms for only a short time each year, others may suffer all year round. When allergy symptoms arise depends on which pollens, molds, or other allergens affect a particular person.
Springtime allergens are usually tree related, early summer brings grass pollens, and late summer is ragweed. Throughout the year, dust mites, animal dander, and other allergens can also be a problem. Overall, 10 to 25 percent of the world’s population suffers from allergies, and these numbers are on the rise.
Why do we have allergies?
We don’t know exactly why some people suffer from allergies and others don’t, but there seems to be a genetic component. If one of your parents has allergies, chances are about one in three that you will too. If both parents have allergies, your risk is closer to seven in 10.
What causes symptoms?
In response to a perceived threat, the immune system develops antibodies against the allergen(s). When the allergen is next encountered, it is tagged with an antibody. This marks it for attack by other immune system components such as histamine, which are what lead to itching, stuffiness, and other familiar allergy symptoms.
Effects of climate change
Unfortunately for allergy sufferers, climate change could be causing longer allergy seasons. A 2011 study found that the North American ragweed season has increased in length by up to 27 days since 1995.
The same study found that this lengthening allergy season correlates with warmer annual temperatures that lead to increases in frost-free days and longer waits until the first frost of the year. Although less frost and more warm days may sound appealing to some, they also result in longer pollen season for plants such as ragweed, and longer ragweed seasons are definitely not a welcome change for allergy sufferers.
Although the links between allergies and climate change are not conclusive, they are very plausible and are a topic of ongoing study. A warmer planet may mean longer pollen-producing seasons and more allergies. Indeed, the number of people with allergies has increased over the last few decades, and climate change is certainly one of the suspected causes.
A few years ago, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a report outlining some of the ways in which climate change could affect environmental allergies. Included in this report was evidence that increased CO2 levels (a key factor in global warming) lead to increased pollen production from ragweed.
In fact, doubling CO2 levels resulted in a 60 to 90 percent increase in ragweed pollen production. Ragweed also grows more quickly and produces pollen earlier in urban areas where CO2 levels and temperatures are higher compared to rural areas.
Mold production has also been shown to increase with warmer temperatures, and the pollen seasons for several tree species have been starting earlier as the earth’s temperatures increase. This could mean longer and more severe allergy seasons are in our future, particularly if no serious efforts are made to reduce worldwide CO2 emissions.
Over-the-counter antihistamine products and/or allergy shots are the conventional approach to soothing allergy symptoms, but natural alternatives can also help. They combine well with conventional antihistamines (if necessary) to deliver some extra allergy symptom relief.
By now, most people have heard of neti pots. They look like little Aladdin’s lamps, and they are used to flush out the nasal passages with salt water. Technically known as nasal lavage or nasal irrigation, this procedure can be a very helpful addition to treatments for seasonal allergies.
Neti pots may be particularly useful for the relief of nasal symptoms and have been shown to help reduce the intake of allergy medications by more than 60 percent. Studies have shown nasal irrigation to be safe and effective in treating nasal symptoms in adults, children, and during pregnancy.
Sublingual immunotherapy (SLIT)
This treatment uses very small doses of allergens delivered as oral drops. Similar to allergy shots, it exposes the body to very low doses of an allergen in order to promote tolerance and therefore decrease allergy symptoms.
SLIT provides an alternative to allergy shots and is gaining in popularity, particularly for the treatment of children and those who would prefer not to have traditional shots (or find them inconvenient). Several studies support the effectiveness of this approach in reducing severity of allergy symptoms in both children and adults. SLIT is available through naturopathic doctors who have received appropriate training and certification.
A very popular part of natural allergy formulas, quercetin is a plant-derived antioxidant with anti-inflammatory properties. Of interest to allergy sufferers is evidence that quercetin can inhibit the body’s release of histamine, one of the main culprits for triggering allergy symptoms. Preliminary studies have shown that quercetin supplements may be useful in relieving symptoms.
This pine bark extract may also be helpful for allergy symptoms, if taken preventively. A pilot study has shown that it may help to significantly reduce allergy symptoms of the eyes and nose when taken at least five weeks in advance of allergy season. Pycnogenol has also shown some promising preliminary evidence for improving asthma symptoms (which are often related to allergies) and decreasing dosage of inhaled steroids that asthma sufferers may need to control their symptoms.
This is a popular traditional herbal remedy for allergies. A 2009 study found that nettle extract could inhibit some key aspects of inflammatory pathways associated with allergic reactions. Health Canada currently approves nettles as a traditional remedy to help relieve seasonal allergy symptoms.
Nicole Duelli, a certified classical homeopath, suggests using the “like cures like” principle to find “a remedy that matches the symptoms you experience.”
For allergy sufferers whose symptoms recall the experience of cutting an onion—runny nose and stinging, watering eyes—Duelli recommends Allium cepa, a remedy made from onions.
“Euphrasia is recommended when burning and watering eyes are the main problem,” she adds. “Sabadilla is for hay fever when sneezing is at the forefront, along with an itchy, tingly, drippy nose and teary eyes.”
Finally, Duelli notes that Nux vomica may be particularly helpful “if symptoms are worse early in the morning.” For exact dosages of these remedies, check with a knowledgeable health care practitioner.
Allergies by month
Tree pollen counts are highest at this time. In particular, ash, alder, birch, cedar, elm, maple, oak, and walnut trees can be problems for allergy sufferers who live in their growing regions.
The onset of summer also heralds grass allergy season.
Some species of mold begin to bloom in mid-July; however, mold allergies can be a year-round problem in some regions (due to indoor molds and/or milder weather).
In regions where it grows, this is ragweed season. Ragweed grows particularly quickly in urban areas and in areas where the soil has been disturbed, such as gardens, fields, and construction sites.