As spring approaches, you may find yourself dreading the outdoors, especially if you are, like many, an allergy sufferer sensitive to seemingly everything around you. Luckily, there are many natural remedies that you can use in addition or as an alternative to traditional over-the-counter medicines.
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Spring may be beautiful, but it can also be a miserable time for someone with seasonal allergies, also known as hay fever. For sufferers, reactions occur when the immune system forms Immunoglobulin E antibodies against pollen, dust, mites, mold, and other irritants. Symptoms vary depending on the severity of the allergic reaction and can range from coughing and sneezing to a full-blown asthma attack.
According to the Mayo Clinic, there are several ways to reduce exposure to seasonal allergy triggers before they become problematic, such as limiting outdoor time on dry, windy days, closing windows and doors at night, when pollen counts tend to spike, and showering after spending a day outdoors to rinse pollen from the hair and skin.
If you suffer from seasonal allergies, you've also likely explored endless solutions to treat your symptoms. Should you need more, you're in luck. Here, Dr. Purvi Parikh, an allergist and immunologist with Allergy & Asthma Network, shares some natural remedies that can help ease that annual onslaught of congestion and sneezing. These remedies are a helpful add-on to over-the-counter medicines like antihistamines and nasal sprays, but Dr. Parikh advises speaking to your doctor if you are still not feeling relief, especially if you suffer from breathing issues such as wheezing or chest tightness. "These are all signs of allergic asthma and can be life-threatening if not treated properly,'' she says. "You should work with a physician to see which treatments are best for you."
Read on to discover what Dr. Parikh says are some of the best natural remedies to try when seasonal allergies strike.
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The nettle plant is known for both its culinary application in dishes such as soups and pestos, as well as its ability to support the body's inflammatory response when taken in supplement form. It is not only effective in quelling allergic reactions by controlling histamine, but it also does not cause drowsiness, unlike some over-the-counter allergy medications. Try making your own tea mixed with peppermint if pills aren't your thing.
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Probiotic-containing foods such as yogurt, kimchi, and pickles should be a staple in your diet come allergy season. The good-for-you bacteria play a crucial role in immune health as well as supporting proper digestion, Dr. Parikh says. A large number of immune cells—which act as the first line of defense against pathogens—are located in the gut, so feeding the intestines these types of bacteria through a healthy diet will fortify their defenses and arm them with allergy-fighting capabilities. According to Dr. Parikh, it's more beneficial to incorporate probiotics into your diet rather than as a treatment for allergies. "[Probiotics] may not do anything for acute symptoms, but are good for your immune system in long run," she says.
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Pineapple stems may seem like trash, but they're said to be a rich source of bromelain, an enzyme known for its anti-inflammatory properties. Throw a few slices into your fruit salad or juicer—though there is little scientific evidence regarding pineapples and seasonal allergies, Dr. Parikh says, anything anti-inflammatory can be useful in fighting them.
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According to Quercetin.com, capers are one of the best food sources of the flavonoid quercetin. Most flavonoids, plant chemicals with health-promoting attributes, are known for their ability to combat cellular insult in the body and to properly manage inflammation, which is especially critical during allergy season. They taste great, too, as an accompaniment to chicken dishes or salads.
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"Alcohol increases inflammation and makes all allergies worse," says Dr. Parikh. "You should definitely avoid it during allergy season if you are a sufferer." Beer and wine contain histamine and drinking them induces the release of additional histamine from the mast cells in the body, manifesting in common allergy symptoms like stuffy nose, headache, or even asthma. Histamine is a necessary chemical in the body, but controlling the amount of it is critical to maintaining normal or optimal health.
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Besides being a rich source of cardioprotective and sulfur-containing (read: disease-fighting) compounds, the onion family is also abundant in quercetin, the phytonutrient that helps provide relief from allergy symptoms. In nature, the quercetin found in onions, capers, and some plants acts as a defense mechanism protecting the plant from environmental stressors. In our bodies, the compound can act similarly, helping to combat further insult and damage to our cells. Again, Dr. Parikh cautions that while onions can be a helpful remedy, the scientific studies to support its effectiveness in allergy treatment are lacking.
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The omega-3 fatty acids, probably the most well-known of the healthy fats found in higher concentrations in fish like herring, sardines, mackerel, and salmon, are prized for their many health benefits. Some sufferers of seasonal allergies experience dry, irritated skin, or rashes, and according to Dr. Parikh, omega-3s can help ease this inflammation. Though similar to probiotics, it may not help with acute symptoms, so they should be consumed regularly. In addition to fish, flaxseeds are a good source of omega-3s.
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Immunotherapy, also referred to as desensitization, is a treatment offered by allergists in which small, increasing doses of the allergen are given to the patient, typically through injection. In doing so, the immune system slowly learns to tolerate the allergens and lessen its reaction to it. In some cases, Dr. Parikh says, the allergy can even be cured. While this remedy requires a doctor's visit, it's still considered a natural option, since the allergen is being used to train your own immune system. Because it's natural, the treatment can even be used in young children as well as pregnant women.