According to the doctors we consulted, these small adjustments could make a major impact on how you feel during allergy season.

By Brigitt Earley
May 07, 2021
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There's nothing quite like budding leaves and longer days to send those winter blues sailing, but for many, there's an unpleasant side effect associated with the transition from winter to spring to summer: seasonal allergies. According to the American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology (AAAAI), nearly eight percent of people suffer from hay fever—cold-like symptoms (runny nose, itchy eyes, congestion, sneezing, and sinus pressure) caused by allergies.

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And while there are plenty of medications and in-office treatments that can help relieve these discomforts, you may wonder if there's a natural approach. Unfortunately, there aren't any proven ways to completely reverse seasonal allergies, says Dr. Shirin Peters, founder of Bethany Medical Clinic in New York. That said, there are lifestyle changes you can make that should greatly reduce them, says Dr. Niket Sonpal, an internist in New York City. Here's how.

Revisit Your Diet

Foods that have an anti-inflammatory effect can help—think items high in omegas 3 and 6, such as seeds, nuts, and oily fish—says Dr. Sonpal. And surprisingly, some traditionally healthy foods can actually exacerbate symptoms. This includes produce like apples, bananas, and melon. Another natural elixir? Try local honey. "Since local honey contains trace amounts of local pollen carried by bees, your body can become familiar with local pollens and recognize it as less of a threat, leading to a lower allergic response," says Dr. Peters. Visit a local farmers' market to find some cultivated in your area.

Avoid Alcohol and Cigarettes

"Reduce your intake of alcohol because, like pollen, alcohol stimulates histamines which are the chemicals that cause allergic reactions," says Dr. Sonpal. And if you smoke cigarettes, do your utmost to quit and stay away from those who do smoke. "Smoke itself is another allergen similar to pollen—it will irritate your ears, throat, and nose," he adds.

Rethink Fragrances

Peppermint oil helps break up mucus secretions and reduce allergy symptoms related to mucus buildup, says Dr. Peters, and lemon essential oil can also help. "Lemon oil is anti-inflammatory and increases salivation," she explains. "Both properties reduce the congestion that occurs with seasonal allergies." In both cases, you can diffuse it to inhale, put it in the bath, or add some food-safe oil to your tea or water.

Though natural oils can help, you might want to back away from non-essential fragrances like scented candles and perfumes, since they can irritate and inflame airways, says Dr. Sonpal. "Even swimming in a chlorinated pool can have the same effect."

Swap Contacts for Glasses

When the pollen counts goes up, it's better to reach for your glasses. "If you trap pollen in your eyes with contacts and it stays there, you may experience more problems," says Dr. Sonpal.

Don't Hang Your Laundry Outside

When you hang out clothes out to dry, they can attract pollen and other allergens, so opt for indoor solutions, says Dr. Sonpal. Similarly, you should remove clothes you have worn outside—especially if you were doing yard work or gardening—and shower as soon as you get home to wash away allergens on your body.

Time Your Activities

Pollen counts tend to be higher in the mornings, says Dr. Sonpal. If you typically exercise outside, save those activities for the evening when the pollen count is lower. Likewise, you many want to get your inside chores done during this time, shut the windows, and opt for air conditioning. (Windy days can also exacerbate allergies.)

Use a Saline Rinse

When your sinuses are congested, rinse them out, says Dr. Sonpal. "Nasal irrigation using a distilled, sterile saline solution and a neti pot can effectively flush mucus and allergens from the nose." Just be sure to clean the pot after each use and air dry. For best results, do nasal rinses twice a day at a minimum. This helps the nasal passages remain moist and prevent environmental allergens from getting trapped in the respiratory tract, he explains.

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