You don’t need a calendar to know that it’s allergy season. “Patients feel fatigued, they don’t have the energy they nor-mally have, they are less productive at work and have difficulty concentrating at school,” says Dr. David Resnick, director of Pediatric Allergy at New York Presbyterian Hospital.
Some 30 to 60 million people in the U.S. are affected annually by allergic rhinitis (hay fever) according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (AAAAI). While allergy shots and over-the-counter or prescription medications offer relief to some, these traditional approaches don’t always work, aren’t always medically advisable or may cause side effects as bothersome as the original symptoms. Here’s a three-prong approach to help you breathe more easily—naturally.
1) Get tested.
If you suspect you have allergies, have tests performed at your physician’s office in order to rule out other respiratory conditions. Gather knowledge from credible websites, suggests Dr. Roberta Lee, an integrative physician and vice chair of Integrative Medicine at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City. Dr. Lee recommends the Mayo Clinic website for starters.
2) Reduce exposure.
Keep airborne allergens outside the house by closing doors and windows. Remove shoes before entering your main living space and leave them at the door. Use central air conditioning with allergen filters and keep humidity lower than 40%. Using a freestanding air purifier with a HEPA filter can help, too.
“During spring and summer people open the windows. They love fresh air, but it produces clouds of pollen,” says Dr. James Li, chair of the Division of Allergic Diseases, Department of Internal Med-icine, at the Mayo Clinic.
Buy special window screens designed to block pine and flower pollens, recommends Dr. Susan Cocke, an integrative physician certified as an allergist and immunologist in Fullerton, California.
Dr. Clifford Bassett, Med-ical Director of Allergy and Asthma Care at New York University School of Med-icine, advocates “washing wisely”; that is, washing your eyelids and nose and getting rid of pollen and mold spores by shampooing at night. “If you use mousse or gel in your hair, it’s like a pollen magnet,” he says.
3) Use natural remedies.
Many physicians recommend a saline nasal rinse using a Neti pot. Dr. Lee suggests irrigating the nasal passages with a salt solution twice a day. “Purchasing a solution is good because it ensures you will have enough salt in the mixture,” she says. “If you make your own and you do not put enough salt in the water, your nose will be even more stuffy.”
Stinging nettle. This anti-inflammatory is available in freeze-dried capsule form and may be taken two to three times daily. Dr. Lee advises patients to use it when they complain that conventional allergy medicine makes them sleepy.
Quercetin. This flavonoid is a powerful anti-inflammatory found in apples, onions and garlic. Dr. Marianne Frieri, Chief of Allergy Immunology at Nassau University Medical Center in New York says she personally eats onions and garlic every day. Quercetin is also available in capsule form. The typical dose is 250-500 miligrams taken twice a day.
Apple Cider Vinegar. “It helps people with allergies,” says Dr. Cocke, who recommends taking one to two teaspoonfuls with five or six ounces of water 30 minutes before eating.
Eucalyptus and peppermint oils. Dr. Lily Au, a naturopathic doctor in Pas-adena, California, uses a combination of eucalyptus, pine, lavender and peppermint oils. She recommends swabbing the nasal passages with a cotton swab dipped in the oil blend.
Butterbur. Usually available in capsules, this herb may be taken as a daily supplement. Dr. Au says it decreases the inflammation of the mucous membranes in the respiratory tract. “The extracts that are commercially available have removed the toxic constituents that may cause liver damage,” assures Au.
Local honey. Both Dr. Cocke and Dr. Au suggest that eating local honey is beneficial. It works (unless patients are allergic to bees) because the honey contains tiny amounts of pollen.
Acupuncture. “Some patients come to the office and they are in unbelievable pain, absolutely miserable,” says Dr. Cocke. Acupuncture treatments produce immediate, short-term results, but it’s an ongoing therapy, the physician adds.
One final word of advice from Dr. Au: Children and pregnant and breastfeeding mothers should consult with their doctors before taking any herbal supplements.
Pollens and Fresh Food
Highly allergic seasonal allergy sufferers may encounter Oral Allergy Syndrome (OAS) when eating certain uncooked foods during heavy pollen months. OAS is due to cross reactivity between plant proteins, pollens and fruits and vegetables, according to Dr. Frieri. Symptoms include itching of the lips and mouth and swelling of the lips, tongue and uvula. Most primary care doctors do not know about OAS, says Frieri.
When patients are very reactive to birch trees in skin tests, they may develop symptoms when they eat apples, carrots, celery, hazelnuts and cherries during pollen season. Highly allergic ragweed patients may react to bananas, chamomile, melons and Echinacea. —H.W.