End Seasonal Allergies
Millions of Americans suffer through seasonal allergies, which oftentimes have symptoms similar to those of the common cold—watery or itchy eyes, runny nose, sneezing, and fatigue that drag on for weeks or months.
Although the symptoms of colds and allergies are similar, the causes are distinctly different. Colds occur when we come in contact with rhinoviruses; allergies are simply the body’s response to foreign invaders that are perfectly harmless and pose no threat to our health—such as pollen.
When people susceptible to seasonal allergies inhale pollen (or other allergens), their bodies react by releasing billions of antibodies (IgE) into the bloodstream. The antibodies combine with mast cells, which are storage sites for histamine, leukotrienes, and prostaglandins—all chemicals involved in the inflammatory process. The IgE antibodies activate the release of these chemicals, which tells the immune system to intensify the attack. And thus, allergy symptoms begin.
Histamines are what cause congestion, runny nose, sneezing, and itchy or watery eyes, while leukotrienes and prostaglandins are more to blame for the airway constriction common in allergies and asthma.
Billions of dollars are spent each year on over-the-counter and prescription medications, allergy shots, doctors’ visits, and other measures to help alleviate symptoms. Unfortunately, traditional medicine can only offer temporary relief, and even those have drawbacks. Over-the-counter antihistamines, for example, may cause drowsiness, dry mouth, dizziness, irregular heartbeat, headache, upset stomach, and other unwanted side effects.
If these drugs don’t work well for you, or if you just can’t tolerate the side effects, you have plenty of other options. These safe, natural alternatives not only work well, they have few, if any, dangerous side effects.
One caveat though: For maximum effectiveness, you need to start taking one or more of these supplements now—at least a few weeks before the height of allergy season.
Seasonal allergies are best tamed by treating the source of the problem. Many allergy sufferers find that by strengthening their immune systems with quality vitamins, minerals and herbs, they become less vulnerable to allergies. A diet of whole foods, moderate daily exercise, and adequate rest are essential to a healthy immune system, as is finding an effective way to deal with stress.
Of course, it can take time to fortify your immune system, especially if your lifestyle has been less than healthy recently. In the meantime, there are a number of natural options for relieving symptoms of seasonal allergies.
- Butterbur is an herb that research shows stacks up against one of the top-selling antihistamines on the market. In a study that compared butterbur to the antihistamine cetirizine (Zyrtec), both treatments were similarly effective, but butterbur didn’t produce the drowsiness and fatigue felt by two-thirds of those taking cetirizine. In another study, 90 percent of butterbur users saw significant improvement in their symptoms. In addition, patients rated butterbur’s efficacy and tolerability at 80 percent and 92 percent, respectively.1-2 The typical dose of butterbur is 50 mg twice daily.
- Quercetin is a bioflavonoid found in the skins of fruits like apples, grapes, and onions. When it comes to allergy relief, quercetin works by preventing mast cells from releasing histamine, and decreasing production of inflammatory cytokines and leukotrienes.3 The typical dosage is 400 mg twice daily on an empty stomach. To help your body absorb the quercetin, take it with a digestive enzyme like bromelain.
- Stinging nettles is a medicinal herb that inhibits histamine receptors and prostaglandin formation, among other inflammatory processes that lead to allergy symptoms. In a study of 69 allergy sufferers, taking a freeze-dried preparation of stinging nettles was rated higher than placebo in reducing bothersome symptoms.4-5 This herb comes in many forms (tea, tincture, extract), so follow the specific dosing instructions on the product you decide to buy.
- Up to 80% of our immune health starts in our gut. So, it makes sense that taking a probiotic supplement that contains beneficial strains from the Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium families can help prevent and treat allergies. In one study, researchers stated, “Probiotics may have an important role in the prevention and treatment of allergic rhinitis.” Not only do they minimize the output of inflammatory chemicals, they also have strong potential to alleviate symptoms.6
- Rosmarinic acid, an extract of the herb rosemary, has demonstrated in repeated studies that it quells histamine production. It is sometimes mixed with perilla leaf extract, which enhances its anti-allergy performance.
- Quail Egg Powder has also been shown to reduce allergy symptoms. It was first discovered in the 1970s, when a French doctor noticed that farmers who raised quails had fewer allergy symptoms than others in the area. Later research revealed that a concentrated, standardized quail egg powder alleviated symptoms in as fast as 15 minutes. Even better, after 90 days of use, 70-80 percent of patients no longer experienced any unpleasant symptoms. Take 80 mg daily.
Neti Pots & Nasal Irrigation
Clearing out your nasal passages using a neti pot is one of the best allergy symptom-fighting techniques around.
One study that examined the effects of nasal irrigation three times a day for seven weeks found that it significantly reduced allergy symptoms like nasal congestion, runny nose, sneezing, and red, itchy eyes.7
You don’t have to clean your nasal passages three times a day to get the effect, though. Even better, using a neti pot is extremely simple. Fill the pot with 1 cup of warm distilled (not tap) water, mixed with ¼ teaspoon of table salt. Stand over a sink, tilt your head to one side, and insert the spout into your upper nostril. Pour the solution into your upper nostril and allow it to drain out of your lower nostril. Repeat on the other side, then blow your nose to fully clear your sinuses.
Neti pots are extremely inexpensive, very effective, and readily available online and in pharmacies.
Minimize Your Exposure to Offending Substances
During allergy season, should also do what you can to lessen your overall exposure to allergens. Here are some tips:
- Use HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filters in your home and vacuum. These filters are designed to trap pollen and other irritants.
- Improve the quality of the air in your home with green plants. Research done by NASA scientists found that plants serve as “living air filters.” Purchase plants big enough for at least six-inch containers. Use one plant for every 100 to 120 square feet of space.
- Keep your windows closed to prevent pollen from coming in.
- Adopt a “no wearing shoes in the house” policy. Before entering your home, remove your shoes and rinse the soles in a utility sink or outside with a hose to wash away pollen.
- When pollen counts are particularly high, wear an allergy mask while outside.
- Shower before going to bed (instead of in the morning) to wash away pollen that may have gotten trapped in your hair or on your body.
Don’t resign yourself to living with the discomfort caused by seasonal allergies. There are plenty of remedies available for easing the symptoms. Once that happens, you may actually welcome spring again!
- Schapowal A. Randomised controlled trial of butterbur and cetirizine for treating seasonal allergic rhinitis. BMJ 2002 Jan 19;324(7330):144-6. Last accessed February 4, 2019.
- Kaufeler R, et al. Efficacy and safety of butterbur herbal extract Ze 339 in seasonal allergic rhinitis: postmarketing surveillance study. Adv Ther 2006 Mar-Apr;23(2):373-84. Last accessed February 4, 2019.
- Micek J, et al. Quercetin and its anti-allergic immune response. Molecules 2016 May 12;21(5). Last accessed February 4, 2019.
- Roscheck B Jr, et al. Nettle extract affects key receptors and enzymes associated with allergic rhinitis. Phytother Res 2009 Jul;23(7):920-6. Last accessed February 4, 2019.
- Mittman P. Randomized, double-blind study of freeze-dried Urtica dioica in the treatment of allergic rhinitis. Planta Med 1990 Feb;56(1):44-7. Last accessed February 4, 2019.
- Yang G, et al. Treatment of allergic rhinitis with probiotics: an alternative approach. N Am J Med Sci 2013 Aug;5(8):465-68. Last accessed February 4, 2019.
- Garavello W, et al. Hypersaline nasal irrigation in children with symptomatic seasnonal allergic rhinitis: a randomized study. Pediatr Allergy Immunol 2003 Apr;14(2):140-3. Last accessed February 4, 2019.
Last Updated: March 5, 2019
Originally Published: December 5, 2012