The beginning of spring brings longer days, warmer temperatures and flowers blooming, a welcome change from the winter months. Unfortunately spring tends to also bring a combination of runny noses, sneezing, itchy eyes, headaches, and low energy. It might be a spring cold but there’s also a good chance it’s allergies.
Allergies occur when the immune system overreacts to various things in our environment such as pollen, dust, mold and sometimes foods. This “overreaction” in turn leads you to feeling lousy with symptoms as described above but can sometimes be life threatening in cases such as uncontrolled asthma or anaphylaxis.
Allergies are the 6th leading cause of chronic illness in the US, impacting up to 30% of adults and an even higher percentage of children. This equals more than 50 million Americans suffering from allergies every year. There are many complicated reasons theorized as to why this has become and is continuing to be such an issue including but not limited to rising pollen counts from global warming along with higher levels of CO2, (think air pollution).
What we know for sure is the immune system is stressed out and needs help in calming down. Here are some ways to help you decrease the symptoms in the short term as well as hopefully decrease your reactivity and improve your health over time.
Decrease the “load”
What this means is to lower the exposure to whatever your system is reacting to. This can be done in some fairly simple ways even without knowing what your specific allergens might be.
Saline nasal rinses. This helps mechanically rinse the pollen out of your nose as well as thin out the mucus to reduce your symptoms. Please remember to ALWAYS use distilled or boiled water, never tap water. And for those that can’t stand the idea of doing a nasal rinse, a saline spray can also be useful.
Remove your shoes in your house. This helps decrease the amount of the “outside” you’re tracking in on a regular basis.
Get a good air filter for inside the rooms you spend the most time in such as your bedroom and/or living room.
Take a shower before bed to reduce the amount of allergens you’re exposed to overnight as you sleep.
- Pay attention to air quality and pollen counts. When air quality is poor and/or pollen counts are high, stay indoors as much as possible.
Calm the immune system
Anti-histamines. These work by either reducing or blocking histamine, decreasing many of the challenging symptoms of allergies and are readily available over the counter. I’m not a proponent of depending solely on a medication to deal with allergies but can be useful to help you feel better in the short term while working on improving the bigger picture. (Always check with your doctor before starting a new medication. Over the counter medications can still have side effects/interactions.)
Vitamin C and Quercetin. These nutrients are power houses in their own right but together they work to calm down and stabilize mast cells (responsible for creating histamine) thus lowering the amount of histamine released and decreasing the reactivity to allergens.
Probiotics. A healthy gut = a healthy immune system since this is where the majority of the immune system starts and healthy GI flora is a critical component. A healthy immune system means it’s better at differentiating between what is actually “safe” vs “not safe”, in turn decreasing the amount of overreaction that occurs with allergies.
Eat real food, preferably organic when possible. This helps decrease the toxin burden your body needs to deal with along with increasing overall nutrients. This allows for less reactivity thus less allergic symptoms. The higher nutrient dense food you eat, the healthier your immune system and general health will be because you’re providing your body with the tools it needs to function optimally.
Make sleep a priority. Nothing stresses out ALL of the systems like not getting enough sleep. This impacts everything from the immune system to GI health to any other body system you can think of.
This list is not exhaustive by any means but hopefully will help you get started towards a lot less sneezing and a lot more enjoying of this spring season.
* First published in Tualatin Life, May 2019