Not a big fan of taking prescription or over the counter drugs to combat the symptoms of allergies? Sadly, most allergy medications only attempt to treat the symptoms the body instigates to get rid of the allergen. But it does not address the root of the reason why allergies flare up in the first place. From a holistic approach, people should keep body defenses at their tip-top shape year round so they are ready to go into work to fight off allergens. Many of the natural remedies discussed below are designed to prevent a reaction before it occurs.
✱ Avoid using window fans to cool rooms, because they can pull pollen indoors.
✱ To avoid allergens, keep windows closed when driving and use the air conditioner when necessary
✱ Limit outdoors time when ragweed pollen counts are highest—from mid-August until the first frost.
This is one remedy that both Eastern and Western docs (like your allergist) will likely agree on. Basically, all you’re doing is flushing out your sinuses with a saltwater solution, which can help wash away allergens and irritants. A little douse of saltwater can rinse away those prickly pollen grains and help treat allergies and other forms of sinus congestion. Many studies found that nasal flushing was a mild and effective way to treat seasonal allergies in children, and markedly reduced their use of antihistamines.
To flush your sinuses, mix a quarter to a half teaspoon of non-iodized table salt into a cup of lukewarm water and pour it into the pot. Lean over a sink with your head slightly tilted to one side, then put the spout of the neti pot into one nostril and allow the water to drain out the other nostril. Use about half of the solution, then repeat on the other side, tilting your head the opposite direction. Gently blow out each nostril to clear them completely. Neti pots are widely available online and at natural food stores. Use your pot about twice a day during allergy season, especially in the morning and after spending time outdoors. You also can use a neti pot before bed to prevent snoring caused by allergies and promote optimal overnight breathing.
A natural plant-derived compound called a bioflavonoid, quercetin helps stabilize mast cells and prevents them from releasing histamine. Quercetin also is a natural antioxidant that helps mop up molecules called free radicals that cause cell damage, which can lead to cancer. Citrus fruits, onions, apples, parsley, tea, tomatoes, broccoli, lettuce and wine are naturally high in quercetin, but allergy sufferers will most likely need to use supplements to build up enough of this compound to prevent attacks. The recommended dosage is about 1,000 milligrams a day, taken between meals. It’s best to start treatment six weeks before allergy season. Those with liver disease shouldn't use quercetin, so please consult your doctor before using this or any other supplement — especially if you are pregnant or nursing.
To help keep airways clear when pollen counts are high, add a dash of horseradish, chili peppers or hot mustard to your food — all act as natural, temporary decongestants. It’s also a good idea to avoid foods that you’re slightly allergic to until the air clears. Fighting off allergies can render the body hypersensitive to those foods, causing more severe reactions than usual.
When it is still a little cool at night and indoor humidity is low, using a cool-mist humidifier can help get allergens out of the air. Water droplets bind to the allergens, and they get heavy and fall to the floor so you people do not inhale them.
Using HEPA filters—especially in the bedroom—is the best way to remove spores and pollen from the air.
If you decide you need an antihistamine but want a natural option, stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) behaves in much the same way as many of the drugs sold to treat allergies, but without the unwanted side effects of dry mouth and drowsiness. Nettle actually inhibits the body’s ability to produce histamine. It’s a common weed in many parts of the United States, but the most practical medicinal form is a freeze-dried extract of the leaves sold in capsules. Studies have shown that taking about 300 milligrams daily will offer relief for most people, although the effects may last only a few hours. You also can make your own tinctures or teas with stinging nettle. (Contact with the stinging hairs on fresh nettle can cause skin inflammation, so wear protective gloves when handling it.) For more on making your own herbal remedies, see Richo Cech’s Making Plant Medicine (Horizon Herbs, 2000).
When congested, inhaling the steam of essential oils (such as eucalyptus, rosemary or tea tree oil) is very beneficial to open up those stuffed up nasal passages. Fill a saucepan with water and bring to a boil. Turn off the heat, take the pan off the stove top and add 3 drops eucalyptus essential oil, 3 drops of rosemary essential oil, 2 drops myrtle essential oil and 2 drops tea tree essential oil. Tent a bath towel over the saucepan (keep your face just far enough away from the steam to avoid burns) and inhale deeply for 5 to 10 minutes. Repeat 1 to 3 times a day.
It’s possible that stimulating some of the meridians (channels through which energy flows) may help to temper an overactive immune system that can lead to bad allergy symptoms.
Derived from a common weed in Europe, butterbur (Petasites hybridus) is another alternative to antihistamines, though it may be hard to find in the United States. In the days before refrigeration, its broad, floppy leaves were used to wrap butter during warm spells, hence the name butterbur. A Swiss study, published in British Journal of Medicine, found that butterbur was as effective as the drug cetirizine, the active ingredient in Zyrtec. Even though cetirizine is supposed to be a non-sedative antihistamine, researchers reported that it did cause drowsiness, though butterbur did not. Participants in the study took 32 milligrams of butterbur a day, divided into four doses. A word of caution though — butterbur is in the same family as ragweed, so it could worsen allergy symptoms in some cases. Effects of taking butterbur over a long period of time also are unknown.
New studies have found a gentler way to acclimate the body to pollen and other allergens. The latest form of this therapy is called sublingual immunotherapy (SLIT), otherwise known as allergy shots, is where patients put drops of a very small dose of the allergen (initially a 1:1,000 dilution) under the tongue for two minutes, then swallow. The daily therapy begins before peak pollen season for seasonal allergy sufferers, but also can be used to treat year-round allergies, though treatment must be specific to the type of allergen.
A recent study in the United Kingdom found that patients who used SLIT for two years were nearly seven times less likely to suffer runny noses, and almost three times less likely to experience sneezing, than those who took a placebo. Because an allergy extract has not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for use in the United States, check with your doctor and insurance provider before considering SLIT therapy.
Whether you suffer from seasonal or ongoing allergies, try as many of these natural remedies before turning to pharmaceutical or over the counter medications so you can enjoy the outdoors more!
Resources: motherearthnews.com, womansday.com, webmd.com