Sniffling and sneezing are no way to spend
the summer–or spring or fall, depending on
which allergies you have. Here are 10 natural
alternatives to mitigate seasonal flare-ups.
By Mary Lynn Bruny
More than 25 million Americans suffer from pollen allergies, with symptoms ranging from sneezing and runny nose to chest tightness and itchy, watery eyes. Many people opt for over-the-counter or prescription drugs (many with annoying side effects) to control symptoms, but natural alternatives and methods may help prevent and relieve allergies as well. Here are 10 ideas.
1. Identify your pollen allergen and its timing
“The beauty of seasonal pollen allergies is they’re usually pretty consistent with their timing,” says Dr. Rob Ivker, D.O., a respiratory specialist at Fully Alive Medicine in Boulder, and author of Sinus Survival: The Holistic Medical Treatment for Allergies, Colds and Sinusitis. “That’s why it’s fairly easy to prevent them.” Tree allergies are March through May; grass allergies are May through July; and ragweed allergies are August through October. “It’s so much simpler and easier to prevent a problem than to treat it once you get it,” he says. If you’re not sure what your pollen allergen is, consider skin testing through an allergist. Then track daily pollen counts in newspapers or online. When pollen levels are highest—on windy, dry, sunny days—it’s best to stay indoors with the windows and doors shut.
2. Protect your face when outside
To keep pollen from entering your body via your eyes, nose and mouth, wear large sunglasses and wide-brimmed hats outdoors. For extra protection, don a dust-filter face mask. Even if your nose is drippy and your eyes itchy, don’t touch your face with your hands; use fresh tissues instead.
3. Keep the house pollen-free
“Take off your shoes when you come home or you’ll track pollen all over the house,” Ivker says. Don’t forget about pets that have been outside: Wipe them with a damp towel before bringing them indoors. Keep your bedroom especially pollen-free by taking off day clothes before entering. Shower before bed to rinse pollen from skin and hair, wash sheets weekly and put pillowcases in the dryer for a few minutes every other day to remove pollen. Avoid clothesline drying during the worst pollen days so clothes won’t collect pollen. Run the AC or furnace on “fan” mode to filter out pollen from the outside air. Use a HEPA furnace filter, and make sure it and the ductwork are clean before your allergy season arrives.
4. Get a negative-ion generator
Negative ions—air molecules with excess electrons—clean and refresh the air. Areas by seacoasts, mountains and rushing water are high in negative ions. Heating/cooling systems, air purifiers, and TV and computer screens all reduce negative ion levels, resulting in poor indoor air quality that’s “unhealthy for the mucous membrane,” Ivker says. To improve indoor air quality purchase a negative-ion generator, such as the small and noiseless Sinus Survival Air Vitalizer, developed in Boulder. If you prefer the white noise or fan effect of an air purifier, purchase one with a negative-ion feature. McGuckin Hardware carries several brands.
5. Visit a salt spa
Boulder is home to one of the country’s few salt spas, which provide halotherapy, an eastern European tradition. Here, you relax in a room where the walls and floor are covered with salt and a dry salt aerosol is blown within. The salt room is a negative-ion environment, much like the seashore. Halotherapy cleans pollens and other toxins from the respiratory tract, thus decreasing allergies, irritation and inflammation. For information, visit www.saltspacolorado.com.
6. Use nasal sprays
“In Colorado we probably have the worst air conditions in the country for respiratory systems. Not only is it extremely dry but in some areas, especially along the Front Range, it’s polluted. And the problem is we breathe this air 20,000 times a day,” Ivker says. To clean and moisturize your nose, use a nonchemical nasal spray several times a day year-round, especially when running the furnace or AC. “You’ll flush out particles on your mucous membrane like pollen, dust, animal dander, viruses and bacteria,” Ivker explains. He recommends natural nasal sprays with anti-inflammatory herbal ingredients. “People with allergies have increased inflammation and hyperreactivity of the mucous membrane in the lining of their noses. By decreasing inflammation, you minimize the allergic response.”
7. Irrigate nasal passages
“The longer you have pollen sitting on your mucous membrane, the more opportunity there is for an inflammatory reaction,” Ivker says. Nasal irrigators painlessly flush saline solution through nostrils to clean and moisturize mucous membranes. There are manual types, such as neti pots and bulb syringes, and electric pulsatile sinus irrigators that are more effective, says Ivker, who recommends using an electric pulsatile model two to three times a day during your allergy season.
8. Try herbs,nutrientsand homeopathic remedies
Several herbs and nutrients minimize allergy symptoms by reducing inflammation or acting as an antihistamine. Nettles, grapeseed extract and quercetin can be extremely effective, especially when combined with vitamin C. “Begin taking them as a preventive a week before your symptoms usually start,” Ivker says. “Then continue to use them for treatment as well.” He recommends Allercide, a combination product with herbs, vitamins, flavonoids and amino acids. Lani Jacobs-Banner, a nutrition educator at Natural Grocers by Vitamin Cottage, recommends consuming local bee pollen for prevention. “It gets your system desensitized to pollen so you then don’t overreact to the pollen in your environment,” she says.
9. Avoid inflammatory foods
“Avoid foods that contribute to inflammation,” Ivker suggests, “and dairy is at the top of the list.” Avoid milk and dairy products, and foods that give you a stuffy nose, a slight stomachache or skin irritations. Food-allergy skin testing or an elimination diet can help you determine food sensitivities. Conversely, hot, spicy foods decrease mucus and help clear nasal passages. Include cayenne pepper, ginger, onion and garlic in your diet.
10. Consider acupuncture
Many people successfully relieve allergy symptoms with acupuncture. “But people are not going to walk out after one session cured of their allergies,” cautions Nina Herrick, who practices Oriental medicine in Boulder and teaches at the Southwest Acupuncture College in Gunbarrel. “You have to do it on a regular basis.” The ancient Chinese practice is based on stimulating points near or on the skin surface to initiate changes within, in this case, the immune system where allergic responses start. Herrick generally advises people to start weekly acupuncture a month before allergy season, but says everyone’s needs vary. “For allergies, a combination of acupuncture and herbal medicines is very appropriate,” she says.