Managing seasonal and perennial allergies – Nurture Magazine
Managing seasonal and perennial allergies – first published in Nurture Parenting Magazine Spring 2014
Do you rub your itchy eyes or blow your nose more that usual in spring? If you do, you may be suffering from allergic rhinitis (commonly called hay fever). Seasonal increases in tree, grass, and weed pollens can trigger seasonal allergic rhinitis leading to symptoms such as runny nose, congestion, sneezing, post-nasal drip, and itchy watering eyes.1, 2
The symptoms of hay fever can be similar to those of a cold, however, the common cold is caused by a virus, while hay fever is caused by allergens. When you inhale an allergen, your immune system releases IgE antibodies and inflammatory chemicals (such as histamine) into your nasal passages. This then contributes to congestion and itchy eyes. Hay fever affects approximately 16% of the Australian population and many people who suffer from hay fever also have asthma.2,3
It is also possible that you could be suffering from perennial allergic rhinitis, which is caused by indoor allergens such as mold spores, dust mites, and even cockroaches!1, 2 Allergies can also be caused by reactions to particular foods, food additives, pesticides, and chemicals in personal care and cleaning products.4 With all of these potential triggers, figuring out exactly what is causing your symptoms can be tricky.
According to Mike Tringale from the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America “what matters is each person’sindividual allergies. Typically, people have allergies to three or four species of trees and plants. So even if pollen counts are high, it doesn’t mean your allergies are worse. That’s why diagnosis is such an important part of allergy care. A lot of people are self-diagnosing and self- treating, but they might guess wrong,” he says. “You may think spring is to blame, but it may be dust or mold or your cat. Allergies are a tailor-made disease for each person.”5
Therefore, it is advisable to see an allergy doctor who can help you to identify specific allergy triggers and to develop a treatment plan. Your consultation with your allergy doctor may include a physical exam, analysis of your symptoms; an environmental evaluation and skin prick tests to determine your individual allergies. If you have asthma, it is important to manage your seasonal allergies because they can exacerbate asthma symptoms in some people.6
If you choose to use nutritional and herbal medicines, it is advisable to have them prescribed by your healthcare provider. While natural medicines are safe for most people, it is best to seek professional advice to ensure that your supplements are: indicated for your specific health circumstances; that they are not contraindicated for you; and that they will not interact negatively with any medications or supplements that you are already taking. This is particularly important if you are
pregnant or breastfeeding.
Your complementary healthcare provider can help by prescribing natural remedies for symptom relief, and by supporting your immune and digestive systems. Some helpful nutrients and herbs that may be prescribed for you include:
Spirulina is a type of blue-green algae that is rich in vitamins, minerals, protein, and carotenoids (antioxidant phytonutrients that an help to protect your cells from damage). Studies have suggested that spirulina may help to boost your immune system and to protect against allergic reactions. It helps in the reduction of allergic reactions by preventing the release of histamines (chemicals that contribute to your allergy symptoms). Spirulina can be contaminated with heavy metals and with toxins called microcystins, so make sure you purchase it from a reputable
Quercetin is a plant pigment that is classified as a flavonoid. It is found in red wine, grapefruit, onions, apples, and black tea. Quercetin has antihistamine, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory properties and may also help to protect against cancer and heart disease. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, “In test tubes, quercetin prevents immune cells from releasing histamine. On that basis, researchers think that quercetin may help reduce symptoms of allergies such as runny nose, watery eyes, hives, and swelling of the face and lips”.8, 9
Vitamin C boosts your immune system; can improve lung function; and is a gentle antihistamine. Some preliminary research has suggested that it may also be helpful in reducing allergy symptoms.2 Foods high in vitamin C include: broccoli, Brussels sprouts, citrus, parsley, capsicum, pineapple, potatoes, raw cabbage, strawberries, and tomatoes.
Cayenne pepper (Capsicum annuum/frutescens) has been used by Native Americans as a food and medicine for at least 9000 years. It has a hot, spicy flavor because it contains an alkaloid called capsaicin (which can help to reduce pain). Cayenne pepper has been traditionally used in Asian and Ayurvedic medicines as an oral remedy for circulatory and stomach problems, and for low appetite. It has also been used topically by these cultures for muscle pain and arthritis.10 It may be helpful for allergy sufferers because it can reduce nasal congestion.5 According to The University of Maryland Medical Centre, “Eating cayenne in food is considered safe during pregnancy, but pregnant women should not take cayenne as a supplement. Cayenne does pass into breast milk, so nursing mothers should avoid cayenne both as a spice and a supplement.”10
Perilla leaf (Perilla frutescens) was traditionally used in Chinese medicine for nasal congestion. Perilla leaves are popularly used as a garnish in Japan, and are also used as an antidote for fish and crab allergy.11, 12, 13 Animal studies have shown that perilla has significant anti-allergic activity. It reduces IgE production and suppresses histamine release.14,15 It may also play a role in reducing allergy symptoms by inhibiting the production of inflammatory cytokines (non-antibody proteins that act as mediators between cells).16, 17
In medieval Europe, stinging nettle (Urtica dioica/Urtica urens) was used to treat joint pain and as a diuretic (a substance that helps your body excrete excess water). One study found that nettle might also help to reduce itching and sneezing in hay fever sufferers. A possible mechanism of action is nettle’s ability to reduce the amount of histamine the body releases in response to allergens. Taking nettle well before the hay fever season begins may be helpful in reducing allergy symptoms. (Please note, however, that nettle should not be taken during pregnancy).18
Probiotics (friendly bacteria) play an essential role in the functioning of your immune system, and may also be helpful in managing your allergies. According to Dr. Natalia Shulzhenko, assistant professor and physician at the Oregon State University, our intestines contain more immune cells than the rest of our body, and our digestive system plays a huge role in immune function. Shulzhenko states that “there’s an increasing disruption of these microbes from modern lifestyle, diet, overuse of antibiotics, and other issues”.19 Therefore, seeing your naturopath or nutritionist to work on the health of your gut can be helpful in the management of your allergy symptoms.
PRACTICAL TIPS FOR ALLERGIES
- Wash your hair before going to sleep to remove trapped pollens.
- Rinse your nostrils daily with saline to remove irritants (try a neti pot).
- Keep your windows closed to protect the indoor air from contaminants and if possible run your air conditioner and air purifier to remove pollutants.
- Try to stay indoors if pollen levels are high (especially midday to afternoon when pollen levels are highest).
- Leave gear exposed to outside air (such as shoes and backpacks) outside to preserve inside air.
- Cover your mouth with a handkerchief or mask when you are doing spring yard cleanups such as raking, edging, and mowing.
- Avoid hanging your clothes and sheets outside to dry.
- Consider going on holiday at the height of the pollen
- season to a more pollen-free area such as the beach.
- When travelling in your car, keep the windows closed.
- Exercise regularly – if you suffer from allergies, your
- immune system is challenged. Regular exercise can boost your immune system (but don’t over do it because excessive exercise can have the opposite effect). As Tringale stated “if your body is in top condition, you can put up with more of the trigger before reacting”.
DIET AND LIFESTYLE TIPS
- See your health care provider to discuss possible allergy relief supplements.
- Avoid known allergy foods.
- Increase your intake of fresh vegetables and fruit.
- Choose brightly coloured produce because it contains high levels of antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients (such as quercetin).
- Eat organic when you can to reduce your exposure to pesticides.
- Avoid processed foods because they often contain additives and preservatives.
- Stay well hydrated by drinking a minimum of 2 litres of pure water each day (and by reducing caffeine and alcohol intake).
- Work with your naturopath or nutritionist to ensure that your digestive system is working optimally.
- Choose natural cleaning and personal care products to reduce your toxin exposure.
nutritional or herbal supplements.
Helene is a nutritionist, Reiki practitioner and the co- director of Light Chiropractic and Wellness (lightchiro.com.au), a multi-disciplinary practice in Glebe.
4. Metagenics Wellness Review, ‘Do you suffer from sinus congestion and hayfever?’
9. Shaik YB, Castellani ML, Perrella A, Conti F, Salini V, Tete S, Madhappan B, Vecchiet J, De
Lutiis MA, Caraffa A, Cerulli G. (2006) Role of quercetin (a natural herbal compound) in
allergy and inflammation. J Biol Regul Homeost Agents. Jul-Dec;20(3-4):47-52.
11. Bensky D, Clavey S, Stöger E, Gamble A. (2004) Chinese Herbal Medicine Materia Medica.
3rd edition. Seattle, Washington; Eastland Press: 12-4.
12. Makino T, Furuta Y, Wakushima H, et al. (2003) Anti-allergic effect of Perilla frutescens
and its active constituents. Phytother Res. 2003 Mar;17(3):240-3.
13. Peng Y, Ye J, Kong J. (2005) Determination of phenolic compounds in Perilla frutescens
L. by capillary electrophoresis with electrochemical detection. J Agric Food Chem. Oct
15. Yamazaki M, Ueda H. (1997) Anti-inflammatory and antiallergic activities of perilla
extracts. In: Yu H-C, Kosuna K, Haga M, Eds. Perilla: The Genus Perilla. Amsterdam;
Harwood Academic Publishers:pp47-54.
16. Yu H-C, Niskanen A, Paananen J. (1997) Perilla and the treatment of allergy – a review.
In: Yu H-C, Kosuna K, Haga M, Eds. Perilla: The Genus Perilla. Amsterdam; Harwood
With love, light and appreciation