April showers bring May flowers, but they also usher in seasonal allergies (commonly called hay fever).
Millions suffer from these bothersome indoor/outdoor allergies, but before you pick up the usual prescription or over-the-counter remedy, here are a few natural ways to manage the common symptoms of incessant coughing, runny nose, itchy eyes and sore throat.
While pollutants like asbestos and smoke fumes, as well as seasonal conditions like dust, pollen and mold spores contribute to respiratory allergies, "this type of allergy often occurs when the body has an excess accumulation of mucus, which harbors environment irritants," says Dr. Lindsey Duncan, ND, CN.
"Common drugstore medications generally mask symptoms and also have a rebound effect — the more you use them, the more you need them," Dr. Duncan warns. "When taken for long periods, steroid drugs do not cure and often make hay fever allergies worse by depressing immune defenses and impeding allergen elimination."
Detox your diet
To alleviate allergies, Dr. Duncan advises we eat non-mucus-forming foods such as fresh vegetables and fruits, whole grains, foods with active cultures (like yogurt), foods high in vitamin C like citrus and berries, oily seafood and sulfur-rich cabbage, onions and garlic.
This suggested program "will help detoxify your blood, support your liver, neutralize histamine reactions and neutralize allergen response," she says.
Additionally, get plenty of essential fatty acids from omega-3 oils like flax, sea greens and spinach. Avoid inflammatory preserved and canned foods, sugary foods, caffeine and fatty mucus-forming foods (especially dairy products). Fasting can also assist in clearing allergy symptoms.
Naturopathic doctor Thalia Farshchian’s favorite seasonal allergy cure is drinking three to five cups of nettle tea throughout the day.
"This natural anti-histamine helps the liver detoxify allergens more efficiently and significantly reduces symptoms," Dr. Farshchian says. Other herbs that support avoiding allergies include dandelion (also found in tea form) and milk thistle.
Dr. Elizabeth Trattner, AP, DOM recommends boosting your immune system with fish oil at least one month before allergy season starts.
"Studies have demonstrated that fish oil is an excellent natural anti-inflammatory. Look for fish oil with high doses of EPA, one of the acids in fish oil that decreases inflammation," says Dr. Trattner.
She says to take at least 2,000 mg of EPA a day, with food, before 3 p.m. since "fish oil can cause insomnia in approximately 10 percent of the population who consumes it."
But if you don’t fancy fish oil supplements, go straight to the source and eat oily fish like salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines and albacore tuna, which are loaded with omega-3 fatty acids, two to three times per week.
Clean up your environment
One simple way to avoid an allergic reaction is to keep your bedroom free of pollen and dust. Dr. Trattner recommends investing in a good HEPA filter to purge the air in the bedroom of mold spores, pollen, pet dander, smoke and dust.
She also advises removing the shoes and clothing you wear during the day before you enter the bedroom; decluttering so dust is less likely to collect on the carpet and drapery; and using only natural and unscented household products, dryer sheets, shampoos and laundry soap to decrease the chemical load on your body.
Pet owners should bathe and brush their furry friends frequently because "their fur can hold on to pollen and other allergens that can exacerbate your allergies."
Make necessary lifestyle changes
It sounds like common sense, but allergy suffers may need a gentle reminder to stop smoking and to avoid secondary smoke. "[Smoke] magnifies allergy reactions," says Dr. Duncan.
Regular exercise helps boost the immune system, so incorporate a variety of physical activity into your routine including cardiovascular exercise, yoga and tai chi. During allergy season, however, Dr. Trattner recommends you work out indoors to lower your exposure to pollen in the air.
For allergy relief, licensed acupuncturist and certified herbalist Lexi Hagenson recommends weekly acupuncture treatments for a month or two.
"This 3,000-year-old Chinese practice can remarkably improve quality of life for allergy sufferers, even those who don't see results from conventional anti-allergy medications," says Hagenson, who adds that relief can come after just one session.
"Acupuncture works both locally by [alleviating] head, neck and facial symptoms, and throughout the body by promoting healthy circulation and decreasing areas of hypersensitivity and stagnation."
Use a neti pot three to five times a week
"For thousands of years, ayurvedic medicine has used this simple nasal irrigation system to soothe and protect nasal passages," says Hagenson.
"It's the most effective way to remove pollen, dust, environmental irritants and mucus from your sinuses, without causing dryness or rebound congestion often experienced from pharmaceutical decongestants."