One morning you wake up and it’s … ah… ah… ah-CHOOOO! Allergy season can hit fast and hard, with sudden fits of sneezing, a nonstop runny nose and itchy eyes leaving you feeling miserable.
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For many, the path to relief begins with the rattle of a pill bottle — and that’s perfectly OK.
But there are other, more natural options that may be worth a try, says functional medicine specialist Melissa Young, MD. And most are simple solutions that don’t require the removal of a childproof cap.
“There can be an over-reliance on medications as a quick fix,” says Dr. Young. “Sometimes, you can take a different approach and get similar results.”
Natural remedies for allergies
Resolving seasonal allergies may just be a matter of finding and addressing the root cause. “It’s about getting a deeper level of understanding of why you’re having an allergic response and then taking steps to decrease or reverse symptoms,” explains Dr. Young.
But if you’re not sure of the cause — be it tree pollen, ragweed, mold or dust, etc. — what can you do to tamp down the sniffling, sneezing and wheezing that come when seasonal allergy triggers spike? Here are eight ideas you can try.
Did you know that more than 70% of your immune system resides in your gut? What you eat supports the microbiome in your belly. So, keeping that gut flora healthy can help your immune system better handle allergens.
Common food sensitivities to gluten, dairy and sugar can lead to immune system dysregulation.
“The reality is we eat a lot of junk and non-organic food grown with the application of pesticides and herbicides,” says Dr. Young. “Choosing clean, organic food can reduce toxin exposures that alter our immune system function.”
Adding probiotics to your diet is a good start. Research shows that probiotics — which are plentiful in many yogurts and fermented food such as sauerkraut and kombucha tea — can help treat hay fever (allergic rhinitis).
An elimination diet may also be helpful in identifying if certain foods cause inflammation, leading to a “leaky gut” that worsens seasonal allergy symptoms. “There can even be connections between specifics foods and pollen,” notes Dr. Young. “It’s just a matter of finding them.”
Clear the air
Filtering the air inside of your home can eliminate dander, dust and pollen particles that can make your allergies go haywire. Look for a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter, which removes about 99.97% of troublesome airborne particles.
“Putting a HEPA filter in your bedroom can make a big difference,” says Dr. Young.
Another simple step? Close windows in your home when pollen counts soar in your area. Air conditioning can help, too, by removing moisture from the air and knocking back mold and mildew growth.
Hit the showers
Make sure to get a good scrubbing in, particularly before going to sleep, in order to wash off any allergens.
“Think of the hair in your ears and your eyebrows as Q-tips that collect pollen throughout the day,” says Dr. Young. “If that hangs around while you’re in bed, it can worsen itchy eyes and nasal congestion while you’re trying to get a good night’s sleep.”
Washing your bedding once a week in hot water can reduce your exposure to allergens such as dust, pollen and animal dander. (If you can stomach it, learn why you really need to wash your sheets regularly.)
Also, change clothes when you get home in case allergens latched onto your garments. Toss them next to the sheets in the hamper.
Saline nasal irrigation
Flushing out your sinuses with a neti pot or squeeze bottle can wash away pollen and other allergens that found their way in. Studies show the effectiveness of a good sinus rinse, too. “It really can provide a lot of relief,” says Dr. Young.
Surprised to see this on the list? Don’t be. This ancient needling practice can deliver a boost to your immune system and help combat hay fever. “There’s good research supporting the effectiveness of acupuncture for the treatment of allergies and sinus disorders,” says Dr. Young.
Vitamins and supplements
As mentioned, a healthy diet supports a strong immune system response. But it’s possible that your immune system may need an extra boost — and that’s where dietary supplements might help.
Certain vitamins and herbs also can help limit inflammation that comes with allergic responses. Dr. Young suggests looking for supplements with:
- Vitamin D.
- Vitamin C.
- Vitamin A.
- Omega-3 fatty acids.
- Stinging nettle, which is considered a natural antihistamine.
Your body just doesn’t work as effectively if it’s under stress. “Increased stress promotes allergic disease,” adds Dr. Young. Taking a few meditative minutes could help you keep things under control.
Do natural allergy cures really work?
For some people, yes. “We’ve seen huge reductions in allergy symptoms for some when they embrace making these sort of changes and just run with it,” says Dr. Young. “There have been really nice results.”
But treat the above recommendations as more of a potential starting point for dealing with allergies, not the be-all and end-all for treatment. They’re also not a substitute for medical care during a severe reaction.
“There are people who benefit from medications. That’s why they’re available,” says Dr. Young.
But if you’re looking for an alternative to day-to-day allergy maintenance, it’s important to know there might be simple solutions aside from medications. “These approaches can help,” Dr. Young assures. “It’s just a matter of giving them a try.”