If you greet the arrival of spring each year with a stuffy nose and watery eyes instead of a happy heart, it’s time to take a new look at your seasonal allergies. You may have been struggling with spring allergies for years, but that doesn’t mean you can’t learn a few new tricks about coping with them.
Allergies: Who gets them and why?
About 40 million people in the U.S. have some type of “indoor/outdoor” allergy, known as seasonal allergies, hay fever, or allergic rhinitis, says James Sublett, MD, FACAAI, a clinical professor and section chief of pediatric allergy at the University of Louisville School of Medicine and managing partner of Family Allergy and Asthma in Louisville, Ky.
“Allergies have a strong genetic component – if your parents had allergies, you’re far more likely to have them yourself,” he explains. “Most allergies develop in childhood, but in some people, they develop later after exposure to environmental factors ‘flips the switch.’ For example, we know that diesel particulate exposure can trigger allergies. The end result is a runaway response in the immune system.”
Seasonal and other indoor/outdoor allergies aren’t just annoying. Asthma is sometimes triggered by allergies (although most people with allergies do not develop asthma). But if you do have asthma and your allergies aren’t well controlled, you may be more likely to have asthma attacks, which can be dangerous and even life-threatening.
We often turn to over-the-counter medications for allergies, ranging from antihistamines, which reduce sniffling, to decongestants, which help clear out mucus. If they’re ineffective, some people have to turn to doctor-prescribed options, such as an allergy shot (how fun).
But antihistamines make one out of five users drowsy. According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, antihistamines can relieve up to 80% of symptoms but rarely all of them. And oral decongestants can cause headaches, sleeplessness and rapid heartbeat.
So, if running to the drugstore when allergy season hits isn’t your thing, try out some of these alternative and natural remedies for the pollen attacks.
1. Take some butterbur.
No, not butterbeer. Butterbur is a plant whose name originates from its usage to wrap butter in its large leaves.
But now its extracts are used for headaches, fever and nasal allergies, and it blocks the chemicals that can cause swelling in the nasal passages. In a 2002 study of 125 patients, butterbur had similar effects to an antihistamine, but without the drowsiness.
You can buy butterbur tablets in health stores or drink it as a tea.
2. Consume some stinging nettle leaf.
This plant’s root usage can be traced back to medieval times as a diuretic, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. But now its capsules are used for those afflicted by hay fever; it is believed to reduce the amount of histamines in the body. But if you don’t have problems with urination, stick to the leaves, not the root.
3. Sip some apple cider vinegar.
Drink this to increase your potassium, which will help eliminate runny noses. Apple cider vinegar helps to break up mucus in the body, letting you breathe again. But don’t drink it straight; try diluting it in water or with lemon juice.
4. Eat some probiotics.
One parfait, coming up.
Although mostly recognized for its use in balancing our gut bacteria, probiotics (found in yogurt), have been shown to support the immune systems of children who suffer from allergic rhinitis.
5. Flush your nose with nasal irrigation.
Nasal irrigation is the draining of saline from one nostril through another in order to flush out the mucus, using things such as Neti pots, which look like small teapots, or bulb syringes. A 2006 study showed that it was beneficial to patients suffering from hay fever.
6. Take a hot shower.
Not only will the steam help temporarily clear your sinuses, but the American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology recommends you take a shower once you enter your home to cleanse yourself of all the outdoor pollen.
7. Breathe in some eucalyptus oil.
The dried leaves of this plant make a scented oil that is commonly used for allergy relief, due to its ability to reduce inflammation. A 2010 study found it to be beneficial for respiratory problems such as asthma.
Putting some in a small bowl at your work desk or rubbing about three drops on your chest could help you breathe easier.
8. Eat spicy food.
Chowing down on some hot food spiced with cayenne pepper, onion and garlic, or hot ginger will help thin out your mucus. This is a great excuse to order in some Korean food right now.
9. Try some acupuncture.
The traditional practice of Chinese medicine that involves thin needles poking you in strategic places may have most people freaked, but studies show it has been effective in patients with allergic rhinitis.