Allergy season is upon us and while some greet spring with a deep breath, others suffer with red puffy and drippy eyes, sneezing, and congestion. You would think that an allergic reaction is genetic; some people have allergies and some don’t, and it tends to run in families. However, clinical evidence supports the notion that you can change the body’s reaction to airborne allergens in a manner that desensitizes even the most stubborn allergies.
Of those suffering from allergic rhinitis, seasonal allergies usually begin with tree pollen in the spring and can extend through to the fall with weed pollens. In between are any numbers of grass pollens, dust particles, and mold spores. Symptoms vary but the underlying mechanism is very similar. The inflammatory response of the immune system is mediated primarily by basophils and mast cells. Mast cells explode releasing, among other things, histamine, in a cascade of effects which ultimately results in misery for some folks. Drug therapy counters this action via antihistamines, which work well though they carry several side effects, most notably drowsiness.
There are several methods we can employ for the holistic treatment of allergies. Avoidance is one strategy; air filtration is another. A great cheap alternative to expensive HEPA purifiers is the book How To Grow Fresh Air. If you have a green thumb (or even a green pinky) you can use certain potted plants to keep the air around you fresh and inviting.
Another strategy is a daily cleanse of the nasal passages with a neti pot. An ancient Indian method of hygiene, neti pots use warm salt water in a special pot to irrigate the sinuses, washing away impurities and allergens. For some people these two strategies are enough. For others, we must look deeper as to why the body is responding with hyper vigilance.
If these allergen-focused strategies provide minimal relief, the next step is to re-educate the immune system and strengthen innate resistance. This can be done directly through botanicals or holistic lifestyle changes.
Much of your immune system is informed by the workings of your gut and the probiotics that dwell along it. Dysbiosis and leaky gut syndrome can be at the root of an overstimulated immune system. Likewise, certain probiotic strains appear to offer resistance to allergic rhinitis symptoms. Keeping your gut cleansed of pathogenic strains and populated with healthy ones will have a positive ripple affect on your entire being, including your immune system and therefore your allergy symptoms.
Along the same line, your adrenal health is an important factor in your overall immune health and mediates inflammation through the release of the hormone cortisol. Tired and weakened adrenal function can leave you with a relative deficiency of cortisol, allowing allergic reactions to run rampant. Prolonged periods of stress also lower immune function and are an underlying cause of the gut problems described above.
Another helpful approach is selecting foods or herbs that specifically inhibit the allergic response. For years I have relied, clinically, on a supplement containing quercetin and stinging nettles. At the right dose, these compounds can work like magic and often turn around a bad case of allergies in under a week. Depending on where you live, you might be able to harvest (with gloves) stinging nettle leaf to prepare and consume at home. Local honey is another very old remedy for allergies as it dietarily inoculates your body with small amounts of pollen from your area that can desensitize your body over time.
Traditional Chinese medicine also has its fair share of remedies, from herbal supplements that treat allergies to acupuncture protocols to balance the immune system. One pearl of wisdom from Chinese medicine is the avoidance of cold beverages to help seasonal allergies. Cold drinks and foods tend to weaken the body which must expend sufficient energy to warm and process them. I have also had a strong suspicion that cold water in particular may irritate the sinuses and respiratory tract as it passes from the mouth down through the esophagus. The transference of the cold, over time, may cause a significant enough change in circulation as to be an underlying factor behind upper respiratory problems.
For some, a neti pot is all that is needed. For others, a therapeutic dose of medicinal herbs does the trick. Still others need to dive deep into the holistic medicine waters and emerge with a newly remodeled gut and revitalized adrenal glands. Whatever the case, be attentive to your personal history with allergies, your overall constitution, and keep working with these therapies that address the root of the problem.