Add “bothersome sneezing and watery eyes” to the list of ways the pandemic may be affecting your quality of life. All that hand sanitizing and social distancing you’ve been doing may contribute to more severe symptoms this allergy season.
It’s called the hygiene hypothesis. Most of us haven’t been exposed to typical amounts of viruses or bacteria over the last year or two. When that happens, your immune system can become dysregulated. Once you are re-exposed to seasonal allergens, it is possible your immune response will overreact and your symptoms will be a whole lot worse than usual. That’s simply how the immune system works.
How to Be Prepared Ahead of Peak Allergy Season
Pollen, and other airborne allergens, causes cells in the immune system to release histamines. Those histamines trigger everything from itchy eyes and throat to a runny nose.
If you want to try avoiding the primary causes of your seasonal allergies, testing can help identify the culprits. In addition to the familiar skin scratch tests, there are blood tests for allergies and sensitivities. But 100 percent avoidance may not always be possible. Instead, there are safe, natural solutions to reduce your exposure to allergens and keep annoying symptoms from disrupting your life. The trick is catching them early.
By the time most people seek help, they’re miserable from a full-blown allergy attack, and vasoconstrictor eye drops and antihistamines (with all their many side effects) may be their only options. In the case of conventional eye drops, those can overdry your eyes so you’re exchanging one uncomfortable symptom with another.
How to enjoy more freedom from allergy symptoms:
1. Minimize your exposure to inflammatory agents
Allergic reactions can contribute to inflammation, which can lead to a whole host of other issues including speeding the aging process. This isn’t to say that inhaling tree pollen will cause premature aging, but it makes sense to avoid bombarding your immune system with other inflammatory agents such as sugar and white flour that promote inflammatory cytokines. Also steer clear of excessive alcohol and smoke.
2. Choose homeopathic solutions
Homeopathic products, such as Similasan Allergy Eye Relief eye drops, activate your body’s own defense mechanisms to address the underlying problem. Similasan contains only natural active ingredients (no dyes, chemical vasoconstrictors, decongestants or steroids). That means, for example, the eye drops can be used as often as needed.
3. Start eating more brightly colored fruits and vegetables
The mast cells (part of the body’s immune system) react to allergies by releasing histamines, which cause itchy eyes, runny nose, sneezing, etc. There’s a ton of research showing that the quercetin in some foods helps stabilize the mast cells before they start releasing histamines. Common quercetin-rich foods include apples and onions.
4. But avoid foods that may cause allergy cross reactivity
This occurs when proteins in pollen are similar to the proteins found in a particular food. Tree nuts also demonstrate cross-reactivity. This causes tingling and unpleasant itching in the mouth, throat and lips, as well as an irritated GI. Although not life threatening, it’s actually more common than peanut, milk, egg and fish allergy occurring in about 10 percent of the population.
If you have an allergy to tree pollen (especially Birch) then you likely have a cross reactivity to: apples, plums, kiwis, carrots, celery, potatoes, hazelnuts, almonds, sunflower seeds, and even spices such as oregano, basil and dill. These may need to be avoided. If your allergy stems from grass pollen you may want to avoid melons, oranges, kiwi, tomatoes and peanuts, among others.
Other Tips for Reducing Seasonal Allergies
Be aware that some health products may be bad for allergy sufferers. For those reactive to ragweed, serious cross-reactions are possible from consuming chamomile, honey and echinacea. This is not oral allergy syndrome, however. In this case, it’s because they belong to the same botanical family.
Remove outdoor allergens once you come home. Change your clothes. Wash your hair. Put your pillow and pillow case in the dryer to remove dust and pollen. And use a saline flush to safely remove allergens from your nasal passages.
Understand that allergens are everywhere! It’s a common misconception that allergens are seasonal and only encountered outdoors. Your indoor air (home, car and office) is often more polluted. Plus, even if you don’t see yellow dust, microscopic outdoor allergens can cling to your hair and clothing. You may be carrying them with you throughout your day.
Wear sunglasses and a hat. These will help keep allergens from getting into your eyes and clinging to your hair.
Replace your home filters and vehicle’s interior cabin air filter. If you can afford to, install a High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filter on your furnace. This type of air filter can theoretically remove at least 99.97% of dust, pollen, mold, bacteria and any airborne particles with a size of 0.3 microns.
When it comes to your car, most people are unaware they even have these filters, which trap pollen, dust and other airborne particles. They typically need to be replaced every 15,000 to 30,000 miles. And if you drive on dirt roads, you may want to replace yours more frequently.
Allergies don’t have to be a no-win battle. The key is to change your behavior before symptoms become severe. That way, you can help your body respond more effectively when it is exposed to allergens and finally enjoy all the good things that the season has to offer.
Bryce Wylde, BSc (Hon), DHMHS, is a leading health expert specializing in integrative and functional medicine, homeopathy, clinical nutrition, and supplementation. As associate medical director at P3 Health in Toronto, and director of My Health Report, he blends the latest in science and technology with traditional and ancient remedies. Wylde is the author of three national best-selling books, previous host of CTV’s Wylde on Health, and is a frequent guest health expert on U.S. and Canadian TV.