What makes spring so beautiful for many people leads to misery for those who suffer from seasonal allergy symptoms. Fresh-cut grass, blooming trees and flowers, and weeds release pollen, causing seasonal allergies (also known as hay fever) in an estimated 40 million to 60 million people each year, or up to 20 percent of people living in certain countries.
Surveys have shown that when left untreated, seasonal allergy symptoms can become pretty miserable, affecting day-to-day activities and sometimes even spurring asthma attacks. For example, approximately 80 percent of people with asthma also suffer from seasonal allergies.
Treating hay fever symptoms can reduce asthma-related hospitalizations and emergencies.
How do you treat seasonal allergies? The good news is that natural allergy treatments can be as effective and, in many cases, even more effective than allergy medications.
Some of the best options for managing seasonal allergy symptoms include making changes to your diet to reduce common allergens and inflammatory foods, taking supplements that support your immune system, and ridding your home of allergy triggers.
What Are Seasonal Allergies?
Allergic rhinitis is the medical term for hay fever and seasonal allergies, which affects the nasal passageways. This condition is characterized by the presence of inflammatory cells within the mucosa and submucosa.
What months are allergy season? The time of the year that someone suffers from hay fever depends on the person’s specific triggers. Allergic rhinitis can occur not just in the spring, but throughout the summer and into the fall depending on the person.
While hay fever frequently begins at a young age, it can strike anyone at any time. Sometimes seasonal allergy symptoms fade over the years, only to reoccur later in life.
If you experience allergic rhinitis one location and move to a new area with different types of flora, your symptoms may go away or possibly get worse.
Pollen is one of the main causes of seasonal asthma. Every tree, flower and weed releases pollen, but not all individuals have heightened sensitivity or allergic reactions to all types of pollens.
It’s important to pay attention and recognize which things specifically trigger your hay fever symptoms. For some people, cottonwood trees and ragweed are the problems, while others struggle with grass.
Research indicates nearly 75 percent of people in the United States who suffer from seasonal allergies are allergic to ragweed. Unlike grass, trees and flowers that produce pollen in the spring and summer, pollen due to ragweed is often highest during the fall.
Nearly a third of ragweed allergy sufferers also experience allergic responses to certain foods. These include cucumbers, melons, zucchini, sunflower seeds, bananas and chamomile tea. (See below in the “Foods to Avoid” section.)
Seasonal Allergy Symptoms
What symptoms can seasonal allergies cause? The most common allergic rhinitis symptoms include:
Stuffy nose/runny nose
Excess mucus production
Itchy, watery eyes
Tickle/irritation in the ears
Decreased concentration and focus
Exhaustion and sleep disorders
Low blood pressure
Middle ear infections
Hay fever can feel similar to a common cold or sinus infection, but colds and sinus infections come and go much more quickly than seasonal allergies. Allergies usually don’t go away until the pollen is dormant.
Someone suffering from seasonal allergies faces the same challenges season after season. When the allergen is pollen, mold or another airborne substance, the symptoms typically manifest in the lungs, nose and eyes.
Food allergies, on the other hand, most commonly affect the mouth and stomach and may cause skin rashes.
Researchers are at odds as to why this problem has worsened over the past 30 years but agree that allergies to pollen, mold and some foods are growing exponentially.
We know increased pollen counts are one of the health effects of climate change; In 2000, pollen counts registered at 8,455 grains per cubic meter. By 2040, that number is projected to be well over 20,000.
How do you know if you have bad allergies?
The same pollen and allergens that trigger seasonal allergy symptoms can sometimes cause more serious symptoms, such as asthma attacks that result in wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness and difficulty breathing. This condition is referred to as allergy-induced asthma or allergic asthma.
People with compromised immune systems, COPD and other respiratory conditions also need to manage their seasonal allergy symptoms to prevent further complications. Changes in diet, natural supplements, essential oils and lifestyle changes can help, but it’s also smart to work with a doctor if you suffer from multiple conditions that affect your breathing.
As mentioned above, examples of allergy triggers that can cause hay fever symptoms include:
residue from trees and flowers
These triggers are most likely to lead to rhinitis symptoms when the weather is dry and warm.
Allergy symptoms are due to our bodies releasing histamine in response to an allergen. A strong immune system is therefore key to fighting seasonal allergies, since this helps control histamine release.
Did you know that your risk of suffering from seasonal allergy symptoms increases dramatically if you have certain underlying medical conditions? Asthma, unmanaged stress, deviated septum, nasal polyps, recent trauma or illness, pregnancy, and even food allergies can put you at heightened risk.
According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, allergies are actually disorders of the immune system. The body over-reacts to harmless substances and produces antibodies to attack the substance. This is what causes the symptoms.
You’re particularly susceptible to experiencing hay fever if you have:
A weakened immune system
Physical trauma or surgery
High amounts of emotional and physical stress
A lack of sleep
Stress plays a big part in keeping up immune defenses, and unmanaged stress can lead to worsened allergic reactions.
Women who are pregnant — even those who’ve never suffered from allergies before — are more prone to allergic rhinitis. In fact, one in 100 pregnant women suffers from asthma during pregnancy, and many more suffer from hay fever.
Safely treating allergies during pregnancy can be difficult — most over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription allergy medications aren’t considered safe for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding. Fortunately, there are numerous effective natural remedies that are safe, including for children, pregnant women and the elderly.
Limiting the time you spend outdoors can help relieve these symptoms of hay fever, but this isn’t the best solution. Who wants to spend their spring, summer and fall stuck indoors?
Allergies can’t completely be prevented, but allergic reactions typically can be — or can at least be reduced.
The treatment goal is to avoid contact with the allergen — however, this can be extremely difficult depending on your lifestyle.
Treating your allergies typically requires a multi-pronged attack, one that addresses your diet, lifestyle and natural treatments.
Foods to Avoid During Allergy Season:
Any foods that you are allergic to, or have sensitivity to, should be avoided. If you’re not sure how far-reaching your food sensitivities are, an elimination diet can help identify foods that can make your allergies worse.
Here are some common food allergens:
Bottled citrus juice
In addition to those above, many common food preservatives — including sodium bisulfite, potassium bisulfite, sodium sulfite and artificial sweeteners — can contribute to your allergic rhinitis symptoms.
Avoid dried fruits, bottled citrus juice, shrimp and any highly processed foods. Many people also find relief when avoiding foods that cause mucus production — and it isn’t just dairy that contributes to mucus.
Conventional dairy, gluten, sugar, caffeinated beverages, as well as any foods that you have sensitivities to can worsen your reaction.
If you have a ragweed allergy, it’s important to avoid melons, bananas, cucumbers, sunflower seeds, echinacea and chamomile, as they can trigger allergic responses in your system. The goal of limiting foods that you have sensitivity to is to lighten the overall burden on your immune system and allow it to function more optimally.
Best Foods to Enjoy During Allergy Season:
The foods to avoid list may feel overwhelming, but fortunately, there are great-tasting foods that help relieve your symptoms while strengthening your immune system, including:
Raw local honey
Hot and spicy foods
Apple cider vinegar
Fresh, organic vegetables
Raw local honey is at the top of this list for good reason. In a randomized, controlled study published in the International Archives of Allergy and Immunology, patients who consumed honey had significantly better control of their allergies compared to those on conventional allergy medications.
Local honey works to relieve symptoms because it contains local pollen that causes your allergies and helps the immune system deal with it better. A couple of tablespoons each day can relieve your itchy, watery eyes, runny nose and the general symptoms of hay fever.
If you are battling excessive mucus, heat things up by eating hot, spicy foods. Hot, spicy foods help thin the mucus and allow it to be more easily expressed.
Try adding garlic, onion, ginger, cinnamon and cayenne pepper to your recipes.
Bone broth from chicken, beef or lamb helps ease respiratory problems and expel excess nasal mucus. It also helps reduce inflammation.
Probiotic-rich foods support a healthy gut, improve digestion, increase energy levels and so much more. Probiotic foods to eat during allergy season include:
Sauerkraut or kimchi
If you experience excessive mucus production, consume raw, organic dairy products, as the pasteurization process destroys the enzymes the body need.
The enzyme bromelain found in pineapple, in addition to high levels of vitamins B, C and other essential nutrients, can help reduce your reaction to allergens. Be sure to eat the core of fresh, ripe pineapples, as it has the highest concentration of the essential nutrients you need during allergy season.
Apple cider vinegar (ACV) supports a healthy gut and helps break up mucus and support lymphatic drainage. Three times per day, mix one tablespoon of ACV with one tablespoon of fresh-squeezed lemon juice and a half-tablespoon of local raw honey, and drink it.
Fresh, organic vegetables — including Swiss chard, which is high in quercetin, cabbage, beets, carrots and yams — can help you fight allergic reactions. Choose vegetables that are dark green, yellow or orange for the best nutrient density during allergy season.
Clean proteins, including wild-caught salmon, free-range poultry and organic grass-fed beef and lamb, are important, too. Wild salmon is rich in vitamins, omega-3 fatty acids, essential minerals and, of course, protein.
If you haven’t yet made the switch to these types of clean proteins, allergy season is the perfect time.
Other foods to enjoy during hay fever season including ginger, garlic, horseradish and onions. Ginger can be particularly helpful as it helps warm the body and break down toxins in your system.
Best Supplements for Allergy Symptoms:
It’s best to start supplements 30–60 days in advance of allergy season for the best results. Recent research shows that spirulina, butterbur and phototherapy hold promise in treating the symptoms of seasonal allergies.
Spirulina — 1 teaspoon per day: Spirulina helps stop the release of histamine that causes symptoms. Consumption of spirulina was shown to significantly improve symptoms, including nasal discharge, sneezing, nasal congestion and itching, in a double-blind, placebo-controlled study.
Quercetin — 1,000 milligrams per day: Research shows that quercetin, the flavonoid that gives fruits and vegetables their rich color, stops the production and release of histamine. Please note that quercetin may interfere with certain medications, including antibiotics, cyclosporine and other medications changed by the liver.
Butterbur — 500 milligrams per day: Butterbur has traditionally been used to treat bronchitis, excess mucus and asthma. In a recent study of hay fever sufferers, it also was found to be as effective as some allergic rhinitis medications. However, young children and pregnant or breast-feeding women should not take butterbur supplements.
Probiotics — 50 billion international units (2–6 capsules) per day: Probiotics modify the intestinal flora in the gut and help boost the immune system — plus they show promise in the treatment and prevention of allergies. While studies using probiotics are still in the early stages, another study from the European Annals of Allergy and Clinical Immunology supports findings that probiotics can be an effective allergy treatment.
Vitamin A — 2,000 micrograms per day: Vitamin A helps fight inflammation and has antihistamine properties.
Bromelain — 1,000 milligrams per day: Bromelain, the enzyme in pineapple, helps reduce swelling in the nose and sinuses, helping relieve hay fever symptoms.
Zinc — 30 milligrams per day: Zinc helps treat adrenal fatigue caused by chronic stress.
Stinging Nettle — 300–500 milligrams twice per day: Stinging nettle contains antihistamine and anti-inflammatory properties that help reduce the body’s production of symptom-causing histamine. If you take lithium, sedatives, blood-thinning medications, or medication for diabetes or high blood pressure, be aware that stinging nettle can cause adverse interactions with these medications.
Complementary Natural Treatments:
These complementary approaches can help you feel better overall when partnered with a healthy diet and supplements.
Neti Pot — Using a Neti pot is a very effective way to flush out mucus. Once or twice daily, use warm, filtered water or distilled water with a touch of salt to flush your nasal passages for relief.
Essential Oils — Diffusing essential oils, including menthol, eucalyptus, lavender and peppermint oil, helps open up the nasal passages and lungs, improves circulation, and relieves stress. Try this homemade vapor rub when you have excess congestion and mucus.
Acupuncture — Acupuncture may help reduce symptoms associated with seasonal allergies without side effects. Prior to allergy season, meet with an acupuncturist to determine the best course of action.
Lifestyle Changes for Allergy Season:
Stay hydrated. Drink eight to 10 glasses of fresh water each day. If you get dehydrated, any mucus you have will become much more difficult to expel.
Limit exposure. On high pollen count days, or days that are particularly dusty or windy, limit your exposure. Wear a mask if you cannot limit your time outdoors.
Shower before bed. Pollen and dust left on your skin and in your hair overnight can make your symptoms worse.
Wash clothes and bedding. Freshly laundered bedding and clothes help reduce incidental exposure to allergens.
Wipe down pets. Pets that spend time outdoors come into the home covered in pollen. Wipe them down with a damp washcloth to limit your exposure to pollen and dust.
Replace carpeted areas with hard-surfaced flooring. Carpet attracts and keeps dust and pollen that is nearly difficult to remove with a vacuum. If you have significant seasonal allergy symptoms, you could benefit from replacing your carpet with an easy-to-clean surface.
De-clutter. Clutter can increase house dust and allergens, which make your seasonal allergy symptoms worse. Remove clutter, especially from your bedroom, for the best results.
Keep doors and windows closed. When pollen counts are high, or on dusty days, keep your doors and windows closed to limit exposure.
Risks and Side Effects
Antihistamines, corticosteroids and decongestants, as well as other OTC allergy medications, such as nasal sprays and allergy shots, are most often prescribed by doctors to counteract the effects of histamines produced by the body. However, they do have side effects, and sometimes they take weeks to begin working.
The most common side effects caused by allergy medications include:
Dryness of the eyes, nose and mouth
Unusual bleeding and bruising
In children, side effects include:
Impaired cognitive function
Pharmaceutical allergy medicines, such as nasal sprays and allergy shots, simply aren’t for everyone. Remember, they don’t cure the allergies — they just treat the symptoms.
In fact, many aren’t recommended for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, or those with high blood pressure, heart disease, kidney or liver disease, glaucoma, or with thyroid problems.
Allergic reactions, including allergic rhinitis and food allergies, have dramatically increased over the last several decades.
Common hay fever symptoms can include having a stuffy nose, sinus pain, headaches, fatigue, itchy throat, watery eyes and more.
Medications may provide some relief but usually not as well as natural remedies. Plus, they don’t solve the underlying causes.
Treating allergies takes patience and a combination of tactics. Start now by removing foods you are sensitive to, eating foods that boost your immune system, managing stress, and incorporating supplements and complementary treatments into your routine.