It’s February, and depending on where you live, cold weather may have given you a brief respite from allergy symptoms. However, spring is on its way, and trees are getting ready to pollinate. (Some early bloomers such as cedar may be actively pollinating already.) Before long, you could be feeling those old familiar symptoms–the irritated eyes, the itchy throat, the sneezing, the runny or stuffed up nose, the fatigue.
For many people, spring means it’s time to start popping allergy pills, but medications come with drawbacks. Antihistamines can cause drowsiness, dizziness and rapid heart rate, and they can dry out your mouth and eyes. And according to a recent report that was published in JAMA Internal Medicine, long-term use of some antihistamines, specifically anticholinergic drugs such as Benadryl, can increase a person’s risk for dementia.
Decongestants are another “go-to” drug for spring allergies, but they, too, present a host of possible problems, which sometimes outweigh their benefits. They have been known to increase blood pressure, and for those who are already on blood pressure medication, they can interfere with those drugs. They can also cause dry mouth, headaches, restlessness or agitation and insomnia.
For all of these side effects, some people only get minimal relief from allergy medications, and this is why many allergy sufferers are turning to natural allergy treatment. If you’d like to escape the misery of seasonal allergies without the drawbacks of synthetic medications, here are some ideas for you.
Change your environment
- If you have carpet, vacuum regularly and make sure that your vacuum cleaner is equipped with a HEPA filter. These High Efficiency Particulate Air filters can trap particles such as pollen granules.
- Keep up with the maintenance on your HVAC system and equip it with high-efficiency filters. Be mindful, though, that these filters are very dense and resistant to air flow. Thus, your HVAC system will have to use more energy to force air through the filter, and you may see this reflected in your bill.
- Wash your bedding regularly in hot water. Sheets can accumulate dust and pollen that can trigger allergic reactions.
- Wash your textiles—or limit them altogether. Pollen can also get trapped in carpets and draperies. Some people have good results from replacing curtains with blinds or shutters and getting rid of carpet altogether, opting for hard flooring instead.
If you’re considering getting a cat or dog, weigh this decision carefully if you have allergies. Since pets carry pollen on their coats, they can increase your exposure to the very things that make you miserable. If you are committed to the idea of getting a pet or if you already have a pet that you don’t want to part with, consider these precautions:
- Wipe your pet down with a damp paper towel after they have been outside (and wear a mask while doing so)
- Bathe your pet regularly
- Vacuum often
Change your habits
- Get an app to help you track pollen levels in your area. If pollen counts are high on certain days, or at certain times of day, stay inside.
- As much as you may love that crisp spring air wafting through your house, close your windows.
- If yardwork triggers your allergies and you have the resources to outsource it, consider doing so.
Try natural remedies
- Herbs and vitamins. Bee pollen, vitamin C and vitamin D are just a couple of natural remedies that have been linked with reducing allergies. And while more evidence is needed to confirm this link, for many people, these remedies fall into the “can’t hurt, may help” category. Butterbur (a marsh plant) and bromelain (an enzyme found in papaya and pineapple) have also been shown to have strong anti-inflammatory effects that can reduce allergic inflammation (of the eyes, nasal passage, etc.) Make sure to consult your doctor before trying these natural remedies, especially if you have pre-existing conditions or are taking medications that may react to them.
- Acupuncture. A series of studies have shown acupuncture to be effective in the management of allergic rhinitis.
- Essential oils. Studies of both peppermint and frankincense have shown a potential positive effect of these oils on allergic rhinitis. Peppermint oil has also been linked to bronchial asthma relief.
- Neti pot. These can be purchased at most any drug store, and they are used to irrigate your nasal passages with salt water. Neti pots are considered safe and are generally well-tolerated, though they are a bit of a hassle. While they can’t prevent allergy symptoms, many people feel they are helpful in relieving nasal congestion and sinus discomfort.
- Immunotherapy. Prescribed by doctors around the globe, immunotherapy is considered the ultimate in natural allergy treatment. It is the only treatment that has been shown by thousands of medical studies to actually alter the underlying allergic disease—not just its symptoms. It does this by introducing the body to traces of the very pollens that it is allergic to. With consistent exposure, the body becomes desensitized to these allergens and stops overreacting to them with uncomfortable symptoms.
Whereas medications come with a host of potential side effects, immunotherapy presents very few. It can be taken with most medications and doesn’t interfere with most pre-existing conditions. We will note here that immunotherapy is available in multiple forms and that some are safer than others. For example, the most common type of immunotherapy is subcutaneous immunotherapy or allergy shots, which can lead to anaphylaxis. Because of this risk, it must be administered at a physician’s office. Sublingual immunotherapy, on the other hand, is administered as drops under-the-tongue and is not associated with the same degree of risk for anaphylactic reaction. Thus, it can be administered at home. And while allergy shots are not generally recommended for children under age 7, sublingual immunotherapy has been shown to be safe for children less than 5 years old.
Immunotherapy is the only treatment that can help people achieve “immune modulation,” which is where the immune system learns to stop overreacting to pollens altogether, negating the need for any type of allergy treatment. Not everyone achieves this end state with immunotherapy, but many people do enjoy this “permanent rewiring” of the immune system after a few years of treatment and can live allergy-free.
If you’re tired of depending on prescription or over-the-counter medications to get you through allergy season, contact your AllergyEasy physician about natural allergy treatment alternatives.