Allopathic & Naturopathic Treatments: Seasonal Allergies & Hay Fever
Let's talk for a minute about my patient Jane. Jane's main concerns focused on digestion, including bloating and constipation. Like most people, she had seasonal allergies, but she took medications during high pollen season and it seemed to help. After a few months of working on her diet, eliminating aggravating foods, and boosting her immune system, allergy season rolls around. And to Jane's surprise, her allergies are have minimized to the point that she has not had to take medication yet! Let me explain...
Most are probably familiar with the symptoms of seasonal allergies – runny nose, sneezing, nasal congestion and pressure, itchy watery eyes, coughing, ear fullness and hives. Seasonal allergies occur when the body produces a hypersensitive immune reaction to an otherwise harmless substance - in this case pollen. The body’s defense to the allergen is to release histamine. The histamine release then causes smooth muscle constriction, mucus secretions, vascular permeability and sensory nerve stimulation – which presents as the cascade of symptoms mentioned earlier. Compared to a cold or flu, nasal discharge tends to be thin, watery and clear, and no fever is present. Note: perennial allergies (referring to dust mites, pet hair/dander or mold) are very similar, but occur all year round.
Common Allergen Timeline:
Tree pollen – March until May (can stretch as long as July)
Grass pollen – April- July (Primarily in May)
Weed pollen – July
Ragweed pollen – Late August until first frost
Of course, the number one recommendation is to avoid the allergen. While this is not always completely possible, allopathic treatments tend to focus on symptom relief; naturopathic treatments focus on both symptoms relief and prevention.
Generally the first line of action is to try an oral anti-histamine. These medications, such as Claratin and Allegra, block the histamine from binding to its receptors, which stops the symptoms from occurring. Intranasal anti-histamines are available as well. Intranasal corticosteroids are often recommended for more persistent symptoms. They act locally and help decrease mucosal inflammation. Compared to oral antihistamines, corticosteroids have a larger list of side effects including: bitter aftertaste, burning, nose bleeds, headaches, nasal dryness and throat irritation. Cromolyn can be used as a nasal spray to inhibit histamine release, but it has to be used more frequently and is not as effective. For severe symptoms, subcutaneous or sublingual immunotherapy may be considered.
It is important to note that most pharmaceutical treatments for seasonal allergies are either contraindicated or cautioned during pregnancy.
After each initial intake, each of my patients receives a custom treatment plan that is tailored specifically to their symptoms, lifestyle and root cause. However, that being said, here are my top 5 focus areas for seasonal allergies:
1. Natural Anti-Histamines:
Vitamin c and quercetin are the heavy hitters when it comes to non-pharmaceutical anti-histamine. They are both anti-inflammatory as well. Quercetin is a bioflavonoid and is chemically related to cromolyn. It stabilizes mast cells, helping decrease the release of histamine. Vitamin C also boosts the immune system. Often these supplements can be found paired with bromelain, which reduces edema and mucosal inflammation by allowing tissue to drain better.
2. Investigate Food Aggravations & Sensitivities:
Food sensitivity may be causing a hyperactive immune response in the body. This in turn can have the immune system on high alert and more likely to cause an immune response when faced with inhaled pollen.
Cross reactivity may occur when the immune system reacts to a protein in a food that is similar in structure to pollen. For example, profilins found in birch pollen often have a cross reactivity with almond, apple, peanut, potato, soy and plum; Ragweed pollen has a cross reactivity with banana, melon, cucumber, tomato, watermelon and zucchini.
Separate from an immune response, dairy can also thicken mucus and stimulate an increase in mucus production, so it is best avoided during allergy season.
Nasal saline irrigations, or nasal rinses, have been shown to be effective at decreasing allergy symptoms. However, they must be used consistently and numerous times per day to provide lasting effect. Increased water consumption can help thin secretions and ease expectorations. Steam inhalation with essential oils can be a great way to open up the airways and provide some relief.
4. Boost the Immune System:
Since seasonal allergies involve the immune system, supporting the immune system can be key. A variety of vitamins, herbs and other supplements that can assist include: probiotics, reishi mushroom, zinc, vitamin d and of course vitamin c.
5. Clean Up The Home:
While this is most important if you have a dust allergy, keeping your nasal passages clear of any aggravating factors can definitely have a positive impact. This includes: avoiding cigarette smoke, investing in a hepa filter, vacuuming frequently, using less chemicals and replacing cleaners with natural products, cleaning carpets, drapes, and couches to reduce dust mites, and, my personal favourite, having house plants that help with air quality.
I often see patients mention seasonal allergies as a condition that they have simply decided to live with– but it doesn’t have to be this way! Working on decreasing exposure, improving the immune system and focusing on the diet is all important and can help decrease symptoms! Reach out to chat more about this at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow me on instagram and facebook @doctormargotnd.
References: 1. Treatment of allergic rhinitis. AAFP. 2015. From: https://www.aafp.org/afp/2015/1201/p985.html#afp20151201p985-b52 2. https://familydoctor.org/condition/allergic-rhinitis/
3. Food sensitivities and cross reactions. Rocky Mountain Analytical. 2018.
Disclaimer: Any information is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be used in place of professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of a qualified health care practitioner with any questions or health concerns you may have.