Itching eyes? Runny nose?
(If you want to skip this review of antihistamines and steroid inhalers in order to read about alternative options in treating allergies, scroll down to Natural Choices to Treating Seasonal Allergies).
Let’s talk about antihistamines for a moment. Antihistamines are the most common approach to dealing with allergies. Though they don’t change the allergic process, they do change the way it’s expressed. Antihistamines work by blocking the effects of histamine, which is released by mast cells after exposure to an allergen (it’s histamine that causes the itchy, running nose and the itching, watery eyes). Antihistamines attach to the areas on cells where histamines typically attach and “block” the allergic response. Unfortunately, some people experience uncomfortable side effects when using antihistamines; see this list for details. H1 antihistamine use may also contribute to the increased prevalence of obesity and metabolic syndrome in adults.
Steroid nasal inhalers are also used for seasonal allergies. Though they can be very effective, and though nasal-spray steroids have less risk for widespread side effects than oral steroids, small amounts of steroids can get into the body and may weaken the immune system over time. Some commonly reported side effects of inhaled steroids include sneezing, cough, hoarseness, dryness and burning of the nasal passages, bleeding from the nose, headaches, and fungal infections of the mouth. Long-term use of steroid nasal inhalers is still being investigated for more serious health concerns, including inhibiting growth in children, and worsening glaucoma.
(For more on the conventional approach to treating seasonal allergies, see here.)
If you’re going to stop at local drugstore to treat your seasonal allergies, consider trying cromolyn sodium. Cromolyn is a a mast cell stabilizer.The non-prescription drug goes under the name of Nasalcrom Nasal Solution and works well for many people, and side effects are uncommon. Nasalcrom works best when started 1-2 weeks prior to the allergy season, and tends to work best for milder allergies.
Natural Ways to Treat Seasonal Allergies
If you have seasonal allergies, here are some other things to try before antihistamines and steroids.
- Stinging nettle. Stinging nettle can reduce the amount of histamine the body produces in response to an allergen. In one study, almost half of subjects found stinging nettle to be as effective as over the counter anti-histamine drugs. A typical dose is 300 mg per day.
- Quercetin. Quercetin belongs to a group of plant pigments called flavonoids that give many fruits, flowers, and vegetables their colors. Flavonoids, such as quercetin, are antioxidants. Quercetin is a strong inhibitor of mast cell activation and histamine release. The recommended dosage for allergic rhinitis ranges from 250-600 mg, three times daily, before meals.
- Bromelain: An anti-inflammatory enzyme found in pineapples that can also be useful for fighting allergies and inflammation. One study suggests taking between 400-500 mg three times daily of 1800-2000 m.c.u. potency bromelain. Take on an empty stomach.
- D Hist and D-Hist Jr. are two products we carry at Wildwood. Our patients love them (one formula, as you might tell by the name, is for kids). Both formulas contain Vitamin C, Quercetin, Stinging Nettle, Bromelain, and N-Acetyl-L-Cysteine.
- Fix Your Gut: Oh, gut microbiome! How you influence EVERYTHING under the sun. For an accessible, easy-to-read book on starting to heal the gut, see Dr. Sasha’s book, Digestive Relief for Life.
- Jade Windscreen and Bi Yan Pian: Two famous Chinese herbal formulas in the treatment of allergies. See your acupuncturist to know whether one of these formulas would be suited for you.
Also, don’t forget these simple other things that can greatly reduce your suffering:
- Use a NetiPot! Nasal douching with a warm saline solution can help rinse pollen grains off nasal tissues and soothe irritated membranes.
- Change your clothes. Before settling in for the day (especially if you’ve spent time outside, and potentially have pollen on your clothes and in your hair), strip down and rinse off in the shower. Put your clothes in a bag and wash promptly. At the least, avoid going to bed without rinsing off in the shower. Allergens on your pillow is something you certainly want to avoid in order to get a decent night of sleep.
- Keep your sleeping area an allergen-free haven. For people with seasonal allergies, sleep is often not as restorative. Avoid sleeping with the window open if you are allergic to pollens/molds. Many people also use a HEPA filter in the bedroom where they sleep.