With the summer months upon us, many people are experiencing allergies caused by “airborne” pollen. Experts indicate that over 35 million Americans suffer from seasonal allergies, making pollen the most common allergen. Pollen is a fine, powdery substance produced by seed-bearing plants, which is released into the air when plants bloom during the spring and summer months. The “pollen count” refers to the number of pollen grains present in a standard volume of air (i.e. a cubic yard) over a 24-hour period at a particular place and time.
According to meteorologists, the pollen count has been unusually high this year. The common symptoms of pollen allergies are itchiness, watery eyes, sneezing, coughing, and some skin rashes. Some severe seasonal allergy sufferers remain indoors during the spring and summer months to minimize pollen exposure. But for most of us, avoidance of the outdoors is not a feasible treatment strategy, and it is not a great way to spend the summer.
A wide range of over-the-counter and prescription allergy medications may help minimize your symptoms by limiting the body’s reaction to pollen for a short time. However, these medications have side effects, such as drowsiness, and chronic use can be problematic for some. It is also difficult to know which ones will work best for a particular person, so it often is a process of trial and error to find the one that is most tolerable and effective. I generally recommend that people augment their allergy regimen with some relatively safe strategies that can be used stand alone or along with medication, assuming your physician is informed and agrees.
Our allergy expert at the Jefferson-Myrna Brind Center of Integrative Medicine, Dr. Birgit Rakel, is particularly excited about a recent study on the herb Butterbur, which showed that taking the extract four times a day alleviated the symptoms of seasonal allergies without drowsiness. Butterbur extract is taken from the plant itself and is now available as an over-the-counter nutritional supplement. Another natural remedy that I use in my practice is Quercetin, which is a flavonoid and anti-oxidant commonly found in foods like broccoli, berries, and green tea. Quercetin is a natural anti-histamine. If your allergy symptoms include watery and itchy eyes, there is a brand of homeopathic drops called, Optique 1, which might be helpful. Euphorbium, a homeopathic nasal spray is a natural option for opening the nasal passages.
Since inflammation is a big issue with allergies, modifiying your diet can be supportive. Omega-3 fatty acids and a plant-based diet rich with fresh vegetables, some fruit, and whole grains will help reduce inflammation in your body, which might create more ease during the allergy season. Limiting or eliminating processed food and dairy products will minimize the amount of mucus in the ears, nose, and throat. For more details on diet and supplements, check out our book, The Great Life Makeover.
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