It is allergy season and with so much fear going on right now of getting sick with the COVID-19, people are dreading the runny nose, itchy eyes, and coughs that come with spring allergies. How will I know the difference between allergies and the symptoms of COVID 19? Typically, they say that COVID-19 patients have a fever and a dry cough at the start of the illness. Additional symptoms of coronavirus have included shortness of breath and difficulty breathing, sore throat, diarrhea, fatigue and body aches. It is rare to have a fever or diarrhea with seasonal allergies. With all of the stress and intensity going on right now in the world, it is important to keep our immune systems strong to help ward off seasonal allergies and possible virus infection.
Spring is such a wonderful time of year. As the days get warmer and the daylight hours increase, we begin to feel elevated energy and excitement as the earth comes to life with the lush green growth of spring. For many, this can lead to miserable allergy symptoms.
In Virginia, we have a great diversity in our landscape. We have the Blue Ridge Mountain Region, the central area referred to as the Piedmont Region and the Atlantic Coastal Plain Region. This large array of diverse landscape is home to extensive varieties of grasses, trees, weeds and wildflowers. The pollen load from these magnificent varieties of plants found in our landscape can overwhelm our bodies and thus many people suffer from what is referred to as allergic rhinitis, also known as hay fever. It is a type of inflammation in the nose, which occurs when the immune system overreacts to allergens that are airborne.
Pollen particles enter our nasal passages and latch onto soft mucous membranes that line our bronchial and nasal passages. Our nasal passages contain immune cells, called mast cells, which are laden with histamines. We have receptors on top of the mast cells and when allergens trigger the receptors, it alerts the mast cells to release histamine. Histamine is what causes typical allergy symptoms, which may include tissue inflammation, swelling of bronchial tubes (which makes it hard to breath), sneezing, itching and watery eyes. This histamine response is the body’s way of eliminating the intruder through runny nose and eyes and activates immune cells to fight what it perceives as possible infection. Extreme allergic reactions can cause rash, hives, low blood pressure, serious breathing trouble, asthma, and even death.
So, why do some people get allergies and others do not? Why do some people get allergies one year and not the next? A simplified explanation is that two basic things will determine your allergic reaction response: the intensity of your exposure to allergens and the current health of your immune system.
A man made factor that we need to take seriously is exposure to chemicals that we find in things like paint, new carpet, mattresses, pollution, and even second hand smoke. This man made load can stress the body and the immune system and may lead to serious sensitivities, allergies, and even asthma. Awareness of our environment is very important.
Food sensitivities and allergies can be very complicated. In fact, they deserve a whole blog post of their own. For the purpose of this blog, looking at spring and fall hay fever type allergies, we will just address that food allergies can weaken the immune system and lower ones resistance to airborne allergens.
It is obvious to try and avoid your allergy triggers to lessen your allergy response. There are also a few preventative things that one can do to help avoid a reaction before it occurs.
Leading a healthy lifestyle can really give your body a boost in warding of allergies. Inflammation, disease, and stress can all lead to a weakened immune system. Here are some basic things we can do help build a healthy immune system.
- Eat a healthy diet (be sure to get a good supply of vitamins & minerals from fresh vegetables, leafy greens, and fruits)
- Add Omega -3 fatty acids to your diet (encourages the body to make more anti-inflammatory compounds)
- Maintain a good digestive system (good gut flora, take a daily probiotic, regular bowel movements, maintain a healthy weight, etc.)
- Avoid stress because stress wrecks immune functioning
- Avoid excessive amounts of sugar, refined carbohydrates, and processed foods
- Drink plenty of water/stay hydrated
- Get regular exercise
- Get plenty of rest/sleep
Natural Remedies to help ward off or lessen allergies
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- Neti pots and nasal irrigation with saline water – A flushing of salt water to rinse away the pollen particles that enter the nasal passages and land on the mucous membranes. Use twice a day and especially after time spent outdoors to keep nasal passages clear.
- Nettle (Urtica diocia) or Daily Wellness Tea – decreases inflammation, strengthens kidney function, nutrient dense nutrition to help support immune function and is a natural anti-histamine. It can be taken in the form of food, Nourishing Herbal Infusions (four hour long steeped tea to pull out the maximum nutrition and constituents), capsules, or tincture. Please note that contact with fresh nettles can sting/cause skin inflammation, so wear protective gloves when handling it.
- Breathe Tea– Excellent tea for respiratory trouble. Formulated to loosen a stuffy nose, chest congestion, and soothe a sore throat associated with colds or allergies.
- Goldenrod (Solidago spp.) – an excellent natural fast acting anti-histamine that thins mucus and drains the sinuses and eventually dries up the mucous membranes while the anti-inflammatory actions help to soothe the irritations caused by the allergens. Make a tea or tincture of the flowering tops just as the flowers begin to open.
- Horehound (Marrubium vulgare) – great for those who get profuse post nasal drip, sinus & wet lung congestion that leads to sinus infections. Best if made as a fresh tincture of fresh leaves and flowers. Dried plant material also works for a tea or capsules.
- Chickweed (Stellaria media) – is an opportunistic weed that is often one of the first plants to emerge in the early spring and shows up wherever there is bare ground that needs filled in. It offers soothing and cooling relief to symptoms of heat, dryness, and inflammation. These qualities make it an excellent soother for inflamed, itchy eyes associated with allergy symptoms. Chickweed is usually growing abundantly when it is needed for allergy season. It will disappear from the landscape as the hot days of summer take over. No worries, you can freeze chickweed for later use. Just pick it fresh and put it in a sealable bag, squeeze out the air and freeze. That will ensure you have chickweed available to you year round.
- Aller-Blast – This formula combines reishi mushroom and bitter artichoke with fresh stinging nettles, a classic ally. The herbs in Aller-Blast are traditionally used to promote healthy eyes, nose and sinus.
- Allergy Elixir – Mushrooms are some of our greatest allies when it comes to balancing the overactive immune responses that cause allergy symptoms. In particular, reishi mushroom has been studied for its role in mediating histamine response. This formula helps bring back immune balance while gently drying up excess water and mucus.
- Local Honey – take one teaspoon or more daily. This works well for some individuals and not so much for others. I like to recommend using local honey as a sweetener in an herbal tea such as nettles for the best results.
- Quercetin – is a natural plant derived compound that helps stabilize mast cells and prevents them from releasing histamine. Best if started six weeks before allergy season. This supplement has different manufacturers that use different formulas, so always follow label instructions.
There are many OTC (over the counter) allergy medications for helping to alleviate allergy symptoms. Many of these OTC options have unwanted side effects such as drowsiness and nasal irritation. For some people, the decongestant types will stop the flow of the mucous and then leave them with pockets of “stuck” mucous that lead to a bacterial sinus infection, which they will probably need antibiotics to get over it. Also, many people complain that after taking OTC and Pharmaceutical allergy medications for an extended period of time that they find that they are not effective for them any longer. These OTC medications excel at suppressing symptoms, but do little to help build up a body’s natural defense system.
When we take a natural approach to dealing with seasonal allergies, we build up the body to be in a healthy state and strong. So it can perform at its best.
Soothing Chickweed Eye Wash – this really works, give it a try!
For an eye soother, gather some fresh chickweed (any above ground parts) and chop it up some. Then add ½ cup of freshly chopped chickweed to 1 cup of water and simmer on the stove as if you are making a tea. Simmer for 10 minutes and then strain out the plant material. Place the remaining liquid in the refrigerator to cool it down. Get a cotton cloth or cotton ball and soak it in the chickweed infused liquid. Lie back and place the cotton ball or cloth on the itchy, burning, inflamed eyes for 10 minutes. Repeat a few times a day until you get the needed relief. This works for pink eye symptoms as well.