An Allergy Season Survival Guide
Written by Lauren Marotta, www.laurenmarotta.com
Itchy, watery eyes? Runny nose? Sneezing? Wheezing? Hives? Headache and sinus pain?
If you’re experiencing any combination of these symptoms right now, you’re likely suffering from… hay fever.
Welcome to allergy season!
It’s a cruel twist of fate that we wait so desperately for summer to arrive, but when it’s finally warm enough for us to go outside and enjoy the weather, many of us start feeling awful.
You may be one of the lucky ones that doesn’t contend with allergies, or you could be allergic to something that’s sprouting up later in the summer. Either way, if you or a loved one suffers from seasonal allergies, I’m here to help!
What is an allergy? What’s causing these yucky symptoms that prevent you from truly enjoying nature? And, most importantly, how can you handle hay fever naturally without relying on the over-the-counter meds that mask the root cause of allergies and promote further health issues?
Let’s get started.
What Is An Allergy?
An allergy is an overreaction of the immune system to a substance that is typically regarded as benign. So, your immune system – which is designed to protect you – goes haywire when you come into contact with something that doesn’t usually harm people. Allergic responses are most commonly triggered by a drug, food, environmental factor, chemical dye, or additive.
I remember the first time I was exposed to a cat on a holiday skiing weekend. I spent the entire trip wheezing, covered in hives, scratching my eyes until they were tomato-red, and so stuffed up I could hardly breathe. Every time the cat entered the room, I would scream and bolt like Usain. Not much of a holiday, trust me.
This same cat slept on its owner’s FACE for 8 hours every night and she had no reaction to it. Something as seemingly harmless as a cat can be a beloved furry friend to one and a ticking time bomb of torture to another. Why did my body react so fervently to something another girl had no reaction to?
Well, that’s kind of a long story.
We could talk for hours about why allergies occur to some people and not others. There is no single cause and you can develop allergies over time. Genetics, illnesses, birth conditions, exposure to sources, liver and digestive health, overall toxic load, and medications all play a role. If you are suffering from severe reactions, I encourage you to email me so we can work together to get you feeling better. In the meantime, let’s talk about what’s going on inside your body when you’re exposed to an allergen.
I Can’t Stop Sneezing… What’s Going On Here?
The parts of the body that are responsible for allergic reactions are called antibodies. They are protein-based molecules developed by our immune systems in response to an allergen, a substance your body has deemed no bueno. There are 5 different antibodies active in our bodies, but the one that leads to an immediate allergic response – most commonly caused by environmental, seasonal or anaphylactic drug + food allergens – is called IgE
Why do IgE antibodies cause an immediate response? In the simplest terms: when an allergen enters the body, it comes into contact with an IgE antibody designed to mobilize the immune system against this specific allergen. Once the allergen meets the antibody, a cascade of histamine is released. The histamine attaches itself to cells and triggers the symptoms of an immediate allergic response, namely inflammation, which leads to increased blood flow, vasodilation, bronchial constriction, SHARP (swelling, heat, and redness, pain), and tissue damage. In the case of hay fever, histamine attaches to cells in the nasal and ocular cavities triggering mucus production, swelling, clogged passageways, runny nose, itchiness, redness, pain and watery eyes. Histamine also attaches itself to receptors in the head, skin, and throat leading to increased blood flow and vasodilation; this process allows immune cells to flood to these areas causing inflammation, sinus pain + headaches, hives, sneezing and coughing. Bronchial constriction induced by histamine connecting to bronchial cells leads to the feeling of tightness in the chest, wheezing, lack of oxygen supply to the lungs, asthmatic reactions, swelling, and in extreme cases, anaphylaxis.
Other common symptoms of histamine release include:
- Anxiety and agitation: histamine induces specific reactions that mimic anxiety including increased heart rate (because blood pressure is dropping during vasodilation) and heart palpitations
- Cramping, nausea, diarrhea and stomach pain due to smooth muscle contraction in digestive tract
So, to summarize: you can pretty much thank histamine for all of your gnarly allergy symptoms. This is why most OTC allergy meds are called antihistamines. They ‘turn off’ histamine’s ability to attach to the body’s cells in an effort to halt the inflammation and allergic response altogether. Sounds good, right? Nope. Here’s why.
What’s The Issue With Antihistamines?
But it could all be so easy!!!! You start feeling allergy symptoms, you pop a Claritin, and you’re good to go. No harm no foul. Just like the dude in the commercial!
Not so much.
We actually need histamine in our bodies. In fact, we have histamine receptors preeeetty much everywhere. And when we regularly take antihistamines to prevent this substance from attaching itself to our cells, more issues arise.
We have histamine receptors in our brains, because it is a stimulating neurotransmitter. This is why antihistamines makes us so drowsy; they block the histamine from reaching our receptors and leave us feeling dopey. We have histamine receptors in our stomachs! We need it to trigger stomach acid and can severely impair our digestion when we stop histamine from doing its job, putting us at a much higher risk for leaky gut, IBS, allergies, parasites, bacterial and fungal overgrowth, SIBO, viruses, and other issues.
A simple Google search for the side effects of antihistamine drugs pulls up this handy list:
- Dry mouth
- Nausea and vomiting
- Restlessness or moodiness (in some children)
- Trouble peeing or not being able to pee
- Blurred vision
Just think of it this way: all the side effects that can occur when we take antihistamines happen because we need histamine.
Not to mention, taking an antihistamine effectively prevents us from healing the root cause of the allergy, because in most cases, our symptoms resolve and we don’t identify what we’re reacting to and why.
One more thing: decongestants are also iffy. They are amphetamine-like uppers that stimulate the sympathetic nervous system to oppose the reaction of histamine on our blood vessels and bronchial system, eliminating symptoms by removing the swelling and congestion. However, they actually disturb our nervous system significantly in the process, and can lead to high blood pressure, rapid heartbeat, seizures, anxiety, dizziness and tremors. Not great.
So, How Do I Stop The Allergy Train Without Meds?
Because an allergic response is caused by the immune system overreacting to a usually benign factor, the key to healing allergies is to support the immune system. This is good news: it means if we pay attention to our diet and lifestyle before allergy season strikes, we can reduce the severity of hay fever and other allergies. You can be free of allergies!
How do we do this?
Naturally, the backbone of any healing protocol is a clean, whole-food based, anti-inflammatory diet. You know the drill: reduce your toxic load and support your immune system with a diet high in (organic, wherever possible) vegetables, wild fish, pastured meats + eggs, omega-3 fats like olive oil, avocado, and nuts. Keeping it simple is the easiest way to keep it real. Limit your intake of unseasonal fruit, sugar, caffeine, alcohol, nightshades like eggplant, tomatoes and potatoes, grains, and dairy products, as well as anything fried, heavily processed or packaged.
I love to make a tea with mint, nettles, lemon, fresh ginger and raw honey for allergy relief. You can have it warm or cold for a refreshing summer drink. Nettles and local, raw honey are both powerful anti-allergy remedies. You can also add raw honey to smoothies or homemade dressings. We have some great local stuff in Ontario, get some!
In addition to this, you can take several supplements to gently boost the immune system, greatly reduce allergy symptoms.
My favourite recommendations for seasonal allergies are:
- Probiotics: a very high quality brand is important – I like this one – at a dosage of 50 billion CFUs per day. Probiotics support the digestive system and are critical for healthy immunity.
- Vitamin C + bioflavonoids, specifically quercetin: this vitamin C includes bioflavonoids, which enhance the bioavailability and absorption of the immune boosting vitamin. I recommend at least 2000mg per day. If your allergy symptoms are severe, you can take extra histamine-reducing quercetin, 400mg twice a day with your Vitamin C
- Zinc: the easiest way to absorb zinc is in liquid form – I recommend one ampule of this Zinc preparation per day. Zinc is essential for immune health, gut health, and reduces the release of excess histamine.
- Vitamin D – 2,000IU per day, in liquid form – supplementation is only needed if you’re not getting 20 minutes of sun exposure a day
Of course, adequate sleep and stress management are critical for immune system health. I know I’m starting to sound like a broken record, but taking time every day for meditation and deep relaxation are truly life-changing for your health. If you’re having trouble sleeping because of allergy symptoms, 250mg-500mg of magnesium glycinate at bedtime can be extremely useful.
I recommend using a neti pot every morning and evening to clear all pollen and environmental junk from your sinuses and nasal passages. If your allergies are extremely aggravated, showering before bed with non-toxic bath products and washing your sheets weekly can make a big difference. I also love to diffuse pure eucalyptus oil combined with this allergy release formula at night while I’m sleeping. Lastly, I love carrying a little essential oil rollerball with me to nip symptoms in the bud on the go. It’s a little gamechanger.
If you start implementing these recommendations, you’ll be allergy-free in no time without ever needing to step into a drugstore. Happy summer, everyone!
Lauren Marotta is a Registered Holistic Nutritionist (RHN), lifestyle & wellness expert, and writer obsessed with keeping it real. To learn more about Lauren, follow her on Instagram & Twitter. Visit her website www.laurenmarotta.com, or get in touch with her by saying firstname.lastname@example.org