THE Life

Your life. Your way.

How to Handle Seasonal Allergies

As much as I love when spring comes around because it means the introduction of warmer weather and longer days, what I don't love is the fits of sneezing and itching that tell me it's a new season.

I've had hay fever since I was young and it runs in my family. When I was a kid, it was so bad that I had to carry multiple packets of tissue around with me, making summer daycamp much less enjoyable. I would wake up sneezing, coughing, with itchy eyes, and a runny nose.

An estimated 35 million Americans experience hay fever caused by wind-borne pollen or mold spores. Wearing sunglasses outside can lower the amount of pollen or spores that get into your eyes. Allergy-irritated eyes are also more sensitive to sunlight, so stylish shades may help your eyes feel better, too. 

One of the biggest causes of indoor allergies is the dust mite. These microscopic insects love to live on your bedding and stuffed animals. Wash all of your bedding in hot water and drying it in a hot dryer to kill dust mites. Keep stuffed animals off the bed, and wash sheets and blankets at least once a week in water that's 130° F or higher to limit the effects of this indoor-allergy culprit.

Mold flourishes in moisture. To help control indoor mold, use a dehumidifier or your air conditioner to keep your home humidity close to 50 percent. Take the guesswork out of measuring indoor humidity with a device called a hygrometer. It's also critical to clean up water spills promptly, repair any leaks, and change the filters in your air conditioner and heating ducts regularly.

If you take a road trip when the pollen count is high, be sure to keep your car windows closed. Before beginning your trip, start the car and turn on the air conditioner, then get out and let the air inside the car cool. If possible, travel early in the morning or in the evening. Also avoid vacationing in a high-allergy destination. For example, you might want to stay away from damp, cold climates because of mold, and damp tropical climates because of mites, molds, and pollens.

Windows, curtains, and blinds are the preferred hiding places for dust and mold. These indoor allergy culprits are also often found in poorly ventilated laundry rooms, basements, refrigerator drain pans, and old books. Wipe down bathroom and kitchen areas with diluted bleach, and vacuum your floors often. If you're allergic to cleaning products in addition to the mold and dust, wear a mask when cleaning and get out of the house for a few hours afterward to let the air clear.

Take some simple precautions to keep outdoor pollens out of your home. Wear a mask if you work outside, and remove your work clothes before entering the house. It's also good to shower right after coming in from yard work.

If you have hay fever or a mold allergy, limit your number of houseplants and definitely keep them out of your bedroom. The biggest culprits are indoor shrubs, trees, and grasses that may produce pollens.

Use a dryer instead of hanging your clothes outside when doing laundry. Leave all windows in the house closed during allergy season, and rely on your air conditioner or dehumidifier to help protect you from indoor allergies.

If you have outdoor or indoor allergies, any substance that irritates your airways can make your symptoms worse. Don't smoke in your home, kindly ask house guests to smoke outside, and avoid wood fires and wood-burning stoves. Strong odors such as perfumes, paint fumes, hair sprays, disinfectants, and air fresheners can also trigger an allergy attack.

Studies have shown that cockroaches are a surprisingly common cause of indoor allergy symptoms and asthma, especially in children. Remove water and food sources that may attract cockroaches, and if you see a cockroach, get professional help. That goes for rodents, too.

Diet-wise, one of the best strategies to alleviate those miserable symptoms is to abstain from alcohol and other histamine containing foods. As far as alcohol goes, wine (both red and white) seem to be the worst inflamers. Sulfites are part of the issue with these drinks, but histamines that result during the fermentation process also aggravate the problem. If you have allergy issues, consider steering  clear of other foods subject to aging and fermentation like aged cheese, pickles, and sauerkraut. And as for yeast, it’s one more reason to skip the bread. Grapes and ciders can be offenders as well.

Also, if you know the cause of your particular allergy, you can further determine foods that tend to provoke what’s called “oral allergy syndrome,” a reaction to allergen-related foods that affects primarily the lips and mouth. Check out the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia information on cross-reactive foods for those with seasonal allergies.

As for what to eat, think anti-inflammatory. Research supports the particular benefits of fresh produce, fish and nuts for limiting both the symptoms of existing allergies as well as the development of allergies later in life. Research on the pregnancy and childhood diets of Spanish children found that a higher intake of certain vegetables (like tomatoes and eggplant) and fish offered protective benefit from allergies and asthma. Another study with Greek children linked high intake of nuts, fruits and vegetables with a decreased risk for respiratory allergy. The EPA and DHA in fish and fish oils has been shown to be among the best preventative options for allergic disorders.

Tea, specifically green or white, supplies a big flavonoid boost that decreases inflammation and supports general immune function. For raw dairy enthusiasts out there, farm milk consumption was shown to provide similar protective advantage against allergy and asthma whether or not the children consuming it lived on the farm or not.

Although antioxidants and flavonoids in general yield therapeutic benefit, certain nutrients like vitamin C and quercetin are potent natural antihistamines. An additional dose of magnesium can help ease wheezing symptoms. Some report success with spirulina as well. As for herbal remedies, butterbur shows good promise, but isn’t recommended for women who are pregnant or nursing.

Vitamin D promotes a healthy, balanced immune system through regulation and differentiation of immune system cells. Many cells in your body have vitamin D receptors and need vitamin D to function properly, including those in your skin and brain.

Deficiencies of vitamin D are common. It is currently estimated that more than 1 billion people worldwide and 30-to-40% of the population between 15 and 49 years of age in the United States suffer from vitamin D deficiency. Because relatively small amounts of vitamin D are obtained through the diet and so many lifestyle factors reduce endogenous vitamin D synthesis, supplementation becomes an important avenue for achieving and maintaining optimal vitamin D status.

As far as how much you need, that depends on who you’re asking. Every person has different needs, but many researchers believe that further research will eventually prove that the U.S. government recommendations aren’t high enough. Your safest bet is to talk to your doctor and have your vitamin D levels tested every three months.

Check out the fancy chart I snagged from the Vitamin D Council below to see the different vitamin D recommendations, and be sure to share this important information with your friends and family.

Oh, and don’t forget that supplementation is a super reliable way to get your vitamin D. Just one of USANA’s Vitamin D tablets provides 2,000 IU of vitamin D3, which is the same type of vitamin D your body produces when exposed to sunlight. And guess what else? For most people, vitamin D is easily absorbable and always important to maintain. So you could probably reap some of the benefits of taking a vitamin D supplement on a daily basis.

Other immune boosting nutrients include zinc, baker's yeast and reishi and shiitake mushrooms, which are included in USANA's Proglucamune.

Another suggestion? Try some wild – and local – honey. Because bees pick up the pollen of their environment, the resulting honey can deliver something of a therapeutic dose for gradual desensitization – much like an allergy shot. It’s important to start small (1/4 teaspoon daily – max) and work your way up to gradually build tolerance.

Another recommendation is cutting out grains (and cut the chronic cardio). It may have been linked to the autoimmune connection between anti-nutrients/leaky-gut and hypersensitivity to proteins in grass seeds and pollen (grains are grass seeds). 

The gut is a barometer of overall emotional and physical health. The human gastrointestinal tract houses the bulk of the human immune system, about 70% of it. It is the cornerstone of overall health. If you have taken antibiotics, it changes the microbial environment, possibly causing reactions to allergies, water bloat, and food sensitivities.

If you prefer to stick to foods, fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, sourdough bread, and soft cheese like Gouda are all good sources of various strains oflactobacillus bacteria. Fermented soy foods like miso and tempeh also include over 160 different bacteria strains (5).

Evidence supports including fermented foods or probiotic supplements into your routine for maintaining a healthy digestive balance. If you decide to try a supplement, choose one that contains a variety of strains and at least 1 billion or more active cells. Make sure it has a sufficient quantity of high-quality bacteria strains that can survive stomach enzymes and enter the intestinal tract alive to be effective.

How much should your probiotic supplement provide? It should contain 12 billion Colony Forming Units (CFU) of viable bacteria—a level shown to be effective in clinical studies. 

A happy, healthy gut means a more effective and better functioning immune system resulting in a decreased allergic response.