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Natural Options for Allergy Season

By on August 13, 2016

Long summer days are perfect for cold drinks and BBQs on the patio, weekend getaways to the cottage and fun-filled family activities outdoors. But for those who suffer from seasonal allergies and, or asthma, this time of year can bring about many reservations for being outside. Today, over 8 million Canadians suffer from seasonal allergies and over 2.5 million live with asthma (Statistics Canada, 2016). Though difficult to bear, there are natural remedies that you can use to help relieve your allergy and asthma symptoms.   

Seasonal Allergies

Seasonal allergies tend to occur most often during springtime when pollen counts are at their highest. However, allergy symptoms can also occur anytime with warmer weather fluctuations; namely on hotter, drier and windier days. Though you may think allergies are all the same, it is important to know that there are different types of allergens (substances that your body could immunologically and physically react to) in your environment that could trigger allergic reactions. For instance, you could be allergic to pet dander, dust, molds, insect bites, stings and, or even food(s) and medication(s). If you experience any unusual or recurring skin rashes, headaches, sneezing, runny nose, swelling, nausea, diarrhea or breathing difficulties, see your doctor immediately. Your doctor may refer you to a certified allergist (a doctor who specializes in treating allergies) to resolve the problem.

For the most part, seasonal allergies (a.k.a. Hay fever or allergic rhinitis) stems from outdoor molds, pollen from trees, grasses, flowers and weeds. Sufferers tend to experience symptoms like sneezing, congestion, itchy nose, mouth, eyes, throat, skin, runny nose, watery eyes and problems with smell. The latter symptoms may include headaches, fatigue and irritability, clogged ears, sore throat, coughing, dark circles under the eyes, or even puffy eyes. These seasonal allergies can be alleviated using some natural approaches that include herbal therapy along with dietary changes.

Herbal treatments:

  • Butterbur – This herb is used to treat headaches, reduce swelling from inflammation and block allergies. Butterbur is not, however,  recommended for those who are allergic to ragweed, marigolds or daisies.   

  • Green tea – Taken as a tea, with drops or as a capsule, green tea has been found to be effective in relieving seasonal allergy symptoms. Green tea is a natural antihistamine that is known in some studies to help relieve congestion.  

  • Licorice root – Licorice root helps raise your body’s natural level of steroid production to loosen mucus and relieve any breathing difficulties you may have.

Dietary changes:

  • Spicy foods – Unless contraindicated by your doctor or dietitian, spicy foods can help clear your nasal passages and promote better blood circulation. Foods seasoned with cayenne pepper, hot ginger or fenugreek can help to alleviate stubborn nasal congestion. If you are uncertain about adding these ingredients, you can always try milder spicy foods like onion and garlic to treat a sore nose and, or a stuffy head.

  • Dairy products – For some people, dairy products can worsen allergy symptoms because it can dilate your blood vessels and cause increased nose swelling and congestion. Before cutting out an entire food group, speak to your dietitian first.

  • Pollen-specific vegetables and fruits –  Some individuals develop allergic reactions (e.g. itchy and tingling throat) to certain raw vegetables and fruits, called an Oral Allergy Syndrome (OAS). With this syndrome, the body’s immune system reacts to the proteins found within the vegetable or fruit. For the most part, cooking can alter the chemical properties that trigger an OAS reaction. Below are some key raw foods to avoid if you are allergic to the following plant pollens:

Birch pollen:

Almonds

Coriander

Pears

Apples

Fennel

Peppers

Apricots

Figs

Plums

Avocado

Hazelnuts

Potatoes

Banana

Kiwi

Prunes

Carrots

Nectarine

Soy

Celery

Parsley

Strawberry

Cherries

Parsnips

Wheat

Chicory

Peaches

 

 

Ragweed pollen:

Artichoke

Echinacea tea

Honeydew

Bananas

Cucumber

Paprika

Cantaloupe

Green pepper

Tomatoes

Camomile tea

Hibiscus tea

Watermelon

Dandelions

Honey (wildflower)

Zucchini

 

Alder pollen:

Almonds

Hazelnuts

Parsley

Apples

Peaches

Strawberries

Celery

Pears

Raspberries

Cherries

   


Grasses:

Celery

Melon

Tomatoes

Figs

Orange

Watermelon

Kiwi

Peaches

 

Asthma

According to the Asthma Society of Canada (ASC), asthma is considered a chronic inflammatory disease of the airway. The primary treatment goals for asthma is to control the disease by preventing coughs, shortness of breath, reducing one’s dependence on quick-relief medications, optimizing one’s lung function, promoting normal activity and sleep, and preventing future asthma attacks. If pollen, air pollution, pet dander or fur makes your asthma worse, be attentive to your environment and limit your exposure time to these allergens, or find ways to protect from further exposure. Check the pollen counts and air quality each day before you head out and avoid having pets stay in your room for prolonged periods of time. Use a good central air system for your house, find air filters that remove dust, dander and pollen, and make sure to change your filters according to the manufacturer's recommendations. Establishing a house cleaning routine 1-2 times each week would help to reduce any asthma triggers in your home.     

There are some medical research on alternative, natural therapies that have been found to be effective in relieving asthma. These therapies (outlined below) have been used as an adjunct with traditional medical treatments for asthma.

Biofeedback – This treatment uses an electronic monitoring device that feeds information to you to teach you how to control your body’s functions that normally happen automatically. An example would be the use of a heart rate monitor to help control your rapid heart beat when doing a form of exercise. A number of research has found that biofeedback has an impact on heart rate variability, improving lung function and airway flow resistance amongst asthma suffers. Biofeedback also helps to reduce one’s dependence on asthma medications.   

Dietary Supplements – Some studies have noted the benefits of using omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidant supplements like vitamins A, C and E for relieving asthma symptoms. Antioxidants have been found to help prevent oxidative stress causing inflammation of the bronchi (the primary airway in your respiratory tract that moves air into your lungs) and the development of asthmatic symptoms. See your doctor and registered dietitian for the best supplementation advice.

Yoga/ Relaxation/ Meditation – A combination of these practices can help reduce your body’s stress level, which often triggers asthma. The practice of controlling the breath and being mindful of the breath further helps to reduce asthma attacks and relieve its associated symptoms. Light instrumental, nature or ambient music can enhance the experience. If you are new to yoga, relaxation or meditation, guided practices led by an instructor or through an online tutorial is highly recommended.  

Before starting any herbal treatments, making any dietary changes or beginning any major physical activity routine, consult your doctor and Registered Dietitian (RD or RDN). Some herbs could adversely affect those who are pregnant, have chronic hypertension, heart, liver and respiratory conditions and, or interfere with medications. Cutting out certain foods could also impact your nutrition and health status depending on your condition. Physical activity limits may be imposed if you have medical issues.  

Rosanna Lee, PHEc., MHSc., BASc. is a nutrition and health expert and a food enthusiast. She loves to learn about different cultural cuisines, experiment with recipes and try exciting new food creations. In addition to her love of food, Rosanna enjoys writing for publications and blogging on everything related to nutrition, food, health and wellness. With diverse experiences from healthcare, community nutrition, education, public health and academic research, Rosanna brings her knowledge and unique experiences in the promotion of health for all. Follow Rosanna’s Nutrition Central page on Facebook! For inquiries, email rosannalee88@gmail.com.    

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