Roughly 20 percent of adults in the US suffer from seasonal allergies. Most people reach for an over-the-counter (OTC) or prescription medication to address the runny nose, itchy/watery eyes, sinus congestion, headache and breathing difficulties they experience. This post will address how you can identify and eliminate the most likely causes of your seasonal allergies – and it’s not the pollen count.
Allergies = A sign of imbalance
Allergy symptoms are a sign that things are out of balance in the body. An allergy is basically an exaggerated reaction of your immune system. Your immune system begins to over-react to outside stimuli when it is overworked and under-rested. If the immune system is on constant alert combating food allergies, stress, toxins in the environment, and even prescription medications, it begins to lose its ability to distinguish between dangerous invaders and relatively harmless things, like pollen or dust.
When your immune system is weak, it sees seasonal allergens as foreign invaders and launches an inflammatory response, releasing chemicals like histamine to attack them. Histamines cause the sneezing, wheezing and coughing you associate with allergies; these are the mechanisms the body uses to expel the allergens. The amount of histamine your body releases depends on how compromised your immune system is. For instance, if your immune system is in good shape, your body may handle allergens without you even knowing it. If it’s not, your body may release a flood of histamine, increase the chance you’ll be downright miserable.
So how do you prevent your immune system from overreacting? Begin by figuring out which of these five immune system stressors could be throwing it into overdrive.
Allergy Trigger #1: Diet
Two types of foods can cause an inflammatory reaction that overtaxes your immune system. First are the foods you cannot digest well; ones you may not even know you have a problem with. The most common food allergens involve wheat, milk/dairy, eggs, and peanuts. If , for example, you’re sensitive to wheat and/or dairy, your immune system readies itself for a ‘fight’ and remains in a heightened ‘attack mode’ for as long as you eat that cereal grain or dairy product. Then along come seasonal allergens, which your immune system would normally perceive as mild irritants. But because it’s already on high alert from dealing with your wheat or dairy sensitivity, it overreacts and your allergy symptoms spiral out of control.
The second type of inflammation-causing foods affects everyone, and includes saturated fats, processed foods and heavily refined carbohydrates. See How to Avoid Processed Foods for more information. You should eliminate all of these products, especially during allergy season, and eat lots of fruit, veggies and gluten-free whole grains instead.
The Fix: So how do you determine if you have an underlying food allergy or intolerance making your seasonal allergies worse? One way is to eliminate the suspect – wheat or dairy for instance – for at least 3 weeks. Eliminate everything that contains that food; that means 100% abstinence – nothing, nada, not even a little bit. After at least 3 weeks without consuming that food, bring that food back into your diet and eat it 3-4 times that day. For the next three days, abstain from eating any more of that food in any form and watch for signs like increased mucus production, difficulty breathing, skin rashes, gas, bloating, heartburn, headaches, fatigue and/or mood changes. If not symptoms occur, that food is likely okay and you can eat it; if you do have symptoms, remove that food from your diet for at least 3 months and try to reintroduce it again. Repeat this process with other foods you suspect may cause you problems.
Another way is to test for food hypersensitivities; the Lymphocyte-Response Assay (LRA) test is one of the most comprehensive available. This test will take the guess work out of the equation and tell you which foods you need to avoid and which are not causing you any problems.
Allergy Trigger #2: Stress
The hormones and other chemicals released during extended periods of stress cause damage that triggers an immune response. What’s worse is that the continual flow of stress hormones also causes nutrient depletion as the body uses a tremendous amount of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals to ward off the negative effects of stress. In addition, the more stress we have, the more likely we are to make poor food choices and not get enough sleep, leading to a downward spiral that continually throws our immune system out of balance.
The Fix: It’s unrealistic to think you can ditch stress completely and still function in today’s world; however getting regular exercise, plenty of sleep and practicing deep breathing, yoga and/or mediation can certainly help you manage it. See the following for more ideas:
Taking a multi-vitamin/mineral/antioxidant and eating plenty of fruits and vegetables (more than 7-9 servings daily) will also help ensure your immune system has an adequate arsenal of nutrients on hand. Some people will benefit greatly for adrenal support – most people find a formula like Adreset a good all-around support formula; for those that may need a little more relaxation in their day, AdreneVive may be a better choice.
Allergy Trigger #3: Home Sweet Home
52% of US households have at least six detectable allergens, all of which can float through the air and find their way into your body (Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology). These irritants include animal dander, dust mites, mold, scented candles, cleaning products, and cigarette smoke. Once again, these allergens probably won’t spark much of a histamine reaction in a healthy immune system, but when it’s hypersensitive they’ll set off a host of five-alarm symptoms.
The Fix: In all cases, use a nasal rinse once a day, twice a day if you are really suffering; this flushes irritants out of your nasal passages and soothes swollen sinuses. You can purchase a salt solution or make a nasal rinse solution by adding a teaspoon of sea salt and a pinch of baking soda to a quart of warm water. Use a Nasaline or Netti pot to push the solution through your nose; we have found the Nasaline easier and faster to use than the Netti.
Get tested – determine exactly what you are intolerant too so you can eliminate it and allow your body the time it needs to heal. Once your immune system rebalances, it is unlikely you will have the same reaction to these items. You can have some allergens tested at your medical practitioner’s office; an ELISA/ACT Lymphocyte response assay will provide additional benefits.
Dust Mites – Replace carpeting with hardwood and limit upholstered items and fabric hangings like wall tapestries or drapes. Enclose pillows, mattresses, and box springs in allergen-proof covers, and wash bed sheets, mattress pads, and blankets in 130-degree water every week. Also, put pillows I the dryer on high heat for 45 minutes once a week –the heat kills the dust mites. Every six weeks, wash any stuffed animals in hot water or stick them in plastic bags and freeze them overnight to kill off the mites.
Animals – Pet dander contributes a large share of household allergens. Cats are actually worse than dogs because their dander is lighter and clings to everything. Swap carpeting for hardwood, keep your little creatures off upholstered furniture and invest in a HEPA air filter, which reduces dander in the air.
Mold – The best way to reduce mold in your house is to keep the temperature around 68 degrees and the relative humidity about 35 percent. Keep indoor plants on the dry side (mold tends to grow in the potting soil) and ban plants from the bedroom (where you spend up to a third of your life). Place a dehumidifier in damp basements or crawl spaces during the summer.
Airborne chemicals – Switch to natural cleaning products, avoid synthetic fragrances in scented candles, detergents, deodorants; quit smoking.
Allergy Trigger #4: Antibiotics
Antibiotics wreak havoc on the good and the bad bacteria in your body. Since 70% of your immune system is stimulated by the good bacteria in your intestines, there’s a good chance taking antibiotics will result in an imbalanced immune system.
The Fix: Take a broad spectrum probiotic while you are taking antibiotics and for at least three months after you finish your prescription. Ortho Biotic is a great choice and doesn’t require refrigeration. Be sure and take on an empty stomach and at least two hours away from antibiotics for greatest effectiveness.
Allergy Trigger #5: The Great Outdoors
Everyone with allergies knows about the pollens, grasses and host of other airborne allergens that make them feel miserable. But there are a number of other irritants like pollution and diesel fumes that can also cause a reaction. Pollutants act as a chronic irritant to mucous membranes in the nasal passages and the body has to work hard to eliminate them.
The Fix: use a nasal rinse daily (see #3 above). Also, most plants pollinate in the morning, so venture out later in the day or anytime after it rains, as storms cleanse the air of irritants.
You can eliminate your allergies once-and-for-all using the information above. If you need help in this process or would like some additional guidance, don’t hesitate to contact us – we have guided hundreds of people through allergy season and helped them eliminate their allergies for good – and we can help you breathe full and easy all year long!