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Allergies: What Causes Them and How to Manage Them

Updated: Feb 19, 2021

Seasonal allergies affect millions each year and research studies often offer conflicting results, making it more difficult to address.

Seasonal allergies affect millions each year and research studies often offer conflicting results, making it more difficult to address.

Here’s how to identify allergies, how they can be managed, and what you can do to try to avoid them in the first place.

What are Seasonal Allergies?

The clinical name for seasonal allergies is allergic rhinitis, but is also sometimes referred to as hay fever. People typically experience seasonal allergies between spring and beginning of winter, when cold, frost and snow have killed enough allergens in the plants outside. In the winter, allergies are often caused by indoor allergens, such as dust, mold spores and pet dander. Over 20 million adults and 6 million children experience allergic

hinitis in any given year.

What Causes Seasonal Allergies?

Seasonal allergies occur when an individual’s immune system overreacts to an outdoor allergen, usually an airborne pollen. Essentially, the body detects something foreign (but otherwise harmless) and begins trying to fight it by initiating an allergic response. “Allergies are the immune system’s response to otherwise harmless substances, such as grass or peanuts,” says medical researcher Dr. Tracey Evans, PhD, MSc, BSc. “Cells within the immune system are constantly patrolling the body, on the lookout for foreign bodies that are considered harmful.”

Even if the outdoor allergen you encounter is harmless, your body sees it as a threat and begins releasing histamines into your bloodstream which trigger the common allergy symptoms most people are familiar with (sneezing, runny nose, coughing, watery eyes).

Responses to allergens can come in many forms, and are sometimes directed at our own bodies.. “Sometimes, the immune cells will mistake harmless substances (allergens) as harmful and will initiate an immune response — when the allergen is within our own body, we have an autoimmune response. When it is harmless, but not associated with our own body, it is an allergic reaction,” says Evans. 

Common Allergy Symptoms

Seasonal allergies can manifest in many ways, the most common of which are: 

  • Sneezing

  • Itching of the nose, eyes, roof of the mouth, or back of the throat

  • runny/stuffy nose

  • Watery, red or swollen eyes

  • Coughing

  • Itchy sinuses or ear canals

  • Postnasal drip

  • Ear congestion

  • Fatigue

Less Common Allergy Symptoms

While these allergy symptoms are less common, they can be quite severe. 

  • Headache

  • Shortness of breath 

  • Wheezing

Common Allergy Treatments and Home Remedies

There is no known cure for allergies, but in many cases, they can either be avoided or managed relatively efficiently through means such as:

  • OTC decongestants and antihistamines - there are many varieties available at pharmacies, and some people get allergy shots in their doctor’s office.

  • Eye drops - mainly intended to treat symptoms of allergies, such as dry or itchy eyes.

  • Nasal sprays - intended to treat symptoms, such as congestion or runny nose.

  • Avoidance - this includes staying inside on dry, windy days or when pollen counts are high, keeping windows shut and avoiding cigarette smoke.

  • Saline nasal irrigation - this method includes a neti pot or similar product designed to flush out allergens stuck in the nasal cavity.

  • HEPA air filters - the purpose of HEPA filters is to “clean” the air in an attempt to remove allergens before people breathe them in.

  • Air conditioners and dehumidifiers/humidifiers - air conditioners help keep allergens out of the home, as the air conditioning unit has a filter on it, and the windows will presumably be closed. Dehumidifiers can take the excess moisture from the air, while humidifiers put it back in. Which is appropriate for your situation depends on your symptoms, and which seems to help you the best. 

Natural Seasonal Allergy Support

Aside from OTC and prescription medications, integrative practitioners have a few tools in their toolkit for supporting patients with seasonal allergies. Ingredients from nature can support healthy histamine response and healthy inflammatory response, both features of the immune system. Here are a few natural ingredients which can offer seasonal allergy support for those who need it:

  • Quercetin

  • Lactobacillus acidophilus

  • Reishi mushroom

  • Vitamin C

  • Butterbur

  • Bromelain

  • Stinging nettle

  • Luteolin

Another way to naturally support your immune system during seasonal allergy season is through a healthy diet. “Diet in general can play a role in how our body responds to environmental allergens,” says Lisa Richards, nutritionist and author of The Candida Diet. “Eating a balanced diet focused on fruits and vegetables, lean and plant proteins, and whole grains will help support your immune system and improve your body's response to allergens. Avoiding refined carbohydrates and sugar will also reduce the amount of inflammation present in your body which only exacerbates allergy symptoms.”

One common misconception about seasonal allergy support is that locally sourced honey can help build the body’s resistance to allergens. In theory, this makes sense — it’s based on immunotherapy, which is based on the idea of exposing a person to a little bit of something in order to build resistance and make the body less sensitive to it. So if the locally sourced honey introduces local allergens, the person might build a tolerance for the allergen.

In practice though, this theory doesn’t necessarily hold water. Most often, people are allergic to pollen in weeds, trees, and grass, but bees make honey from pollen in flower blossoms. Therefore, the exposure to pollen someone would get from locally sourced honey is unlikely to be the type of pollen they’re allergic to.

Consult your Doctor about Seasonal Allergies

Before starting any medication or alternative treatment, be sure to visit your integrative practitioner to ensure your seasonal allergies aren’t being confused with any other illness, to discuss alternative treatment strategies and to double-check that there will be no interaction with any other medicine you might be taking.

As always, the best way to manage any allergy is to try to avoid it as much as possible so you don’t stress your immune system. 

Are you interested in learning more about allergies? Check out these articles with additional pro tips:

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