How to be Better Than Before despite one of the worst seasons for allergy symptoms.
I just love July. The weather is warm, the breezes are soft, and so many sweet-smelling flowers are in bloom that you can pick a spectacular bouquet every hour of the day. But alas, there’s a downside to all this breathtaking beauty—allergies!
Summer may be in full swing, but for an estimated 50 million Americans, so are many of our allergy symptoms. “Since we didn’t have much of a winter in this country this year, from Florida, to New England, to California—even in the desert southwest—people are being hammered with allergies,” says Dr. Gailen Marshall, chair of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology’s (ACAAI) Integrative Medicine Committee.
Allergies are basically hypersensitive reactions of the immune system. And allergens, when either inhaled, ingested or brought into contact with the skin, stimulate an immune response to defend your body. That could mean allergy symptoms like hives, repeated sneezing, watery eyes, scratchy throats, coughing, headaches and inflamed sinuses, to name a few. They are even more problematic if you have asthma and constricted airways.
According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA), Mother Nature keeps allergens flying around yearlong. Trees generally pollinate in the spring, grasses do their pollinating in the summer, and weeds pick up the slack in the fall. Even indoors, allergy triggers such as mold, dust mites and pets can always be in the air. The summertime also presents some unique allergy challenges, beyond grass pollen. It’s a prime time for eating outdoors, so that means exposure to stinging bees and wasps, poison ivy and oak, or even certain food allergies. “Just make sure to get properly diagnosed by your doctor with blood tests for any allergies,” says Mike Tringale, vice president of external affairs at the AAFA, “so you know what triggers to avoid each season.”
For many, relief is just a drugstore counter away, where a wide array of traditional—and homeopathic—medications are available to help. Allergy shots, called immunotherapy, work very well for some. In fact, they basically cured my husband, The Lawyer, a seasoned sneezer, of all his summer suffering. However, studies show that using nature-based products can be a very useful way to handle mild allergy symptoms and an adjunct for dealing with more significant ones.
Granted, living with seasonal allergy symptoms can be extremely challenging. So here are 12 solutions to help you—and your itchy eyes, nose and throat—become Better Than Before.
Seek immunity. Dr Atul Shah, medical director of the Center for Asthma and Allergy in Shirley, NY, says that allergies can be prevented or at least minimized. “Limiting your outdoor activities when the pollen is very high and staying indoors with air-conditioning can reduce exposure to pollen and other triggers. Know, too, that when your windows are open, the pollen can drift inside, settle into your carpet, furniture and car upholstery and continue to torture you.” So keep your bedroom windows closed and car windows rolled up while driving. Leave your shoes at the door, take a shower and change your clothes after pollen exposure outside. Furthermore, washing your hair, especially before bed, gets rid of the day’s pollen that can spread to your sheets and pillow cases. (If you use gel or mousse in your hair, there’s even more of a chance of trapping the allergens.) “There are many prescription and nonprescription alternatives, and they should be started even before the pollen season,” Shah goes on to say, stressing that allergy vaccinations, or immunotherapy, is a proven treatment option for long-term relief.
Define your lifestyle.Since allergies are compromises of the immune system, being in a constant state of stress can actually make your response to any allergens worse. To that end, Dr. Ramon G. Corrales, author of Of Pebbles and Grenades: 3 Keys to Self-Mastery, offers a technique to help reduce our everyday angst: “Ninety-eight percent of us act as if external events (pebbles thrown into our pond) determine our responses (ripples), believing the pebble causes the ripple. And so we live like victims, rippling happily or unhappily at the mercy of chance or of some providential force we do not understand.” Corrales feels that we spend much of our time and energy furiously reacting to these external events, causing us to remain in a state of anxiety, hoping the world will be kind to us. “Events in our lives don’t define us,” he says, “we define ourselves through our response to them–or we do become their victims.” However, if you relate to every pebble as a teacher with a message and bring to that event your best response, that is the foundation of a stress-free life which will strengthen your immune system immensely.
Cross-reference.Food allergies may be more entwined with seasonal allergies than we realize. Indeed, sometimes the immune system mistakes a pollen-related plant protein in fruit, vegetables, nuts or seeds for actual pollen and causes an allergic reaction. For example, an apple can replicate exposure to birch pollen. Those with ragweed allergies may be sensitive to bananas, cantaloupe, cucumbers, honeydew, watermelon and raw zucchini. Drinking chamomile tea, eating sunflower seeds or taking the herb echinacea might also provoke a response, since they are in the same botanical family. Grass pollen is related to substances also found in melons, tomatoes, oranges, peaches and celery. And the pollen from alder trees might interact with apples, cherries, peaches, pears, celery, parsley, almonds and hazelnuts. Cooked, baked, microwaved or canned food, on the other hand, will not cause a problem, which suggests that heat destroys the allergenic proteins.
Exercise your options.There are numerous studies and testimonials that prove that regular exercise can improve or help resolve seasonal allergies. “Most allergy sufferers are dealing with congestion and inflammation that interfere with oxygen flow from the mouth and nose to the lungs. They often feel sick with flulike symptoms, so they don’t want to exercise, but that’s exactly what they should do,” says KC Craichy, renowned nutrition and performance expert and creator of LivingFuelTV. In addition to drinking more water and not eating foods that cause allergic reactions, regular exercise helps move allergens through the body so that they can be eliminated through the skin and kidneys. You may find it helpful to train indoors when pollen levels are high —they peak from 5 am to 10 am—to reduce exposure. Be sure, too, to breathe through your nose as much as you can to help filter out any allergens.
Glow and behold. Seasonal allergies are not only problematic for your itchy red eyes, but they can also affect your skin, which can become dry and blotchy. “July is an opportunity to refresh and brighten up your look, and you shouldn’t let your allergies stop you,” says Samantha Chapman, professional makeup artist, YouTube beauty guru, and face of Real Techniques makeup brushes. “Creating an even complexion is all about proper makeup application.” To start, choose a liquid foundation that matches your skin tone and apply lightly. Then, using a large brush for blending and buffing, conceal the imperfections. To hone in on the red areas around the nose and eyes, select a smaller brush that can reach the hard-to-reach contours of the face and blend the foundation into the skin to reduce the appearance of any irritation.
Get to the point. “Acupuncture can be particularly useful if you are suffering from multiple allergies, since it works to quiet the areas of the immune system that are overstimulated by exposure to allergy-inducing factors,” says Dr. James Dillard, medical director for Columbia University’s Rosenthal Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, and assistant clinical professor at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. In addition, Dillard says that certain nutrients also quiet seasonal symptoms. Among the most popular are freeze-dried nettles and a flavonoid compound known as quercetin. Although allergy-easing compounds occur naturally in many foods—and are especially abundant in red wine—when used in supplement form, they can be quite helpful in reducing allergy symptoms. “A German product called Sinupret Plus also works like a charm,” he continues, “but your basic diet needs to be excellent first—one based on unprocessed foods that do not promote inflammation.”
Treat your children well. Dr. Shah, also the author of Allergies, and Awesome, a new, interactive children’s book, feels we must educate, empower, and entertain our children about allergy facts, symptoms and treatments. “Children with seasonal allergies can, at times, be extremely symptomatic, which can affect their sleep, daytime alertness and day-to-day functioning. Their quality of life is very much compromised and may keep them from enjoying outdoor activities while everyone around them is having fun.” Shah feels that the support of family and friends is important to help children understand what allergies are and what they can do to be allergy-free. Information and education are starting points to an allergy-free season. Check out AmazingAllergist.com for both resources and inspiring stories of kids who got better.
Change the setting. We now know that when dealing with allergies, having a healthy immune system is essential. And a positive mindset is equally important. Spirituality can transform our state of consciousness so that we don’t get bogged down with negativity. “When we are suffering and uncomfortable, it is easy to get caught up in the story we tell ourselves about how unfortunate we are,” says Tim Freke, author of The Mystery Experience: A Revolutionary Approach to Spiritual Awakening. “While this is totally understandable, it is also not helpful and perpetuates our distress.” The simple solution, according to Freke, is to practice stepping out of our stories by becoming conscious of the breath-taking mystery of existence. We need to remember what a miracle life is and then our state of consciousness immediately starts to change. “When we look at the world around us with profound wonder, we throw off the numbness that keeps us feeling low, and start to come to life. So take some time to meditate or pray or rest. Basically, whatever you can do to make time for inner reflection.”
Cultivate your own garden. You don’t have to limit your yard decorating to stones and concrete if you have outdoor allergies. There are many flowers, shrubs, trees and other plants you can use in your home garden that won’t cause distress. These types of plants vary from region to region, so ask any nursery expert or a local horticulturalist to help you identify what they are and make a list of the ones you would like to see in your garden plan. (See our suggestions on planting an allergy-free garden here. However, keep in mind that even if your garden is allergy free, many of the pollens that affect you can travel to your yard from other gardens in the neighborhood or even from as far away as the next state.
Take control. Using an air filter to reduce pollen or allergens is a good idea, as long as it’s not an ozone generator, which can actually aggravate allergies. And be sure to clean or replace your air-conditioning filters seasonally. July also means high humidity levels, and moisture is one of the main causes of mold growth. According to the Mayo Clinic, a humidity level of 60 percent or more in your home results in increased exposure to these organisms that can trigger a cascade of allergy flare-ups. Experts recommend maintaining indoor relative humidity between 30 percent and 50 percent, which you can monitor with a hygrometer, an inexpensive device found in most hardware stores. If you do see or smell mold, spot-clean areas like laundry rooms, bathrooms and kitchens with a nontoxic product such as Concrobium Mold Control. For larger spaces, pour it into a fogger, which you can buy or rent from a home-improvement store, and use it to saturate a damp, musty basement or attic.
Don’t leave home without it. Make sure your summer vacation is truly rewarding by remembering to take a detailed list of all allergy medications, showing the prescription refill number, prescribing physician and dosage. (Each medication’s original label should have all the needed information.) Pack the needed quantities and, if possible, also backups to avoid being caught short. Be sure, too, to place them in your carry-on luggage in case your checked luggage is lost. Don’t forget to bring an emergency insect-sting epinephrine injection kit if you or someone in your family has this form of hypersensitivity. Include a topical hydrocortisone cream and antihistamine (prescription medication or an over-the-counter brand previously used with good results), as well. In addition, for those with asthma, bring your inhaler along with the flow chart to record results.
Lend your support. The AAFA is dedicated to improving the quality of life for people with allergies and asthma through education, advocacy and research. It provides practical information, community-based services, and support to people through a network of regional chapters, support groups and other local partners around the U.S. It develops health education, organizes state and national advocacy efforts, and funds research to find better treatments and cures. Its Website provides online access to validated asthma and allergy information and tools for families, patients, parents, health-care providers, policymakers and others. So consider contributing to or volunteering at health fairs, special events, or educational programs that it sponsor.