What Is an Allergy?
Allergies are an abnormal response of the immune system. People who have allergies have an immune system that reacts to a usually harmless substance in the environment. This substance (pollen, mold, and animal dander, for example) is called an allergen.
What Happens During an Allergic Reaction?
First, a person is exposed to an allergen by inhaling it, swallowing it, or getting it on their skin, then a series of events create the allergic reaction. Histamines are created by the body as a natural reaction to allergens in the body. Some people react more than others.
What Are the Symptoms of an Allergic Reaction?
Common symptoms of an allergic reaction to inhaled or skin allergens include:
- Itchy, watery eyes
- Itchy, runny nose
- Digestive issues
- Mucus buildup
- Feeling tired or ill
- Hives (a rash with raised red patches)
Other exposures can cause different allergic reactions:
Insect stings. The allergic reaction to a sting from a bee or other insect causes local swelling, redness, and pain. Or can lead to anaphylaxis.
Environmental toxins. Chemicals in food, water, fabrics, air, personal care products, etc., are difficult for the body to remove and can build up in the causing a general malaise, allergic reactions, illness, disease and cancer.
The severity of an allergic reaction’s symptoms can vary widely:
- Mild symptoms may be unnoticeable, making you feel a little “off.”
- Moderate symptoms can make you feel ill, as if you’ve got a cold or flu.
- Severe allergic reactions are extremely uncomfortable, even incapacitating.
- Most symptoms of an allergic reaction go away shortly after the exposure stops.
- The most severe allergic reaction is called anaphylaxis – allergens cause a whole-body allergic reaction.
Does Everyone Have Allergies?
No, not everyone has allergies. People inherit a tendency to be allergic, although not to any specific allergen. When one parent is allergic, their child has a 50% chance of having allergies. That risk jumps to 75% if both parents have allergies.
Antihistamines, what are they?
Antihistamines reduce or block histamines made by the body, so they can help relieve allergy symptoms. Although they do this by artificially forcing the body to change. This is why there are side effects.
Side Effects of Antihistamines
Antihistamines can cause side effects, and some cause more side effects than others. Drugs such as Benadryl, Chlor-Trimeton, and Tavist and belong to an older group known as “first-generation” antihistamines. They tend to cause more side effects, particularly drowsiness. Newer-generation antihistamines such as Allegra, Clarinex, and Zyrtec and have fewer side effects, so they may be a better choice for some people. Some of the main side effects of antihistamines include:
- Dry mouth
- Nausea and vomiting
- Restlessness or moodiness (in some children)
- Trouble urinating or not being able to urinate
- Blurred vision
If you’re taking an antihistamine that causes drowsiness, try to take it before bedtime. Don’t take it during the day before driving or operating heavy machinery. Read the label before you take an allergy drug.
Never take OTC antihistamines if you have an enlarged prostate, heart disease, high blood pressure, thyroid problems, kidney or liver disease, a bladder obstruction, or glaucoma. Also check with your doctor if you are pregnant or nursing.
Most allergy medications attempt to treat the symptoms your body instigates to get rid of the allergen. But doesn’t it make more sense to shore up your defenses before your body goes into attack mode? Many of the natural remedies discussed below are designed to prevent a reaction before it occurs. A few minor lifestyle changes also can go a long way toward keeping symptoms under control:
- Avoid using window fans to cool rooms, because they can pull pollen indoors.
- Keep windows closed when driving, using the air conditioner if necessary, to avoid allergens.
- Limit your time outdoor when ragweed pollen counts are highest — from mid-August until the first frost.
Here are more things that can help head off allergies before they start, as well as some drug-free ways to treat symptoms:
Allergy-Fighting Foods. A German study, published in the journal Allergy, found that participants who ate foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids were less likely to suffer allergy symptoms than those who didn’t regularly eat these foods. Omega-3s help fight inflammation and can be found in cold-water fish, walnuts and flaxseed oil, as well as grass-fed meat and eggs. To help keep airways clear when pollen counts are high, add a dash of horseradish, chili peppers or hot mustard to your food — all act as natural, temporary decongestants.
Bromelain. Some studies have found that bromelain is helpful in reducing nasal swelling and thinning mucus, making it easier for people to breathe. It may be particularly useful when added to drug treatment for sinus infections. Bromelain can be found in pineapple.
Chamomile is another herb that makes a delicious sweet flavored herbal tea and is a great choice for children. When purchasing in bulk, four to six grams of flowers can be infused in eight ounces of boiling water to create a tea that is useful for allergies, hay fever, and asthma. It also contains anti-inflammatory properties that may help soothe inflammation in the throat when a cough is present. Chamomile has a calming effect that can be soothing and relaxing in times when we are feeling run down due to stress or illness. If a ragweed allergy is present chamomile should not be used in the treatment of allergies.
Holy Basil, often referred to as Tulsi, is a herb that can be made into a tea and sipped daily. This herb is not the same as the garden basil often seen in Italian cooking, as it’s native to India. Tulsi is an adaptogen which helps the body cope with everyday stressors and supports normal cortisol function. Additionally, it helps strengthen the respiratory system making it great for allergies, hay fever, and asthma. This tea would ideally be used before your normal allergy season begins and consumed daily.
Lemon Balm. A natural antihistamine, can be made into a tea using two to four grams per eight ounces of boiling water. It has also been shown to be beneficial in relieving respiratory symptoms associated with allergies such as coughs and asthma. Additionally, lemon balm is calming and useful in treating irritability, anxiety, and restlessness which may be particularly beneficial when allergies are at their peak.
Local Honey. Consuming honey collected from your local area has been found to reduce allergy symptoms to plants in that area. The raw and unfiltered honey contains the pollens that cause your allergies in very small amounts. When consuming the honey those pollens are introduced into your system in very small amounts and help to improve immune function, much like immunotherapy, without causing strong allergic reactions. The benefit is cumulative, meaning the more you eat over time the fewer allergies you have. This is much like making your kids get chicken pox so that they have the immunity to it built up before they get old.
Quercetin. A natural plant-derived compound called a bioflavonoid, quercetin helps stabilize mast cells and prevents them from releasing histamine. Quercetin also is a natural antioxidant that helps mop up molecules called free radicals that cause cell damage, which can lead to cancer. Citrus fruits, onions, apples, nettles, lemon balm, parsley, tea, tomatoes, broccoli, lettuce and wine are naturally high in quercetin, but allergy sufferers will most likely need to use supplements to build up enough of this compound to prevent attacks. The recommended dosage is about 1,000 milligrams a day, taken between meals. It’s best to start treatment six weeks before allergy season.
Stinging Nettle. If you decide you need an antihistamine but want a natural option, stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) behaves in much the same way as many of the drugs sold to treat allergies, but without the unwanted side effects of dry mouth and drowsiness. Nettle actually inhibits the body’s ability to produce histamine. Studies have shown that taking about 300 milligrams daily will offer relief for most people, although the effects may last only a few hours. You also can make your own tinctures or teas with stinging nettle. Often used as an allergy treatment, this botanical contains carotene, vitamin K, and quercetin. There’s some evidence that using stinging nettle after the first sign of allergic symptoms can help a bit.
Combination allergy supplements. Several natural allergy remedies contain a blend of botanicals. Sinupret, for example, is a combination of European elderflower, sorrel, cowslip, verbena, and gentian root. It’s been long used in Europe, and there’s some evidence that it helps treat the symptoms of bronchitis and acute sinusitis.
Essential oils can also be used in order to reduce allergy symptoms naturally. Ideally, these would be diffused into the air to receive the maximum benefit through inhalation, which can be achieved through a traditional diffuser. If you don’t have a diffuser you can still receive the benefits of inhalation by placing a few drops of essential oil on the shower floor and allow the scented steam to penetrate the room. Another option would be to place a few drops on a cotton ball or tissue under a pillow or in a pocket close to your face. The following oils are all found to promote a feeling of clear breathing and reduce allergy symptoms such as sinus headaches. Try any combination of the following oils or use them individually to suit your personal needs: eucalyptus, peppermint, lavender, tea tree, rosemary, fir needle and lemon.
Acupuncture. Many people who suffer with allergic rhinitis are now turning to acupuncture for relief. A 2008 German study of more than 5,000 adults found that acupuncture seemed to reduce symptoms significantly compared to standard treatment.
Neti Pots. What could be simpler than rinsing away allergens with saltwater? Neti pots, small vessels shaped like Aladdin’s lamp have been used in India for thousands of years to flush the sinuses and keep them clear. You could simply use your cupped hand instead of a neti pot to rinse sinuses, but netis are inexpensive, and many people find them much easier to use. Always ensure you are using clean, distilled water in your neti pot.
Protection. If you’re heading out to clean a dusty garage or rake during pollen season, gear up. Don’t just wear a mask over your mouth and nose, but goggles over your eyes too.
Natural Allergy Remedies: 3 Tips for Safety –
- Risks and interactions. On the whole, the top allergy supplements seem to be reasonably safe. But check with a doctor before taking a supplement if you have any medical conditions, use other daily medication, are pregnant or breastfeeding, or are under 18 years old. Always follow the dosing advice of your doctor or pharmacist – or at least the directions on the label.
- Long-term use. The longer you take any supplement (or drug), the greater the potential for toxicity and harm. Unfortunately, there’s little evidence about the safety of using these natural allergy remedies for extended periods. So be cautious. Get your doctor’s opinion on any long-term treatments you want to try.
- Allergic reactions. There’s another problem for people seeking allergy supplements: Many of the plants used for allergy treatment – such as butterbur, Echinacea, Chamomile, and several others – are distant cousins to ragweed. So, if you’re suffering from a ragweed allergy, a dose of allergy supplements could theoretically make your symptoms worse.
Mother Gaia’s Remedies
Allergy Tea – nettles leaf, red clover flower and leaf. Drink twice daily with local honey to relieve common allergy symptoms. Benefits are cumulative.
Allergy Drops – nettles leaf, everclear, and vegetable glycerin. Taking a few dropperfuls each day can alleviate allergies and reduce them permanently over time.
Allergy Oil – sunflower oil and frankincense, sweet orange, and lavender. Apply to temples, pulse points, and lymph nodes to help reduce allergic reactions.