How to Treat Fall Allergies
Are you excited for fall? Most of us love the vibrant colours of this beautiful season. It’s a time to get out our cozy sweaters, sip a cup of hot tea, enjoy the crisp fall air, and sadly for some people, sneeze a lot. Yes, unfortunately, many of us experience watery eyes, sinus pain and other allergy symptoms once fall arrives. This annoying phenomenon occurs even though you made it through spring without sneezing.
That’s because, even though the symptoms of fall and spring allergies are the same, the triggers are different. So it’s definitely possible to enjoy one season allergy-free but suffer through the other. Because there are more culprits to blame for fall allergies, many people experience adverse effects.
The two most common fall allergens are leaf mold and ragweed.
What is Ragweed?
As the name suggests, it is a weed. It is easy to spot because of the tiny, bright yellow flowers that grace the top of the green leafy plant which grows about 2-3 feet tall. Ragweed season gets going in August, but can carry all the way through October. Some experts feel that allergy season is becoming longer and more severe due to climate change. After all, warmer temperatures will prolong pollen production.
What is Leaf Mold?
Rainy fall days combined with falling leaves pair up to create leaf mold. Leaf mold is the product of fungus or mold breaking down or decomposing the fallen leaves over time. Eventually, they’ll turn into compost. Mold spores are like seeds for mold. They are how mold spreads and reproduces. Spores are easily inhaled and will fire up your immune system.
The good news is that fall allergies can be treated naturally. In fact, new research in immunotherapy and nutrition makes it easier than ever to get through autumn sneeze-free.
THE SYMPTOMS OF FALL ALLERGIES
We hear more frequently about spring allergies, but fall allergies can be just as unpleasant.
The symptoms of fall allergies include:
- Sore throat
- Runny nose
- Itchy or watery eyes
- Sinus pain or pressure
- Increased asthma symptoms like shortness of breath and wheezing
These symptoms appear when you’re exposed to an airborne allergy trigger or allergen. Common sense would suggest that the best solution may be to avoid the trigger, but, because they are part of our outdoor environment this isn’t always possible. You can’t just stay indoors all the time.
Why Do People Have Allergies?
From a naturopathic point of view, allergies are often due to weaknesses in your adrenal, immune, or digestive system. Our naturopathic doctors provide a more lasting – and practical – approach to treating allergies from the inside out. Our aim is to get to the root cause within your body rather than just mask your symptoms.
FALL ALLERGY TRIGGERS
Our environment goes through seasonal cycles. Observing those changes is one of the pleasures of the great outdoors. Who doesn’t love to see the leaves turn to bright reds and yellows every fall?
However, as a seasonal allergy sufferer, changing seasons often means the start of unpleasant symptoms. As a result, just when you thought you had things under control because your spring allergies have subsided, the natural cycle of our environment creeps up to create a whole new set of sensitivity reactions.
Some of the allergic challenges specific to fall include:
- Airborne pollen is more plentiful, especially on windy days when it is blown off blooms and into the atmosphere. Ragweed is particularly prolific this time of year.
- Mold spores love the fallen leaves and damp grass at this time of the year.
- Cooler temperatures prompt us to close windows and seal up our homes, so allergens are trapped inside.
- When we bring out our cold-weather clothes and comforters, we can stir up dust – and with it, dust mites. Turning on your furnace sends dust into the air from your ducts.
- People tend to think that pollution is worse in the summer. However, the cooler days of fall and winter can create an inversion in which pollution from heating systems, vehicle exhaust, and industrial pollution get trapped under a warmer layer of air.
- Your best friend may also be exacerbating your allergies. As your pets’ coats shed and thicken in preparation for the winter months, dander and fur become a greater presence in your home. When you walk your dog, he or she also collects outdoor allergens like pollen in his/her fur. Time to give Fido a bath!
4 NATURAL WAYS TO CONTROL FALL ALLERGIES
Instead of living in a plastic bubble every fall, you can gain control of fall allergies by working with your body’s immune system and adapting your environment.
No matter how careful you are with keeping outside pollution from getting into your home, allergens do still gain entry. After all, you have to open your door many times a day. Dust, pollution and particulate matter easily come in uninvited every time. Using an air purifier with a HEPA (High-Efficiency Particulate Air) filter significantly reduces airborne allergens like dust, dust mites, pollen, mold spores, and pet dander. HEPA filters trap these allergens and lock them away. If you’re particularly sensitive to allergens, it is also helpful to use a vacuum cleaner that also has a HEPA filter to allergen-proof your home even more.
Flushing your nose and sinuses with a saline solution twice per day helps. It goes a long way to ensure that congestion-causing allergens like pollen, spores, dust, and dander are expelled before they can settle in. This prevents them from causing the symptoms that make it hard for you to enjoy the change of seasons.
Since your eyes, nose, and throat are connected, nasal irrigation or using a Neti pot is a great way to naturally remove allergens. If you choose to make your own saline solution it’s important to make sure that the water you use is distilled or sterile so that no microorganisms are present. There have been reports of people dying from using tap water in their Neti pots. Tap water is allowed to contain low amounts of microorganisms like bacteria and amoeba. This is because, through the usual root of ingestion by mouth, your stomach acid will kill them. Introducing these into your sinuses, though, can cause some pretty dire consequences.
If your allergies are unbearable and the above solutions fail to provide relief, it might be time to try an elimination diet. The idea is to temporarily remove common inflammatory foods from your diet to provide your gut the opportunity to heal. Optimal gut health allows your immune system to settle down so that it no longer views allergens as foreign invaders requiring an aggressive attack.
As well, sensitivity to airborne allergens and sensitivity to certain foods may be related. Proteins in foods and proteins in allergens may look similar to your immune system. In which case, when your immune system has made antibodies to the allergens these antibodies will cross-react with your food. Common foods that will cross-react in people with ragweed allergies include banana, cantaloupe, chamomile, cucumbers, zucchini, and honeydew melon. Herbs like echinacea will also cross-react if you are allergic to ragweed.
At the very least, when your body is already on high alert coping with one form of sensitivity, it can be more reactive overall. That makes it harder to deal with multiple other allergens. The result is often a worsening of any already-present allergy symptoms.
Elimination diets are challenging. They are best implemented under the care of your naturopathic doctor. Speak to your practitioner about whether an elimination diet could help you better manage your allergy symptoms this season. She will also guide you as to which foods you should try eliminating.
Often allergies are the result of weakness or exhaustion in your adrenal, immune, or digestive system. There are a number of natural supplements that are known to support and strengthen each of these systems. With these, you’ll be better prepared to deal with allergens when you encounter them.
Bioflavonoids and Vitamin C
While onions make our eyes tear up, they also contain substances called bioflavonoids. Quercetin is a bioflavonoid founds in onions. It acts as a natural antihistamine. As such, it relieves allergy-related itchy, watery eyes, sneezing, and runny noses. Quercetin also has antiviral properties and helps reduce other symptoms including asthma, hay fever, and even cold sores. Onions aren’t the only source of quercetin; apples, berries, cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cabbage & cauliflower, and black tea are other good sources of quercetin.
Bioflavonoids work best when taken with Vitamin C. That’s because they work synergistically to amplify each other’s effects. This keeps your immune system strong and prevents the release of histamine. This is in contrast to what over-the-counter antihistamines do which is to interfere with histamine that has already been produced.
Probiotics (such as Lactobacillus acidophilus)
When you take care of the good bacteria in your gut, not only your digestive system but also your immune system benefits. A strong digestive system combats allergies by keeping inflammation at bay. Probiotics are helpful bacteria that are found naturally in fermented foods like yogurt, Kim chi and sauerkraut, kefir, kombucha, pickles, and miso soup. Before pumping yourself full of probiotics though, be aware that there are certain instances where probiotics may make you feel worse:
- If you have allergies to yeast or mold. Some fermented foods are created by yeast fermentation, like kombucha. If your immune system is sensitized to yeast, ingesting foods yeast-containing foods create more inflammation in your system, not less.
- Cytolytic vaginosis. This is a vaginal infection that is caused by an overgrowth of good bacteria in the vagina. The result is very sore, irritated vaginal tissue. Taking probiotics adds even more Lactobacillus to your system, aggravating the pre-existing bacteria overgrowth.
- Small Intestinal Bacteria Overgrowth (SIBO). SIBO is caused by the overgrowth of bacteria in the small intestine. Ingesting more bacteria from fermented foods or taking probiotics makes things worse by adding to an already over-populated digestive tract.
The allergens you’re exposed to in the fall will reflect the different varieties of pollen that are circulating in the air where you live. Honey produced in your area can contain these same pollens, thanks to the local bees. Some studies have found that consuming this honey reduces allergic reactions. It may be that as you expose your body to small doses of local pollen, your immune system develops a tolerance to it.
Omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil offer an effective means of reducing inflammation. Omega 3’s are metabolized by your body into anti-inflammatory prostaglandins. These are substances that help to reduce inflammation. Because inflammation plays a big role in allergy symptoms, fish oil, which is rich in omega-3’s, helps to reduce those annoying fall allergy symptoms.
Some research suggests that having low levels of Vitamin D in your body makes you more susceptible to allergies. Vitamin D is an immune system modulator. So it may not be a coincidence that as the number of people deficient in Vitamin D has gone up, so has the number of people developing allergies.
You know that zinc lozenges are great for the scratchy throat that accompanies a cold, but did you know that getting enough zinc reduces your allergy symptoms, too? Zinc plays an important role in how histamine is kept in check. Copper, zinc, vitamin C and B6 all help your body break down histamine. A deficiency of any of these means that more histamine courses throughout your body, increasing your allergy symptoms.
IMMUNOTHERAPY FOR ALLERGIES
This cutting edge allergy-reduction strategy centers around exposing patients to small amounts of an allergen, gradually building up their immune system tolerance to it. At first glance, immunotherapy may seem counter-intuitive. Why would you willingly expose yourself to the cause of your symptoms? However, when done carefully, your body becomes less sensitive to these allergens. This is the premise behind allergy shots. These are administered by a medical doctor or allergist. Sublingual immunotherapy is the same idea, but the small amounts of allergens are taken as drops that are held under your tongue.
Many people experience lasting relief from their allergy symptoms over the course of treatment. Immunotherapy treatment often lasts a few months. This is a gradual, but effective, approach. Of course, immunotherapy should only be done under close supervision from an experienced healthcare provider.
Natural treatments for seasonal allergies take longer to work than the typical over-the-counter allergy medications that only mask your symptoms. So it’s wise to begin natural treatments one or two months before the season starts to help prepare your body ahead of when allergens are at their most severe.
Not sure you can wait that long for relief? Try pairing nasal irrigation or HEPA filter air purifiers with your nutritional supplement of choice for speedier results.
Just remember: Good health begins in your gut. We recommend starting with ensuring your gut bacteria is balanced. If you’d like to get tested to see what gut flora imbalances and food intolerances you may have. Our naturopaths will give you a clear picture of what’s going on so that you can reduce your allergy symptoms and address the cause of the issue. Call us at 416-481-0222 or book online at https://forcesofnature.janeapp.com, we can help!
Authored and medically reviewed by Dr Pamela Frank, BSc(Hons), ND