Sinus congestion, itchy eyes, sniffles, sneezes, and a cough that just won’t quit. While you watch as your friends and family rejoice in the warming weather and blooming flowers, you’re reminded that for you–springtime only means one thing–allergies.
Seasonal allergies, often called hay fever or allergic rhinitis, affect more than 50 million Americans, and are the 6th leading cause of chronic illness in the U.S. Before you settle for another season spent under the fog of allergy symptoms, check out these natural remedies to get your allergy symptoms under control, plus learn about the integrative medicine approach to healing seasonal allergies for good.
What Causes Seasonal Allergies?
Seasonal allergy symptoms are common and most often occur during the spring and fall, though some allergy sufferers will tell you their allergies continue throughout the year.
Blooming plants, budding trees and shrubs, pollen, and mold spores are out en masse during this time. Couple these seasonal offenders with the collection of environmental toxins and dust we encounter daily, and you have the perfect storm for an aggravated immune system and an increase in allergy symptoms.
When your body encounters foreign invaders from your household or outdoor environment, it triggers the production of inflammatory molecules, like (1):
What do these inflammatory triggers do?
These molecules are signals that tell your immune system it’s time to mount a response to eliminate foreign substanstances. This system is complex and effective, except it puts you in the crosshairs, resulting in allergy symptoms that can range from mild runny noses, to full blown, serious asthma attacks.
Let’s take a look at what’s really going on, plus ways functional medicine can help your immune system do its job with fewer seasonal allergy symptoms in the process. You’ll learn natural remedies for seasonal allergies, and integrative medicine methods to improve your immune health.
An Allergy Epidemic
Allergies (both seasonal and food) are an epidemic that are sweeping the modern world, and it’s no coincidence. With our increased exposure to substances and lifestyles that overburden our immune system, more and more adults and children are living with chronic allergies that can significantly impact health and quality of life.
The CDC estimates that almost 29 million adults suffer from sinus congestion on a daily basis, a condition known as chronic sinusitis–that’s almost 12% of adults. Commonly, chronic sinusitis most often is linked to nasal swelling caused by allergies, especially allergies to dust, dander, pollen, or the spores of fungus like mold.
Allergies then trigger the release of histamine and other inflammatory signals that cause the inner lining of the nose to swell and block sinus passages.
So why the increase in allergy symptoms like nasal congestion and inflammation?
There are three things that primary impact allergic response:
- Environmental exposure (toxins, pollution)
- Stress/digestive function
Changes in these factors, combined with genetics, can influence your immune cells that control your allergic and inflammatory response. More on these cells in a moment.
The Functional Medicine Approach to Allergy Treatment
Treating allergies with functional medicine first involves addressing your body’s immune response.
Treating immune dysfunction to improve allergies is done first with clinical laboratory testing, specific supplementation, and taking steps to reduce gut inflammation.
Research also shows that people with allergies often suffer from nutritional deficiencies and may need targeted supplementation to improve their intake of selenium, zinc, magnesium, vitamins C and D, and omega-3 fats (2,3).
These nutrient deficiencies deplete natural production of glutathione, your body’s most powerful antioxidant–which is why it’s one of our most popular IV therapy additions.
Optimizing your intake of nutrients you may be missing is a crucial factory in the regulation of immune cells involved in triggering allergic reactions, such as T regulatory cells, or Tregs.
The role of Treg cells is to hit the off switch on unwanted inflammatory immune reactions that create allergy symptoms (4).
Reducing inflammation and optimizing nutrients helps immune cells like Tregs do their job without triggering dysfunction and therefore an increase in allergy symptoms.
Now, let’s find out how to heal immune dysfunction at its source.
Leaky Gut and Allergies
Anywhere from ⅔ to ¾ of your immune system is located in your gut. The gut is like a training facility for your immune cells. It’s where they learn to differentiate friend from foe, and how to mount an appropriate response to invading pathogens–or anything it recognizes as harmful.
The bacteria that live in your gut direct this complex system, and help your gut tag different molecules for destruction. A healthy diversity in these protective gut bacteria is essential for a balanced immune response (5).
But toxins in the air, water, pesticides, a poor diet, and stress all contribute to a reduction in your gut microbiome and this has been shown to worsen the body’s allergy response (5). Poor microbiome health contributes to immune dysfunction which can trigger allergy symptoms.
The “5R Protocol” to Heal Your Gut-Immune System
The goal of the 5R protocol or method is to restore healthy microbiome function by removing environmental and internal factors that destroy gut flora, while rebuilding a healthy, functional gut.
The 5R protocol varies based on individual methods and practices, but the basics look a little something like this:
- Remove foods, medications, or supplements that are irritating the gut. This goes for lifestyle factors like stress as well. Address underlying infections and parasites.
- Replace beneficial enzymes, digestive acids, nutrients and foods that support healthy gut function.
- Reinoculate your gut with pre- and probiotic foods. These are live, active cultures , and the fiber which provides fuel so they can thrive.
- Repair your gut to support an environment where healthy bacteria can thrive and do their job.
- Retain your gut health by adjusting lifestyle factors like sleep, stress, and dietary habits.
Properly nourishing your gut allows your body’s first line of defense to mount an appropriate response while minimizing inflammatory allergy symptoms.
In addition to healing your gut-immune axis, follow these 7 other tips to make your home and environment more allergy-friendly for you and your family.
Top 6 Tips for Natural Allergy Relief
1. Filter Your Indoor Air
Indoor air can actually be more aggravating and polluted than outdoor air. Our homes can be full of allergens like dust, pet dander, VOCs, and irritants from cleaning products/fragrances.
One of the best ways to reduce indoor air pollution is to filter your air through a HEPA filter that removes harmful immune irritants from circulating in your home. You can also avoid artificial fragrances that come from cleaning products and air fresheners, and make sure your air ducts are clean and free or debris.
2. Limit Exposure
Sometimes the best defense for minimizing allergies is by reducing your exposure to the offending substances in the first place. This goes for both seasonal allergies, and food allergies. For environmental allergies, keep doors and windows closed in allergy season, and make sure you keep up with filter maintenance on your HVAC system.
3. Launder Bedding and Clothes
Your bedding and clothes can harbor particles from dust, dander, pollen, and other allergy triggers that make their way into your home, and then irritate your immune system.
Keep these particles to a minimum by laundering bedding and towels on a regular basis.
Many people also don’t realize that outdoor allergies can hitch a ride on your clothing as you come in from outside. It can be helpful to take off your clothing as soon as you get home, and change into something that doesn’t have pollen, dust, or other seasonal allergens attached to it.
4. Heal a Leaky Gut
As mentioned above, the majority of your immune system resides in your gut, and taking care of it is your first line of defense against allergy symptoms.
5. Support Immune Function
If you have allergies, you’re experiencing some degree of immune dysfunction, and you may need extra support.
Research shows certain nutrients may help with allergic responses, such as quercetin, vitamin C, vitamin C, magnesium, and zinc.
6. Clear Nasal Passages
Because seasonal allergies are most frequently triggered by physical particles making their way inside your body through your sinuses, head straight for the source to clear out your nasal passages of any particles that have adhered to the walls of your nose.
Neti pots, or nasal spray with grapefruit seed extract and xylitol are safe and effective ways to flush your nasal passages and clear them of inflammatory allergens such as pollen, dander, and dust.
Functional Medicine Puts You In Control of Your Allergies