Histamine worsens the problem
Our microbiome is also responsible for producing histamine, which is the first chemical messenger that works to shuttle those pesky allergens out of the body. It’s histamines you can thank for the sniffling, sneezing, itchy eyes, and runny nose.
Histamine does play an important role in overall health, but just like inflammation—a certain amount is necessary but too much can be a problem. This is known as histamine intolerance.
Many microbes that reside in the human gut are capable of producing histamine because they make it from amino acids (specifically, histidine) present in the proteins you eat. The more of these histamine-making microbes you have, and the more histidine in your diet, the more histamine you can potentially produce in your gut. All this histamine manufactured by your microbiome can then be absorbed by different cells and sent around your body.
Basically, more histamine can mean worsening allergy symptoms.
Histamine intolerance can occur either when you’re producing a lot of histamine in your gut, or you have a deficiency in the enzyme required to properly break it down. Two types of beneficial bacteria—Bifidobacterium infantis and Saccharomyces boulardii—may help degrade histamine (10).
The gut-lung connection
Until relatively recently, it was believed the lungs were sterile, but now we know they harbor a very “distinct” kind of microbiome (11).
The gut and the respiratory system are obviously very different, but they are both made up of membrane-bound mucosal surfaces that harbor tiny but beneficial bacteria. Interestingly, inflammation tends to happen in both the gut and the lungs in people with chronic airway diseases (12). While we have a lot more information about the gut microbiome, due mostly to the simple ease of obtaining samples, there may be similar processes affecting microbial balance in the lungs as there is within the digestive tract. Similar to the intestinal microbiome, microbial communities likely have a major impact on the proper functioning of the lung and respiratory tissue.
As allergy season rolls around, it’s a good time to remember that the microbes that inhabit our body have a very important role to play and that our rigorous disinfecting doesn’t distinguish between harmful pathogens and beneficial bacteria. There may be a point that we need to consider the balance of healthy bacteria as a strategy worth protecting in our defense against environmental pathogens.
It may be likely that supporting a balanced immune response and reducing inflammation is the way to go for long-term success against allergies.
Browse: Functional allergy supplements.
Other underlying causes of chronic congestion
Chronic nasal congestion isn’t always caused by allergies. There are actually a number of underlying causes that can contribute to this problem.
Nasal polyps. These growths aren’t cancerous and can occur in the nose or sinuses. If large enough, they can physically obstruct the passages in your sinuses, which can make you feel like your nose is constantly blocked. It’s also not uncommon to have a diminished sense of smell or taste. Polyps are most likely to crop up in people who have allergies, asthma, or chronic sinus infections.
Pregnancy. Around 20 percent of pregnant women experience congestion or a stuffy nose, a condition called pregnancy rhinitis (13).
Low thyroid (hypothyroidism). Nasal congestion is a lesser-known symptom of hypothyroidism, a condition in which your body either doesn’t produce or can’t properly utilize thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH).
Irritation. Vasomotor rhinitis tends to occur when your nasal passages are irritated by something in your environment. Think cigarette smoke, cleaning products, or dry air.
At-Home steps to improve allergies and congestion
- Neti pot or nasal sprays. Gently flushing out irritants or allergens from your nasal passages can be a big relief for your sinuses. Then, provide some soothing support for the tissues inside your nose by running a humidifier or taking a hot shower with plenty of steam.
- Eat pre and probiotic foods. Fiber, fermented foods, and probiotics can help recalibrate your microbiome and bring balance to your immune reactions.
- Fuel a balanced immune response. Vitamin C, zinc, and other essential nutrients support a balanced immune response to allergens and other environmental invaders.
- Heal your gut. Work with a functional provider to address any underlying infections, and focus on a nutrient-dense diet to support your microbiome.
- Resolve underlying intestinal inflammation by getting tested for allergies or food sensitivities.
Functional medicine for allergy treatment near me
So, what can you do to get relief from your allergies? The answer may be as simple as taking care of your microbiome. You can improve your symptoms by eating a balanced diet that includes plenty of probiotics and prebiotics and maintaining an overall healthy immune system. If you’re still struggling with allergy symptoms despite following these tips, it’s time to see a functional medicine doctor who can help. They can help you find the right treatment for you based on the specific allergens you are reacting to. With the right plan in place, you should start feeling better in no time!