With trees blooming in the Puget Sound area, the spring growing season is off and running – leaving allergy sufferers cowering in their closed-up homes. But the increase in pollen and other allergens doesn’t mean you have to hide from the season.
Through natural medicine, you can learn to minimize and even eliminate symptoms caused by allergies year round, says Melinda Bower, ND, who supervises naturopathic medicine appointments at Bastyr University's teaching clinic, Bastyr Center for Natural Health.
“Ultimately we want to figure out what’s causing your allergies,” Dr. Bower says. You might assume you’re allergic to trees because your symptoms show up in the spring, but it’s possible the trees are simply the “trigger” that puts you over the edge.
Maybe what’s causing you the most harm is actually a dust allergy, but your body is able to manage it until the pollen counts start to soar. “Think of it as a cup that’s half-full from your dust allergy,” Dr. Bower says. “Adding trees on top of that could cause your ‘cup to overflow’ and your allergy symptoms to skyrocket. If you eliminate the dust from your environment, the cup level lowers and you’re able to manage your symptoms again.”
Figuring out your allergies through a simple blood test with a naturopathic doctor is a first step. Then it’s time to get back outside and enjoy the season with these three natural tips to help you fight allergies:
1. Diet and Lifestyle
Sometimes the problem goes beyond the pollen and dust you’re breathing, Dr. Bower says. Food allergies can also cause your "cup" to overflow when spring allergy season kicks in.
Kathleen Lumiere, DAOM, LAc, a core faculty member in the Bastyr University Department of Acupuncture and East Asian Medicine, adds that other lifestyle issues such as digestion also can contribute to your seasonal allergy symptoms.
“If you strengthen your other systems by cleaning up your diet to aid digestion and increase nutrition, you can improve your body’s reaction to allergies,” she says. Her approach is to work with patients to help them eat foods that are in alignment with their Chinese medical diagnoses, and thus provide balance for their “qi,” or energy force.
“We take a traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) approach when we look at diet,” says Dr. Lumiere, who supervises acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine appointments at Bastyr Center. “It’s different from the Western approach to nutrition, but the two work well together.”
Dr. Bower adds that eating a diet high in inflammatory foods, such as fried foods and processed sugars, also can cause your symptoms to flare up. “Stick with whole foods such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains when your body already is fighting inflammation,” she says.
2. Herbal Medicine
Sometimes the symptoms are so bad that you turn to non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as Claritin. But that’s just a temporary solution, Dr. Lumiere says.
“When you take a Claritin, you might feel better for the afternoon,” she says, “but the symptoms will likely return because you’re not actually treating the problem.”
Dr. Lumiere explains that herbal medicines can strengthen your immune system along with fighting symptoms. For example, quercetin has been shown to reduce allergy symptoms, but the flavenoid’s anti-inflammatory properties also support your overall body function, helping you cope with symptoms better in the long run.
Dr. Bower adds that quercetin, which is a plant pigment found in fruits such as apples, can be taken in pill form such as in Vital Nutrients' Aller-C and other supplements available in the Bastyr Dispensary.
For some people, acupuncture also can help with symptoms, Dr. Lumiere says. As an added bonus, an acupuncture treatment can help you in other ways, such as reducing anxiety or improving mood and sleep, which can decrease the severity of allergy symptoms.
“Because we’re treating the whole person, the benefits go beyond eliminating allergy symptoms,” she says.
These are just a few of the many ways that natural medicine can help you minimize the symptoms of seasonal allergies. You can learn more from the following Living Naturally talk by Drs. Bower and Lumiere, “Natural Ways to Ease Spring Allergies":
To make an appointment at Bastyr Center for Natural Health, call (206) 834-4100.