With its warm days and cool nights, there’s a lot to love about the arrival of fall. But for allergy sufferers, fall’s dazzling colors come at a price – namely, sneezing, wheezing, watery eyes, stuffy noses and weeks spent zonked out on sleep-inducing pharmaceuticals. Granted, drugs may offer a modicum of relief for some, but their side-effects are legion – think drowsiness, dry mouth, blurred vision – and their long-term effects are unknown. So, short of staying inside and hoping for an early frost, what’s an allergy sufferer to do?
To breathe easier and more naturally this fall – minus the fall-out from airborne ragweed and mold spores – opt for a healthier, holistic approach that combines simple nutritional and lifestyle upgrades. Get your program started before the leaves start to fall by trying a few of my autumnal allergy-fighting tips to help you embrace the season with a clearer head – and a lot less sneezing:
1) Sometimes sneezing is a good sign.
Pre-pandemic, a sniffle or sneeze or cough wasn’t usually a cause for concern. But now, whether you’re vaccinated or not, it’s wise to make sure that your symptoms aren’t indicating something more alarming. Sneezing caused by allergies may not be great fun, but chances are you won’t experience the fever, chills, nausea, diarrhea, shortness of breath, chest pain and/or loss of taste or smell commonly associated with coronavirus, or, for that matter, the classic flu (remember that one?).
So, if you’re feeling off, err on the side of caution and book a call with your doctor, and consider getting a COVID test. Once it’s confirmed that allergies are the culprit and not COVID, then it’s time to fight back, ideally without drugging your way through the season.
2) Supercharge your microbiome.
Your drug-free first line of defense against seasonal allergies? It starts with a healthy microbiome – those trillions of bacteria that live in your gut. When the different bacterial strains are in balance, keeping your immunity defenses high and inflammation low, your body is better able to curb the effects of autumnal allergies.
But, if your microbiome is undermined by things like antibiotics, poor diet, stress, and a lack of sleep, the immunity defenses come down, and allergens get a hall pass to inflame your system and trigger those noxious sneezing/wheezing symptoms.
To keep your microbiome in fighting form, support it with lots of fiber, which your beneficial bacteria feast on. Ditch sugar and processed foods, which feed the not-so-beneficial bacteria, enabling them to overwhelm the good guys, weakening your immunity.
Next, add a daily, high-quality, broad-spectrum probiotic to help keep your gut bacteria fortified for the season ahead. Look for a probiotic with a large variety of strains as the benefits may include a broader range of effects.
3) Beware the edible itch and sneeze-makers.
When we think allergens, mostly we think of keeping the airborne ones out of our noses. But what about the ones on your plate? Life-threatening food allergies aside, you may unwittingly be eating foods that make allergy symptoms worse.
The trouble is, your immune system may overreact to certain otherwise harmless proteins in food and react the same way it does to airborne allergens: immunoglobulin and histamines get released and allergic reactions and symptoms ensue. How to pull the plug on that? Dine defensively by getting allergenic foods off your plate ASAP. Start by ditching sugar and processed foods, which undermine the resilience of your gut immune system. Then make your way through the rest of the items on the ditch-it list, like:
- Genetically-modified (GM) foods as well as gluten (especially wheat), which undermine gut health and exacerbate allergies
- Packaged and processed foods including processed meats
- Food additives, preservatives, and food coloring,
- Alcohol, particularly wine and beer which contain the histamines (and sulfites) that can trigger allergic responses
- Chocolate, which can also trigger histamine release
- Foods that are very ripe, aged or fermented have all shown to contain allergy-triggering histamines
- Herbal teas containing chamomile, milk thistle, wormwood, goldenseal, echinacea, dandelion and hibiscus, which can worsen allergy symptoms
4) Pump up your plate with edible allergy-tamers.
When it comes to taming the release of the histamines that make eyes water and noses run and sneeze, what you put on your plate is just as important as what you banish from it. Embrace the colorful, ‘eat-the-rainbow’ approach, which includes loads of immunity-boosting foods rich in vitamin A, C and quercetin, the holy trinity of allergy-fighters. Among the most helpful edible symptom-tamers:
- Stalks and stems of veggies – which supply the plant fibers that feed the beneficial bacteria in your microbiome
- Green plant foods – broccoli, collard greens, kale, celery, parsley, dill, cilantro, green peppers and brussels sprouts
- Green drinks – as a supplement, just a glass each day will boost immunity and supply quercetin, nature’s antihistamine
- Green tea – which can reduce symptoms, as can stinging nettle and rooibos teas
- Orange foods – turmeric, carrots and pumpkin
- White foods – garlic, onions, horseradish
- Red & purple foods – raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, purple onions, red peppers
- Nuts, seeds and oils – like flaxseed or flaxseed oil, walnuts and chia seeds
5) Sooth your head with a few smart supplements.
A strong microbiome and a smart diet is a fantastic foundation for allergy fighting, but if you need a bit more nutrient fire-power – allergies can be stubborn — then it’s time to call in the supplemental cavalry. Among the allergy-taming all-stars:
- Prebiotics and Probiotics – to support gut health and tame allergic response
- Bioflavonoids – which enhance the transport of vitamin C into our cells, also tamping down allergies
- Tinofend – which helps to significantly reduce sneezing and relieves runny and stuffy noses
- Quercetin – the plant nutrient that helps reduce the amount of histamine your body releases in response to allergens
- Nettle leaf – has been used for thousands of years as natural remedy for hay fever
- Vitamin C – supplies an extra antihistamine boost and overall immune support
- Vitamin D – several studies have reported that Vitamin D deficiency is associated with an increased incidence of asthma and allergy symptoms
- Bicarbonate Salts – help maintain normal histamine response
6) Mask up/allergens out.
No matter what the mask mandates where you live, if allergies are messing with your head, mask up when heading outdoors. Airborne allergens like ragweed, dust, pollen, and mold will have a tougher time getting into your mouth and nose if they’re covered. These days nobody will give you a second look, and masks-as-physical barriers will also inhibit the natural tendency to touch runny noses and eyes, which can lead to unintended exposure to allergens (and, of course, viruses).
7) Clean up your nasal house.
Noses, and those somewhat unsightly nose hairs, are excellent at blocking dust and allergens from getting into nasal cavities. But in autumn, with all those allergenic particles flying through the air, consider going the extra mile, with a regular nasal rinsing routine. Keep in mind though, it’s imperative that you pay special attention to the water you rinse with.
If you choose to use a neti pot, to reduce risk of infection, never use straight-from-the-tap or shower water as it can contain microbes and protozoa that can cause severe (even fatal) health problems. Instead, be vigilant about using only distilled, sterile or boiled-then-cooled tap, and sanitize the neti pot after use. If you find a neti pot too difficult to manage, tend to your nose with an easy-to-use, over-the-counter, saline nasal spray to help clear (and moisten) nasal passages.
8) Dress for seasonal success.
Whether you’re working from home or heading out to an office, think clean clothes. As in, not wearing clothes more than once between washings. Though it might seem unfair not to get extra wear from your favorite sweatshirt, keep in mind that fabric is great at capturing allergens which then get tracked into the house, creating your own personal chem trail of misery.
Another way to avoid tracking allergens into the house: as soon as you step inside, immediately change into a set of ‘indoor clothes’ and ‘indoor shoes or slippers’ and toss the clothes that have spent time outside straight into the laundry hamper. Do, however, skip the dryer sheets and fabric softeners as both have been shown to cause allergies and can irritate lungs. Add a little vinegar to the rinse cycle instead.
For larger items like coats and jackets that can’t be washed as frequently, store them in a mud room or garage instead bringing them inside.
9) Keep your machine clean.
As you’ll likely wind up doing more laundry to minimize the allergens on your clothes, it’s helpful to clean the washing machine more often too. You can do that by running the washing machine on the hottest wash cycle and adding a capful of bleach to help clear out pollen and kill any mold that may be lurking inside. This regular cleaning routine will also help keep allergens from washing into and contaminating bed linens, towels, and other washable fabrics.
10) Embrace allergy-taming behaviors.
In addition to eating well and minding your microbiome, there are number of pleasurable, relaxing, health-supportive behaviors you can add to your autumnal routine to help keep allergies from gaining the upper hand.
- A good steam: weekly sessions in a wet, dry or infrared sauna helps relieve sinus congestion and support immunity
- A hot soak: the perfect at-home stress reducer that helps tame allergic responses
- An acupuncture session: this ancient practice delivers drug-free symptom relief by helping to decrease stress hormones, which in turn helps reduce allergy-exacerbating inflammation.
- Meditate don’t medicate: Stress boosts histamine and cortisol levels, which exacerbate allergic response, so meditate more to keep levels low
- A salt room session: spending time unwinding in a salt room can help relieve autumnal respiratory symptoms and reduce stress.
Here’s to enjoying fall!