Hiding under a blanket of tissues through allergy season is no way to spend our precious few months of warm weather! Seasonal allergies can significantly reduce quality of life by squashing productivity, kiboshing sleep, zapping energy, reducing exercise tolerance, and being a bummer for your social life. But with simple tweaks to your food, supplements, and lifestyle, you can keep your symptoms at bay so your quality of life is fit for all seasons.
The case of cold versus seasonal allergies
The common cold is triggered by a viral infection of the upper respiratory tract, whereas a seasonal allergy is an immune response to an environmental allergen. Although they have different underlying causes, they both commonly cause sneezing, stuffy nose, runny nose, and sometimes fatigue and weakness.
Look for the symptoms that are unique to each condition to help identify the underlying cause of your suffering: itchy eyes are very common with seasonal allergies but atypical in a cold, whereas sore throat is common in a cold but atypical with seasonal allergies. Aches and pains sometimes occur with a cold but are rare with allergies. Fever indicates infection, which points to a cold.
What causes seasonal allergies?
Seasonal allergies are triggered by inhaling aeroallergens from the outdoor air. While most people aren’t affected by these inhaled particles, those with seasonal allergies have become sensitized to them over time and thus experience a heightened immune response with exposure.
When the allergens make contact with the mucosa inside the nose, this stimulates the release of inflammatory immune proteins and causes upper respiratory symptoms such as sneezing and itchiness.
Seasonal versus perennial allergies
Although allergies to pet dander, dust mites, and cockroaches can trigger the same heightened immune response in susceptible individuals, these “perennial allergies” differ from seasonal allergies in their timing (year-round versus seasonal) and environment (indoor versus outdoor).
Seasonal versus food allergies
Seasonal and perennial allergies both differ from food allergies in that they are triggered by inhaling aeroallergens, whereas food allergy largely stems from the ingestion of food in the digestive tract. A key exception is that food particles can also be inhaled, which causes upper respiratory tract symptoms and possibly anaphylaxis in susceptible individuals.
American allergy season
Allergy season is largely dependent on the weather. In general, trees get the party started by pollinating in the early spring; grass follows by pollinating in the late spring and early summer; and weeds are the last guests, pollinating in the early autumn.
But every year is different: mild winters can cause early plant pollination; rainy springs encourage rapid plant growth, which increases mold and aggravates fungal spore allergies in the fall; and early frost can cut short the autumn ragweed season.
From sea to sneezing sea: Common culprits
- Pollen allergy has grown increasingly prevalent in recent decades.
- Trees, grasses, and ragweed are the most common allergens associated with outdoor pollen-induced allergies.
- Timothy grass, mulberry, and Bermuda grass pollen are some of the most common seasonal allergens.
The gut-brain-immune axis
There is a significant association between seasonal allergies and mental illnesses, including depression, generalized anxiety disorder, and panic disorder. While the reduced quality of life that accompanies seasonal allergies likely plays a role in this association, the gut microbiome could be another piece in the puzzle.
Research shows that disruption of the gut microbiome plays a role in the development of both depression and allergic disease. Changes in the gut microbiome can occur in response to stress, antibiotic use, lifestyle practices, urbanization, and diet.
Enjoy a diversity of plant-based and probiotic-rich foods to support a healthy gut microbiome. Adding 2 g of spirulina (a blue-green algae) to your smoothie per day can significantly reduce congestion, runny nose, and improve seasonal allergy-related quality of life.
Shallot and onion have antiallergic activity thanks to their concentration of quercetin and may improve the severity of allergic rhinitis. Those with allergy to birch pollen may have better control of their symptoms by enjoying birch pollen honey in advance of tree allergy season.
Make home your sanctuary during allergy season. Keep allergens outside by closing windows, wiping down your pets when they come inside, mopping the floor rather than sweeping, and using the dryer rather than hanging clothes outside.
When you venture outdoors, check the pollen and mold report for your area and wear glasses to protect your eyes. Consider wearing nasal filters to reduce pollen entry into your airway. The use of nasal filters has been shown to both prevent and reduce seasonal allergy symptoms and improve quality of life.
Enjoy your favorite stress-relieving activity regularly (whether that’s kickboxing or meditation!) and consider incorporating a stress-busting supplement such as ashwagandha. Get your Zen on with acupuncture; 12 sessions of this ancient healing practice have been shown to reduce sneezing, quell itchy ears and palate, and improve quality of life among those with seasonal allergies.
Supplements for the season
Probiotic strains Bifidobacterium bifidum, Bifidobacterium longum, and Lactobacillus gasseri, taken in combination, have been shown to improve nasal symptoms and quality of life among those with seasonal allergies.
Butterbur extract has been shown to have antiallergic properties that may help reduce sneezing in allergic rhinitis.
Quercetin, perilla, and vitamin D3, in combination, were shown to significantly decrease sneezing, nasal obstruction and discharge, and itchy/watery eyes, as well as resulting in reduced use of allergy medication.
Vitamin C, administered in a high dose intravenously, was shown to reduce allergy-related respiratory symptoms.
Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM), taken in doses of 3 g per day, significantly reduced nasal obstruction, itchy/watery eyes, and sneezing among those with allergic rhinitis.
Bromelain, in 500 mg doses twice per day, was shown to have anti-inflammatory activity in the nasal mucosa among those with allergic rhinitis.
Cross-reactivity of aeroallergens and food allergens
|birch pollen||apple, carrot, hazelnut|
|mugwort pollen||peach, celery, chamomile, mustard|
|ragweed pollen||melon, banana|