If you’re one of the nearly one in three American adults who suffers from hay fever, you know the miserable symptoms all too well: itchy eyes, runny nose, and serial sneezes. Over-the-counter and prescription medications can bring relief, but also side effects such as sleepiness and anxiety.
This year, don’t wait until peak allergy season to fight back against that mountain of wadded tissues.
Experts say allergies can work like a “drop in the bucket,” where repeated exposures to various allergens add up gradually until the immune system “overflows,” or rather overreacts, flooding the body with inflammatory histamine compounds that are behind those pesky sneezes. It’s impossible to manage every environmental allergen, says Stephanie Becker, ND, of the Washington Center for Complementary Medicine in Washington, D.C. “But we can clean up a large percentage of other allergies you respond to, eliminating or reducing the severity and frequency of seasonal allergy symptoms.”
The key: Start now to give natural remedies a chance to take effect. By reducing your exposure to allergy triggers—and by boosting your immune system—these diet, supplement, and environmental tips can stall allergy attacks, even when pollen counts soar.
Eliminate problem foods
Although seasonal allergies may seem unrelated to food allergies and intolerances, they provoke similar responses in the body, taxing the immune system. “Eighty percent of our immune system is in our gut,” says Michael Smith, ND, a naturopathic physician at Carolinas Natural Health Center in Charlotte, North Carolina. Most people unwittingly eat foods every day that may trigger a food intolerance for them, he says. “If we can remove those reactions and lower the body’s total immune system activity, we can help prevent people from going over their allergic threshold.”
Unlike immediate or immunoglobulin E (IgE) food allergies, which cause immediate, more obvious reactions, delayed food or immunoglobulin G (IgG) allergies—also known as food intolerances—may not surface for hours or days and can cause less severe symptoms like wheezing, coughing, nasal congestion, skin rash, or digestive change. Because many people never associate these warning signs with the foods they eat, they don’t realize the burden they’re placing on their immune system, Smith says.
Common IgG culprits include dairy, wheat, corn, soy, yeast, and nuts. Ironically, it’s often the foods a person craves the most that cause trouble. Some experts speculate that allergic responses increase brain serotonin or dopamine levels. “This feeds our craving,” Smith says.
If you suspect a food intolerance, consider asking your health care practitioner for a blood test, or better yet, try a food-elimination diet. Remove common offenders (see above) from your plate for a couple of weeks, and then gradually reintroduce them one by one over several weeks, watching for any ill effects, says Smith.