March 22, 2012 at 6:03 PM ET
By Leah Zerbe
Yes! Spring is...(excuse me, ah, ah, achoo!)...here! While the season of rebirth brings so much beauty, baby birds, bunnies, and blossoming buds, it also brings misery to millions of allergy sufferers bracing for the sniffles, sneezes, and wheezes of the season. Hay fever is among the most common allergies, affecting one in five Americans with its telltale annoying symptoms of a runny nose, congestion, sneezing, itchy eyes and ears, sinus pressure, sleeplessness, and fatigue. In fact, it's pretty much like the common cold, except it lingers on for months at a time (not days like a virus-caused cold) as pollen circulates in the air.
And with so many people seeking relief, it's no wonder companies are marketing all sorts of pills and potions promising to help you breathe better again. But according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI), there's no one-size-fits-all approach to solving spring allergy problems. We also consulted natural allergy-relief tips from Rodale's The Green Pharmacy Guide to Healing Foods: Proven Natural Remedies to Treat and Prevent More Than 80 Common Health Concerns (Rodale, 2008).
Avoid these (often costly) mistakes during the spring allergy season:
Throwing money at the problem
There are hundreds of products on the market claiming to ease your allergy ailment, and some of them work well for different people. But if you find yourself bouncing from product to product with no relief, consider making an appointment with an allergist, who might suggest allergy shots that can actually cure, not cover up, your allergy symptoms. No more late-night trips to the CVS! Nasal saline sprays or rinses, such as the Neti pot, also are invaluable to some people experiencing irritated sinuses. Just be sure not to overuse them.
Not knowing your enemy
Sometimes people treat allergy symptoms without even knowing what they're allergic to, or if they really are suffering from true seasonal allergies. While hay fever is a prime culprit this time of year, other allergens can also cause symptoms. Many people think they only have seasonal allergies, but actually have them year-round. Find an allergist who can help you figure out a treatment plan at AllergyandAsthmaRelief.org
Things like dust mites, cockroaches, cigarette smoke, or even the artificial fragrances in candles, hair spray, or air fresheners could be causing symptoms similar to hay fever allergies. Wash your bedding in hot water every two weeks to combat dust mites, use nontoxic pest management strategies to combat cockroaches and pests, and steer clear of synthetic fragrances; besides being irritating, they contain chemical plasticizers linked to hormone disruption and low IQs.
Waiting 'til you feel the pain
If you do have allergies, ACAAI recommends taking medicine that has worked for you in the past before the season starts. Pay attention to the weather, as winter and spring merge, pollens and molds are released into the air.
Allowing allergens into your house
Once you find the cause (or causes) of your problem and the proper treatment, you should take steps to keep the allergens that agitate you out of your home. If you're allergic to pollen, don't keep your windows open all the time, and take a shower when you come in from the outdoors. Pollen counts are the highest around midday, so that's also a good time to stay indoors.
Pigging out on problematic produce
People who are allergic to pollen can also have oral allergy syndrome, which affects about a third of seasonal allergy sufferers. Your immune system sees a similarity between the proteins of pollen and those in some foods, and that can trigger a reaction. If you're allergic to tree pollen, you may need to avoid apples, cherries, pears, apricots, kiwis, plums, or nuts. (Cooking or peeling these foods can help bypass a reaction in some people.)
On the other hand, research has found that certain foods can actually help heal hay fever. Broccoli, citrus fruits, collard greens, and kale are full of compounds that can help your body cope with allergy season.
This antiallergy soup from The Green Pharmacy Guide to Healing Foods is made with ingredients that may also be helpful:
Boil a whole onion with the skin, along with a clove of garlic. Add 1/2 chopped leaves and diced taproots of evening primrose. Boil the ingredients for three to five minutes, add 1 cup nettle leaves and 1 cup diced celery stalks, and boil for another three to 10 minutes. Remove the onion skins from the mix, and enjoy. (You can season with wine vinegar, black pepper, diced raw onions, hot pepper, turmeric, curry powder, or celery seed.)