10 Strategies for a Happier Allergy Season
And not one of them is “live in a bubble.”
If spring’s tree pollens are making your eyes water, you’re in good (if miserable) company. “Up to 30 percent of Americans have allergies, compared to 10 percent in 1970,” says Leo Galland, M.D., an internist in New York City and coauthor of The Allergy Solution. Numerous studies connect the increase to climate change (extended growing seasons mean more pollens), air pollution (people in high-traffic areas have a higher incidence of respiratory allergies), and everyday substances in our homes, like antibacterial products and formaldehyde. Here are some smart ways to minimize the effects of these stealth triggers and shore up your immunity so you can feel healthy year-round.
A daily dose of good bacteria for four to eight weeks can lessen allergic reactions to dust mites and grasses. “The probiotic with the most impact is lactobacillus,” says Galland, who recommends 10 billion to 40 billion units daily. Get it from fermented foods, like miso and yogurt, or a supplement. One to try: Culturelle, which contains what the label says it does and is available at drugstores.
The triclosan in those soaps and sanitizers gets absorbed through the skin and can alter the balance in your microbiome (the microbes and good bacteria in your body), prompting a bigger response to allergens. “Your body relies on exposure to bacteria in order to learn good from bad,” says Jessica Savage, an allergist-immunologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, in Boston. “Anything that kills our bacteria may increase the risk of allergies.”
A NASA study found that certain plants can rid the air of formaldehyde, a carcinogen found in common household furnishings, like carpeting, that irritates the eyes, nose, and throat and sensitizes immune cells to react to allergens. “Get one or two plants for every 100 square feet in your home,” suggests Bill Wolverton, Ph.D., a former NASA scientist who led the research on plants’ abilities to filter air toxins. Try a lady palm, a bamboo palm, a rubber plant, a ficus, or a peace lily.
Allergy tablets and sublingual immunotherapy (SLIT) drops are the newest ways to increase tolerance to allergens and reduce symptoms. These oral treatments are less likely than shots to trigger an adverse reaction and also more convenient, because patients can dose themselves at home, says Sandra Lin, an associate professor of otolaryngology and head and neck surgery at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine who has studied SLIT. The drops are not yet approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, so ask your doctor about single-allergen prescription tablets. Ragwitek is effective against hay fever, Grastek tackles timothy-grass allergies, and Oralair treats a combination of grass pollens.
Does your mouth or throat feel itchy after eating a raw fruit, nut, or vegetable? It could be cross-reactivity and not a food allergy. Birch, ragweed, and grass pollens have proteins similar to those in some foods, and both can trigger reactions during pollen season. For example, 50 to 75 percent of people with birch allergies get symptoms when they eat stone fruits, kiwis, apples, carrots, celery, almonds, hazelnuts, peanuts, and soybeans in the spring. Cook foods or peel them to break down or remove the proteins.
When eaten raw, these greens have high amounts of sulforaphane, which enables the creation of an antioxidant that helps your body to detox. In one study, people who ate 100 to 200 grams of ground raw broccoli sprouts daily and were then exposed to diesel fumes had significantly less allergic inflammation in their nasal passages after just four days compared with those who hadn’t eaten sprouts. You can find broccoli sprouts at health-food stores. Grind them in a food processor and add to salads or sprinkle on soups.
The sweet spot: between 30 and 50 percent. Dry air helps keep dust mites and molds from growing and stops formaldehyde from breaking down into a gas. (Dip below 30 percent and it will feel too dry.) To check your home’s humidity, purchase a meter from any hardware store. If it spikes above 50 percent, use a dehumidifier or run the air conditioner, which naturally dehumidifies.
Vehicle engines emit a toxic stew of particulate matter, diesel fumes, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and other easily inhaled pollutants that have been linked to asthma and respiratory illnesses. When you pull your car into the garage, you trap these pollutants inside, where they could leak into your home. A 2009 report by the California Energy Commission found that 65 percent of homes had higher levels of garage-to-home air leakage than what the American Lung Association considers safe.
People with D levels lower than 30 nanograms per milliliter have higher rates of nasal allergies, asthma, and eczema, possibly because the vitamin helps suppress inflammation. Supplementing with absorbable D3 can help alleviate the symptoms of allergic rhinitis, asthma, and dust-mite allergies. In one study, people with nasal allergies who supplemented with 1,000 international units of D3 daily for 21 days had a significant reduction in symptoms. Have your doctor check your levels before taking supplements.
A good workout may lessen symptoms of certain allergies. People with dust-mite allergies who ran for 30 minutes at a moderate intensity had reduced nasal congestion, itchy eyes, and sneezing in a study conducted by Jettanong Klaewsongkram, an allergist-immunologist at Chulalongkorn University, in Thailand. Exercise may trigger the body’s anti-inflammatory cytokines, which reduce symptoms. Moderate cardio may also reduce blood flow to nasal tissues, stemming runniness. Exercise during times of the day when pollen is low. “Opt for later afternoon sessions,” says Dean C. Mitchell, an immunologist in New York and the author of The Allergy and Asthma Solution.