Ever know a child who sustained a minor scrape and screamed bloody murder? Our immune systems similarly overreact to hay fever. When germs invade, the body’s defenses attack them. But with allergies, the immune system furiously attacks often harmless allergens, among them: pollen, pet dander, microscopic bugs and dust mites. Seasonal allergies such as hay fever are not medically serious, but they are uncomfortable or even maddening — just ask the nation’s 35 million allergy sufferers.
The first step to controlling allergies is to avoid your personal triggers. To identify yours, consult an allergist-immunologist for testing. Then, avoid your allergens like the plague they are, starting with these tips.
Trees and grasses release pollen from early spring through midsummer. Weed pollens fly from late summer into autumn.
- Pollen counts are highest from 5 a.m. to 10 a.m., so schedule outdoor activities for later in the day.
- Wind spreads pollen. Try to stay indoors on windy days.
- Use air conditioning. It filters pollens (and mold spores), especially when set on “recirculate.” Service air conditioners and change filters regularly to assure good filtration.
- Consider investing in a high-efficiency particulate accumulating (HEPA) air filter. About the size of window fans, portable HEPA filters are available from medical supply stores and health catalogs.
- Schedule vacations to avoid high pollen counts at home. Consider a cruise far from trees, grasses and weeds.
“Dander is not hair,” says University of Virginia immunologist Andrew Murphy, M.D. “Short-haired animals are as allergenic as long-hairs.” Dander is a class of proteins in pet saliva and urine, and on skin cells. Dander is easily airborne. Cats produce more than dogs, so they’re more allergenic. To avoid pet allergies:
- Goodbye, pets? If you find your pet a new home, it takes six months for dander to disappear. To hasten relief, have your home, especially your carpets, professionally cleaned.
- If you can’t bear to part with your pet, keep your bedroom pet-free.
- Bathe your pet weekly. Better yet, have someone else do it.
- Upholstered furniture and carpets collect dander. Eliminate them. If you can’t live without carpet, use short-pile rugs.
- Vacuum rugs and upholstery frequently. If you can’t find a non-allergy sufferer to do these tasks, wear a dust mask.
- Use vacuums and portable air cleaners that have HEPA filters.
Dust Mite Allergies
We constantly shed tiny flecks of skin. Dust mites eat them. Add some humidity, and you get hordes of these microscopic bugs. At 75 degrees Fahrenheit with relative humidity at 70 percent, the typical home contains 1,000 dust mites per gram of household dust. The particles seen in a shaft of sunlight are dead mites and their waste. Mites live in mattresses, pillows, carpets, bedding, upholstery and even stuffed animals. To avoid them, follow the tips below.
- Encase your mattress and pillow in a plastic, mite-proof cover.
- Wash your bed linens, blankets and stuffed animals weekly in hot water (130 degrees).
- Dehumidify. Dust mites love dampness, so keep your home dry. Spanish immunologists collected dust samples from 10 homes, and those with dehumidifiers had the fewest mites.
- Remove carpets and upholstered furniture, especially from your bedroom.
- Install a HEPA filter. Note: Ask an HVAC professional before installing a HEPA filter on your furnace. They aren’t suitable for all models. — MOTHER
Certain proteins in cockroach feces and saliva can cause allergic reactions in some people. Roaches burrow into cracks. Watch to see where they come from and go.
- Seal their entries and exits.
- Don’t leave food or garbage accessible.
- Trap them with Roach Motels and spread boric acid powder in cabinets. (However, know that boric acid may harm pets and children if ingested.)
Molds release microscopic, seedlike spores that become airborne allergens. But unlike seasonal pollens, mold spores are with us year-round. They grow almost anywhere that’s dark, damp and poorly ventilated. Nonetheless, molds have an annual cycle that runs from bad to worse: Spore counts are highest in July, August and September. From November through May, they’re comparatively low, but still high enough to cause hay fever symptoms. To limit your exposure:
- Clean up all visible mold in and around sinks, plumbing, garbage cans and bathrooms. Periodically wipe those areas that have non-porous surfaces with chlorine bleach.
- Keep a window open in your bathroom, basement and garage. Consider fans.
- Fight dampness. Remove carpeting from basements, garages and bathrooms. If your basement is damp, consider water-sealing. Dehumidifiers help keep basements dry, but elsewhere, improved ventilation usually works better. In bathrooms, keep shower curtains spread across the tub, not bunched in a corner.
- For severe mold allergies, eliminate houseplants. Many people find that simply draining standing water from under-dishes is sufficient. You might also switch from leafy plants that like damp soil to cacti and succulents that thrive in drier soil.
- Consider hiring a gardener or landscaper. Yardwork stirs up mold spores.
- Consider painting your home with mold-retardant paint.
- If you’re looking to move, opt for a newer home. Older homes have more nooks and crannies where mold has become established.
Safe, Natural Allergy Treatments
Eat more fruits and vegetables and fewer animal foods. This is no quick fix, says noted alternative medicine expert Andrew Weil, M.D., but over time, it helps. Animal foods — meats, poultry, fish, milk, cheese and eggs — are high in protein. A high-protein diet makes the immune system more reactive, and thus more likely to erupt in allergic reactions. Eating less meat reduces protein intake, which helps calm the immune system.
Many Americans think a low-protein diet is unhealthy. It isn’t. In fact, Americans eat much more protein than they should. A high-protein diet is strongly associated with the nation’s leading causes of death: heart disease, cancer and stroke. Meanwhile, many studies show that a vegetarian or near-vegetarian diet substantially reduces the risk of these diseases — as well as diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure and Alzheimer’s disease.
Fruits and vegetables are our main sources of antioxidant nutrients. Researchers at the South Florida College of Medicine in Tampa reviewed the research and concluded that as antioxidant intake increases, allergy symptoms decrease. Antioxidant nutrients include vitamins C and E.
Vitamin C. Doctors treat allergies with antihistamines. Vitamin C is a natural antihistamine, says Melvyn Werbach, M.D., and author of Nutritional Influences on Illness. Italian researchers gave hay fever sufferers either a placebo or vitamin C (2,000 milligrams/day). In the vitamin group, nasal symptoms improved significantly. In another study, vitamin C improved nasal symptoms by 74 percent.
Vitamin E. Israeli scientists gave 112 hay fever sufferers either a placebo or vitamin E (800 milligrams/day). The vitamin helped, and the researchers called it “a valuable addition” to hay fever treatment.
Nettle. Dr. Weil suffers from hay fever, and says his first choice for treatment is stinging nettle. For centuries, nettle has been used to treat respiratory problems. In a classic study, researchers at the National College of Naturopathic Medicine in Portland, Ore., gave 69 hay fever sufferers either a placebo or freeze-dried nettle (Urtica dioica, 300 milligrams twice a day). After one week, the nettle users showed significant improvement. Weil says freeze-dried nettle works better than air-dried or nettle tea. Freeze-dried nettle capsules are available at most health food stores.
Butterbur. Swiss scientists gave 125 allergy sufferers either a popular antihistamine (Zyrtec) or butterbur (Petasites hybridus, pyrrolizidine-free), 50 milligrams four times a day. The herb worked as well as the drug, but the drug caused drowsiness in 75 percent of users. The herb did not.
British researchers analyzed six rigorous trials of butterbur for hay fever. It worked as well as standard antihistamines.
Butterbur contains pyrrolizidine alkaloids that harm the liver. Look for products that say pyrrolizidine-free or contain a carbon dioxide extract, as it’s used to remove pyrrolizidines.
Homeopathy. At the University of Glasgow, Scotland, researchers gave 144 people with pollen allergies a placebo or a homeopathic preparation of mixed grass pollens. Those who took the homeopathic preparation showed a significant reduction in symptoms, and their antihistamine use dropped 50 percent.
Quercetin. For hay fever, Dr. Weil also takes the bioflavonoid quercetin (400 milligrams twice a day). Japanese researchers gave 20 hay fever sufferers either a placebo or quercetin (200 milligrams/day). Quercetin provided significant relief, especially of eye itching and tearing. Quercetin works best, Weil says, when taken between meals. Begin about two weeks before the expected start of the season of the pollen you’re allergic to, continuing until the season ends. Quercetin is available in tablets and capsules at most health food stores.
Allergy shots. An immunologist injects tiny amounts of your allergens, and over time — up to a few years — you become desensitized. Allergy shots don’t work for everyone, but if your body responds, you eventually suffer less.
As annoying as allergies can be, they also have a silver lining. They mean you have a robust immune system. By using natural remedies, you can calm runaway allergic reactions while maintaining your immune function so it’s there when you really need it.
Michael Castleman is one of the nation’s leading health writers, according to Library Journal.