How to Fight Seasonal Allergies...Michael's story.
He could almost foretell the day it would start. Michael, 48, knew that he would begin sneezing, his nose would start running, and his mouth would feel itchy on the Victoria Day long weekend (around the 21st
of May). He’d be out cutting the grass, playing in the park with his two kids or cleaning the barbecue on the patio, and would have to arm himself with facial tissue and his nasal spray to fend off hay fever that lasted until at least mid-June.
This was predictable up until four years ago.
Like over 20% of Canadians, Michael has allergic rhinitis. He pinned his particular culprits down to grass and airborne pollen from cedar and cottonwood trees, but hadn’t ruled out other instigators (like ragweed, when visiting his parents in Ontario).
He had been to an allergist and was told that, of course, avoidance was best to manage triggers. But staying inside in early evening when pollen counts are higher was tough since after work, he loved to be outdoors. He wears glasses, which helped keep pollen out of his eyes, and tried to keep windows closed during high pollen periods. But he still sometimes got other pesky symptoms like difficulty concentrating, which made him forget simple tasks on his to-do list, and he felt tired often. His sleep was sometimes affected, which made him more irritable.
Michael knew allergies were triggered when his immune system became sensitized and overreacted to something in the environment. But other than taking medication, he never thought about solutions.
Then, four years ago, a visit to an ear, nose and throat doctor for a seeming unrelated issue caused some alarm. He found out the spray he’d been using regularly, an intranasal corticosteroid drug, had “eaten away” the delicate mucus membrane skin inside his nose. This started to cause bleeding. He was worried about switching back to using an antihistamine he’d done in the past because it made him dizzy, and gave him headaches and nervousness. He’d also heard about the more serious side effects of being on it too long: nausea, abdominal cramps, high blood pressure, and in his case, urinary problems. Michael had an enlarged prostate and read that antihistamines increase urination issues with this.
After doing some research, Michael started to consider the initial causes for his body’s response. Why wasn’t his immune system fending off allergens? He also looked into natural solutions to reduce symptoms. Michael took this on as his “new project,” which made him feel proactive in changing some habits:
- He stopped using the fan near a window that brought welcome cool air but drew pollens and molds into the house, buying a better air conditioning unit instead.
- He got used to using a neti pot (a saline solution rinse bottle), to wash out his nasal passages during the season.
- He drank more water (when dehydrated, the body can produce more histamine, worsening symptoms).
- Michael realized that he wasn’t always eating a healthy diet. He started eating more fruit and vegetables in immune-boosting bright orange, green and red (spinach, carrots, apricots, sweet potatoes). Their carotenoids reduce inflammation in airways.
- Michael loves garlic so generously added it to his barbecue recipes since it boosts immunity and has a natural antihistamine (quercetin).
- He started taking Vitamin C with bioflavonoids: vitamin C is a natural antihistamine and its bioflavonoids have anti-allergy effects.
- He joined his wife in drinking fresh ginger or chamomile tea, both natural antihistamine herbs, taking it with honey. Honey desensitizes the body to pollen symptoms. (Studies show that using honey local to your area offers the best results because those bees took pollen from the type of plants that you may be triggered by.)
- He took lower dose antihistamine only when he really needed to, cutting the tablet in half to gauge its effects before taking the whole pill.
- On the advice of a friend, Michael also tried acupuncture that he was first skeptical of, but found it helped to reduce his runny nose.
- Michael hadn’t been relaxing in a healthy way. He began to take needed time alone, going for solo walks after work, and practicing meditation for 10 minutes a day, weaning himself off the nightly beer he drank to de-stress.
Four years after he began, when some of these changes now seemed like part of his life, he suddenly realized that allergy season would come and go with far fewer and more manageable symptoms.