Natural Allergy Treatments: 3 Remedies That Might Make You Ditch Your Antihistamine

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Allergies can be a pain in the, well—nose, eyes, throat, and skin. But despite the fact that allergies can torment us for a few months out of the year, many people don't know a lot about them, where they come from, and what their treatment options really are.

Your allergies, explained

Airborne allergic reactions occur when substances called allergens connect to allergy receptors in the nasal cavity. The body releases a compound called histamine, which in turn causes a cascade effect of itchiness, runny nose, sneezes, watery eyes, and headaches.

This reaction is somewhat different from the one involved in food allergies, which elicits a type of histamine release that creates rashes, hives, a tight throat, or even difficulty breathing. Food allergies can be life-threatening, but though often miserable, airborne allergies generally are a bit less severe. Typical allergens can include dust mites, grass, tree and weed pollen, animal dander, and (shudder) cockroach parts.

Your holistic allergy solutions:

Lots of people who suffer from hay fever and other allergies use drugs called antihistamines, which partially block the activity of histamine and are available over-the-counter. Unfortunately, these drugs can have side effects that vary from annoying to possibly severe. So before your grab one of these drugs this year, consider some of the following natural allergy remedies:

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1. Holistic nasal spray

There's an incredibly interesting way that the folks in Great Britain are dealing with airborne allergies. Scientists have created a way to block the allergens before they connect with receptors, short-circuiting the allergic response. They use a very fine dry mist nasal spray of cellulose (a plant fiber) and a hint of peppermint. The powder adheres to the damp interior of the nose and nasal passages, forming a thin gel barrier that traps the allergens and prevents them from causing symptoms. It is like wearing a surgical mask inside your nose. When you sneeze or blow your nose, the barrier is removed, and you need to reapply the nasal spray. Most people use it three or four times a day, but at the height of allergy season, you may want to use it more frequently to get symptoms under control. The best part? Because it is not absorbed, it's very safe and it can be used as frequently as you wish. And as the subject of 17 studies and clinical trials, doctors have found that this simple solution to allergies is quite effective.

Just last year, this product was brought into the United States and designated a medical device by the FDA. It can be used by adults and children as young as 18 months. Even pregnant women can use it, because it is not like a drug that is absorbed into the body—it's a safe and effective barrier agent. If you struggle with seasonal or even everyday airborne allergies, it might be worthwhile to explore—especially if you are thinking twice about your antihistamine.

2. Purple butterbur

One herb that helps with allergies is petasides, or purple butterbur. There isn't a lot of it out there, but research suggests that butterbur could be an effective treatment for hay fever and headaches. However, it is most useful for year-round allergies like pets or dust because it takes several months to work, but it's very effective if you stick with it. Petadolex is the name of one common standardized butterbur extract that can be another great natural allergy solution.

3. The allergy-free bedroom

Creating an allergy-free zone in the bedroom can also be extremely useful for seasonal or year-round allergies. Focus on eliminating carpet and investing in hypoallergenic pillows, an air purifier, and allergen elimination mattress covers. This can all help give the body a rest from allergens—for at least eight hours a day!

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The downside of antihistamines

Many antihistamines cause sleepiness, with the ingredient diphenhydramine even used in over-the-counter sleep aids. And although many people take these medications for years without side effects, they also have the potential to cause dry mouth, rapid heartbeat, insomnia, difficulty with urination, weight gain, and mood changes.

Many of these allergy medicines are in a class called anticholinergic drugs, which have been found to increase your risk of Alzheimer's disease with long-term use. A recent study found that compared to no use, taking an anticholinergic daily for three years or more was associated with a 54 percent higher dementia risk than taking the same dose for three months or less. Taking them for just one year increased the risk by almost 20 percent. A separate study found that taking one moderately anticholinergic drug, or two mildly anticholinergic drugs, reduced functional ability in older adults (bathing and dressing) by 30 percent.

And while this is a bit scary, using these kind of medications for a day or two—like settling down a bee sting—isn't the problem. It's the ongoing day after day, month after month use that can affect brain health. And while we should be aware of this, I don't think we should have to choose between sneezing our socks off and the risk of dementia at all, which is why these natural options are definitely worth a try this spring.

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