Seasonal Allergies Are The Worst. Here's What You Need To Know For An Easier Spring
This time of year in the western hemisphere is magical. You can feel nature coming alive, waking up from its long winter slumber. But as spring blossoms around us—as beautiful as it is—many of us also have seasonal allergies to worry about this time of year.
The FDA estimates that there are approximately 36 million people in the United States who suffer from seasonal allergies. Seasonal allergies are also sometimes called hay fever, or, by their technical (and very fancy) name, allergic rhinitis. It's important to know that allergic rhinitis technically takes two different forms:
Seasonal: This type of allergy is triggered by mold spores or pollens from grass, trees, and weeds, which happen more during changes of season.
Perennial: This type of allergy happens year round. It's generally caused by pet hair or dander, mold, dust mites, or cockroaches (gross, right?).
Seasonal allergy symptoms.
Seasonal allergies can present in the form of a bunch of different symptoms—and many of them overlap with the common cold. Some common signs and symptoms to look out for include:
- Runny nose
- Stuffy nose due to blockage or congestion
- Itchy eyes, mouth, nose, or throat
My role as a functional medicine practitioner is to get to the root cause of health problems. And what I find commonly among my patients is that seasonal allergies are more than just a change in the weather or a little extra pollen. Ultimately, allergies happen as a result of the immune system overreacting to an external factor, whether it is a food you eat, a toxin you are exposed to, or in this case, a change in the environment and increase in pollen in the air.
Some people experience seasonal allergies more dramatically than others. This is because when your immune system is compromised, it's going to produce antibodies to defend itself from even the smallest triggers or invaders to your system. In the case of seasonal allergies, this will result in more severe symptoms like watery eyes, runny nose, itchiness, and more.
The root cause of seasonal allergies.
In order to really work toward overcoming seasonal allergies, we need to dive deeper into how the immune system works. Close to 80 percent of your immune system is located in your gut microbiome, and therefore, when your microbiome is weakened, so is your immune system. Many things can alter your gut health, including a poor diet, stress, and increased toxin exposure. This results in increased gut permeability—also known as leaky gut—inflammation, and an imbalance between good and bad bacteria.
Once again, it all comes back to gut health. In fact, in my clinic I have seen many patients' seasonal allergies start to alleviate as soon as they start healing their gut. The take-home here? Bad or worsening seasonal allergies might be why a patient comes to see me in the first place, but they rarely end up being the main issue once I start looking under the surface.
So now that we understand the root cause of seasonal allergies, we can narrow down tools to support both our gut and our immune system. In functional medicine, prevention is our main goal. We want to be proactive rather than reactive. So while certain over-the-counter allergy medications, prescription medications, and allergy shots can be helpful in some cases, we also want to focus on ways to fight allergies at the source—and hopefully eliminate the need to medicate (or stay indoors!) at all. These are my top remedies for both preventing and combating seasonal allergies so you can enjoy this season rather than dread it. There's no reason to stay indoors!
Seasonal allergy treatments.
If you're looking to tackle your seasonal allergies from a holistic perspective, you'll be happy to know that there are a ton of natural remedies that can help you combat seasonal allergy symptoms and their root cause—inflammation. Here are some of the treatments I recommend to the patients at my clinic:
These natural plant medicines are my go-to for almost everything since there's pretty much guaranteed to be an adaptogen out there to help with whatever health issue you are struggling with. Red ginseng has been shown in many studies to be a powerful anti-allergenic. One study in particular showed that red ginseng was able to alleviate symptoms like sneezing, runny nose, itching, and allergy-induced nasal inflammation.
2. Support your biofilms.
Biofilms are thin, slimy films of bacteria that stick to mucus membranes throughout our bodies, including our gut and sinuses. These are actually important pieces of our health puzzle but can contribute to uncomfortable seasonal allergy symptoms such as a runny nose or other sinus problems when their composition is made up of pathogenic bacteria rather than beneficial bacteria. Some natural biofilm-modifying tools are:
- Colostrum supplements: Lactoferrin, the protein in colostrum, inhibits pathogens to promote healthy biofilms.
- Digestive enzymes: These help to break down biofilms.
- Probiotics and prebiotics: These promote healthy bacterial balance.
- EDTA: A natural chelating agent used to bring out toxins from biofilms.
3. Support your gut.
If allergies all have roots in gut health, boosting your microbiome health is essential. This can be done through adding natural gut supporters into your wellness routine. The average adult gut can take anywhere between 12 to 24 months to fully heal. So while you may experience some relief within a couple of weeks to a few months, this will help you alleviate symptoms for the long term.
- Up your intake of probiotic-rich fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, or coconut yogurt.
- Include bone broth in your diet. This gut-healing superfood is rich in nutrients like collagen, which work to soothe an inflamed gut.
- Add a probiotic supplement. While food is primary, sometimes you need an extra boost when you are working to restore a compromised gut.
4. Try an elimination diet.
Food plays one of the biggest roles in your gut health. Everyone knows that an overload of sugar, gluten, or other processed junk foods can seriously affect your microbiome. But I've seen even the healthiest foods cause inflammation and problems in people. An elimination diet is a great way to discover what foods your body loves and what foods your body hates in order to come up with a real-food plan that works for you personally to promote sustainable healing.
One of the biggest things you can do to support your gut is to actually avoid antibiotics, prescriptions, and other OTC medications as these can further compromise your gut. Since antibiotics, for example, work to kill off bacteria, they can't differentiate between good and bad bacteria and can end up eradicating both. Again, while sometimes these can be necessary, such as in the case of an unavoidable sudden exposure in life-threatening allergies, you have to ask yourself, Am I just looking for short-term relief or long-term healing?
Will Cole, IFMCP, DNM, D.C., is a leading functional medicine expert who consults people around the world via webcam and locally in Pittsburgh. He has holds a level 2 Doctor of Natural Medicine (DNM) certification. Named one of the top 50 functional and integrative doctors in the nation, Cole specializes in clinically investigating underlying factors of chronic disease and customizing a functional medicine approach for thyroid issues, autoimmune conditions, hormonal imbalances, digestive disorders, and brain problems. He is also the host of the popular The Art Of Being Well podcast and bestselling author of Ketotarian, The Inflammation Spectrum, and the New York Times bestseller Intuitive Fasting.