Dr. Olivia Froehlich
Natural Solutions to Seasonal Allergies
The birds are chirping, the bees are buzzing, and the noses are sneezing. Yes, it's that glorious time of year again, so here are 5 natural strategies and solutions for seasonal allergies!
Seasonal allergies are caused by many things, and to add to the complexity, not everyone will experience them, some may only react to certain things, at certain concentrations, etc. The most common culprits are grasses, weeds such as ragweed, sagebrush, and tumbleweed, and trees such as birch, cedar, and oak (AAFA, 2015). What can you do to avoid or lessen your exposure?
Avoid going outside when pollen counts are high. You can check this by searching “pollen counts near me” on Google. Common resources will be weather.com and weatherbug.com.
Wash bedding and clothing often. Bedding including blankets, sheets, and pillow covers should be washed in hot soapy water at least once a week. Make sure to remove and wash clothing worn outdoors as soon as possible. Also, dry your clothes in a dryer instead of using an outdoor clothesline.
Shower/bathe and wash your face before bed every night. This will help ensure that your linens, skin, hair, and face are clean from pollen or dander to support a good night’s rest.
Clean carpets, drapery, and furniture. Not everyone can afford to remove carpet for the sake of mitigating seasonal allergies, if you’re able to, getting your carpet professionally cleaned at least once a year in the spring should help. Drapery should be taken down if possible or at least washed in warm, soapy water often. Keeping windows and doors closed should help keep pollen out of drapery.
Avoid or clean pet dander as much as possible. Seasonal allergies might not be a worthy enough hassle to consider removing beloved pets from the home. Instead, do your best to keep pets out of sleeping quarters as best as possible. Clean your pets as well.
Use air filters. Specifically, High Energy Particulate Air (HEPA) filters can be placed in the home as free-standing air filters. There are many different types and brands of air purifiers, be sure to check that they are HEPA. You may also want to clean the filter of your air conditioner, especially since you should rely on your A/C more than opening doors and windows during warm weather. “If needed, get your air conditioner serviced professionally and install a filter with an American Society of Heating and Air-Conditioning Engineers MERV (Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value) rating of at least 8” (6 Tips to Allergy-Proof, 2018).
Information from: (6 Tips to Allergy-Proof, 2018; AAFA, 2015; AAFP, 2011)
Antioxidants are substances that act to “quench” free radicals produced in the cells of our body. Free radicals occur normally as a part of cell metabolism in a few different forms, all of which include oxygen in their structure, and can cause oxidative stress when they increase in concentration, or the cell lacks the tools to deal with them. Some popular antioxidants include vitamin C, vitamin E, and glutathione.
Vitamin C is perhaps the most well-studied antioxidant when it comes to allergies and asthma. A recent long term observational study of children with asthma who were treated additionally with intravenous (IV) vitamin C found a significant reduction in all specific and non-specific symptoms associated with their asthma diagnosis (Vollbracht et al, 2018). In a different study, supplemental vitamin C decreased the need for patients with asthma to use their steroid inhalers in comparison to both a placebo group and a supplemental magnesium group (Fogarty et al, 2006). Unfortunately, there aren’t clinical trials which test anti-allergic effects of vitamin C.
In animal studies, vitamin E has been found to decrease inflammatory molecules in blood as well as nasal allergic symptoms (Inagaki et al, 1984; Wang et al, 1994; Zheng et al, 1999; Centanni et al, 2001). A 2004 trial studied patients with allergic symptoms including sneezing, runny nose, itchy eyes, etc., who were already undergoing treatment including drugs and/or immunotherapy, and randomized them to either vitamin E or placebo (Shahar et al, 2004). Vitamin E supplementation significantly improved total daily symptom and specifically nasal symptoms according to the patients in the study who were told to track their symptoms everyday, though not according to the investigators who also tracked symptoms between the control and experimental groups (Shahar et al, 2004).
A review investigating oxidative stress and glutathione levels as they pertain to ear, nose, and throat (ENT) conditions found that ENT conditions have oxidative stress present and low glutathione (Asher and Guilford, 2016). There is also an extensive review of glutathione’s role in severity of asthma (Fitzpatrick et al, 2012). However, this is where the literature stands, namely, an understanding of glutathione as an antioxidant and how that may pertain physiologically to allergies, but there is a lack of clinical trials studying glutathione’s efficacy in treatment. Glutathione and vitamin E may still be beneficial adjuncts during allergy season.
Quercetin is another antioxidant; however, this flavonoid is special enough that it gets its own section. Present in foods such as onions and apples (primarily in the skin for both examples), this compound inhibits enzymes which function to produce inflammatory molecules, stabilizes cell membranes, and blocks histamine release (Mlcek et al, 2016; Marseglia et al, 2019).
There have been multiple trials which tested the anti-allergic efficacy of quercetin, though most used isomers (quercetin compound with added structures to it, sometimes utilized for stability or patenting purposes) or mixtures with other compounds. Lertal® is a multicomponent nutraceutical which has quercetin as the first ingredient. This nutraceutical underwent a phase II, polycentric, randomized, parallel-group trial which tested it as a preventive treatment in children with allergic symptoms of runny, irritated, and itchy eyes and nose (Marseglia et al, 2019). The investigators found that there was a statistically significant decrease in the risk of having a symptom flair, the number of flairs, and the number of times a patient took a rescue medication in the experimental Lertal® group compared to placebo (Marseglia et al, 2019).
The physiology and in vivo evidence supports quercetin as an anti-allergic compounds; however, human trials which study quercetin’s (and quercetin only) efficacy are still lacking.
Glycyrrhiza glabra, also known as licorice, contains glycyrrhizic acid (GA) as one of its main active constituents. GA is known to be anti-inflammatory and immunomodulatory by interacting with the body’s immune cells, decreasing certain inflammatory molecules, and inhibiting histamine release (Han et al, 2017). Licorice also mimics the activity of corticosteroid hormones, a common treatment option for allergies (Han et al, 2017; Yang et al, 2017).
A trial investigating the effect of a 1% and 2% licorice gel on patches of eczema compared to placebo found that both the 1% and 2% gels significantly reduced redness, swelling, and itching compared to baseline and the placebo’s effect, and the 2% gel was more effective than the 1% gel (Saeedi et al, 2003).
However, licorice has been found to increase blood pressure, making it important to review adding it as a supplement with your healthcare provider. This sentiment goes for adding any supplement to your regimen by the way.
Urtica dioica, also known as stinging nettle, is one of the most well-known herbs to help with seasonal allergies. The fresh leaves contain histamine, serotonin (5-hydroxytryptamine), and acetylcholine (Sayin et al, 2013). While we’ve discussed other modalities as being anti-histamine thereby reducing allergic symptoms, histamine itself has been used to combat allergies, possibly explaining why the presence of histamine in stinging nettle makes it effective (Sayin et al, 2013).
There is quite a long history of using stinging nettle for seasonal allergies; however, human trials are lacking.
Scutellaria baicalensis, also known as skullcap, is an anti-inflammatory and anti-allergic herb which contains baicalein, baicalin, and wogonin as its main flavonoid constituents (Shin et al, 2014).
There have been a number of animal studies which have investigated skullcap’s ability to inhibit histamine release, prevent food allergies including egg allergy, and decrease swelling and redness of hypersensitive skin (Shin et al, 2014 and 2014; Kim et al, 2013; Jung et al, 2012).
Again, human trials of skullcap’s efficacy are lacking.
5: Prep before allergy season
A common theme for seasonal allergies is to begin implementing strategies before the pollen is upon us. This includes starting medications or supplements at least a few months ahead of time, and perhaps getting accustomed to some of the hygiene strategies at that time as well so that they don’t feel as foreign.
Interesting new research has also suggested that winter exercise can help prevent allergic symptoms in the upcoming season (Prossegger et al, 2016). Understandably, not being physically active will decrease exercise capacity, which lowers the threshold for asthmatic or allergic symptoms (Prossegger et al, 2016). This specific study integrated four different strategies to possibly improve asthma or allergies: 1) the experimental group was exercising outside which has been shown to improve mood and makes a person more likely to continue exercising, since they were outside 2) they were more likely to increase their levels of vitamin D which is important for immune function, 3) they were exercising at higher altitudes which have been found to reduce symptoms, and 4) they were away from a city or a highly populated area which is more likely to have dust or smog which may aggravate symptoms (Prossegger et al, 2016). There was a significant reduction in markers of inflammation such as nitrous oxide and of certain allergy related immune cells, as well as sustainable allergic symptom improvement in the exercise group (Prossegger et al, 2016). The exercise group did in fact spend ten days skiing, hiking, and snoe-showing in an Austrian ski resort, which could very well have been a factor in their overall improvement; however, starting or continuing winter exercise is still a worthy recommendation. And if you can afford it, maybe try a ten day holiday in Austria... apparently it’s healthy.
Olivia Froehlich, ND
6 Tips To Allergy-Proof Your Home For Spring, 2018. Retrieved at https://weather.com/health/allergy/news/2018-03-16-spring-cleaning-allergy-tips. Jan 7, 2020.
American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), 2011. Allergies: Controlling Your Symptoms. Am Fam Physician. 83(5):620-621.
Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA), 2015. Pollen Allergy. Retrieved at https://www.aafa.org/pollen-allergy/. Jan 7, 2020.
Centanni et al, 2001. The potential role of tocopherol in asthma and allergies: modification of the leukotriene pathway. BioDrugs. 15, 81– 86.
Fitzpatrick et al, 2012. Glutathione redox control of asthma: from molecular mechanisms to therapeutic opportunities. Antioxid Redox Signal. 17, 375-408.
Fogarty et al, 2006. Corticosteroid sparing effects of vitamin C and magnesium in asthma: a randomised trial. Respiratory Medicine. 100, 174–179.
Han et al, 2017. Anti-allergic activity of glycyrrhizic acid on IgE-mediated allergic reaction by regulation of allergy related immune cells. Scientific Reports.
Inagaki et al, 1984. Effect of vitamin E on IgE antibody formation in mice. J Pharmacobiodyn. 7, 70 –74.
Jung et al, 2012. Antiallergic effects of Scutellaria baicalensis on inflammation in vivo and in vitro. Journal of Ethnopharmacology. 141, 345-349.
Kim et al, 2013. Assessment of Dermal Safety of Scutellaria baicalensis Aqueous Extract Topical Application on Skin Hypersensitivity. Planta Med. 79, 959-962.
Marseglia et al, 2019. A polycentric, randomized, parallel-group, study on Lertal®, a multicomponent nutraceutical, as preventive treatment in children with allergic rhinoconjunctivitis: phase II. Italian Journal of Pediatrics. 45.
Mlcek et al, 2016. Quercetin and Its Anti-Allergic Immune Response. Molecules. 16.
Saeedi et al, 2003. The treatment of atopic dermatitis with licorice gel. Journal of Dermatological Treatment. 14, 153–157.
Sayin et al, 2003. Complementary Therapies in Allergic Rhinitis. ISRN Allergy.
Shahar et al, 2004. Effect of vitamin E supplementation on the regular treatment of seasonal allergic rhinitis. Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol. 92, 654-658.
Shin et al, 2014. Preventive effects of skullcap (Scutellaria baicalensis) extract in a mouse model of food allergy. Journal of Ethnopharmacology. 153, 667-673.
Shin et al, 2014. Skullcap (Scutellaria baicalensis) extract and its active compound, wogonin, inhibit ovalbumin-induced Th2-mediated response. Molecules. 19, 2536-45.
Volbracht et al, 2018. Intravenous vitamin C in the treatment of allergies: an interim subgroup analysis of a long-term observational study. Journal of International Medical Research. 46, 3640–3655.
Wang et al, 1994. Nutritional status and immune responses in mice with murine AIDS are normalized by vitamin E supplementation. J Nutr. 124, 2024 –2032.
Yang et al, 2017. The anti-inflammatory activity of licorice, a widely used Chinese herb. Pharmaceutical Biology. 55, 5-18.
Zheng et al, 1999. Effect of dietary vitamin E supplementation on murine nasal allergy. Am J Med Sci. 318, 49 –54.