Spring may be peak time for allergies, but fall doesn't fall far behind. We've got some tips for all seasons.
You know the symptoms — runny nose, sneezing, congestion, and itchy, watery eyes.
While spring gets more attention as allergy season, autumn can trigger similar anguish.
Seasonal triggers include ragweed pollen, dust mites, and the mold fostered when fall foliage hits the ground and gets wet.
So-called "hay fever" appears to have become more common over the 70-year stretch from 1870 to 1940 — a period that witnessed big societal and ecological shifts.
First, a massive migration from farms to cities sharply reduced children’s exposure to plants, molds, and animals.
Kids raised in relatively sterile urban environments appear more prone to allergies — see Should We Let ‘em Eat Dirt? — and would carry that vulnerability into adulthood.
Second, major changes to the landscape caused by rapid urbanization helped enable the spread of big pollen-generators like rye grass and ragweed.
Fortunately, there are things you can do to ease the suffering.
Before we delve into six anti-allergy strategies, let's quickly review how allergies work.
The A to sneeze of allergies
Many things can trigger allergic reactions, but pollen, mold, dust mites, and pet saliva, urine, or dander lead the list.
Almost one in three people worldwide (30%) are sensitive to pollen, and about one in 10 suffer symptoms in response to mold spores.
Your genetic profile and early life environment help determine whether you’ll suffer symptoms in response to an allergen, and the severity of those symptoms.
Allergies occur when your immune system mistakes an otherwise harmless substance as an invader — which then becomes an allergen.
Your immune system reacts to the allergen by producing IgE antibodies, which stimulate the “mast” cells in your lungs and nose to release histamine and other pro-inflammatory immune-system chemicals.
Histamine causes fluid to enter tissues of the affected areas, causing redness, swelling, and constriction of the smooth muscles.
The specific symptoms depend on where histamine and other pro-inflammatory chemicals are released. For example, release of these chemicals in the lungs will cause coughing and asthma-like symptoms.
Here are six simple ways to avoid the chief offending allergens and ease your symptoms.
Six fixes for fall allergies
The first four of these enjoy the strongest evidence, but they're all well worth a try.
1. Block the pollen
When it comes to outdoor allergens like mold and pollen, your best bet is to try to avoid contact altogether.
If possible, have someone else mow the lawn and/or rake the leaves, or wear a protective mask and as soon as you're done, take a shower and wash your clothes.
To keep both mold and dust mites to a minimum, you’ll want to control the humidity in your house with a HEPA air filter, a humidifier, and/or dehumidifier.
Keep humidity between 30 and 50 percent — air drier than 30 percent can cause nosebleeds and nasal infections.
3. Count on quercetin
Quercetin is a flavonoid — a family of plant chemicals that exert anti-inflammatory, antiallergenic, antiviral, antioxidant, and antimicrobial effects.
Quercetin can reduce the release of histamine and other inflammatory substances, and is used to treat hay fever, asthma, and eczema.
In addition to — or instead of — eating quercetin-rich foods such as apples and onions, you can take 300–600 mg of supplemental quercetin once or twice a day.
Quercetin is well tolerated, even in very large quantities. To ensure optimal absorption, take it along with supplemental bromelain.
4. Optimize your omega-3/6 balance and vitamin D intake
Chemicals produced in the body from omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are key players in control of inflammation.
Although certain omega-6 fatty acids play important anti-inflammatory roles, the enormous amounts that Americans consume clearly exerts a pro-inflammatory effect.
The average American's very high, historically unprecedented, intake of omega-6 fatty acids — mostly from cheap vegetable oils — promotes chronic inflammation.
In contrast, the omega-3 fats found in seafood — DHA and EPA — are essential to ending runaway inflammation ... see Aspirin Mimics a Fishy Omega-3 and Fighting Internal Fires with Fish Fats: Omega-3s for Lung, Joint, Skin Health.
The body can only make tiny amounts of EPA and DHA from the omega-3 fat found in certain plant foods (ALA), which exerts no significant anti-inflammatory effects.
There’s good evidence that a healthy omega-3/6 intake balance moderates the body’s inflammatory reaction to allergens.
And there’s some clinical evidence that diets rich in seafood-source omega-3 DHA and EPA can help prevent allergies in children, and/or ease the symptoms.
For example, see these past research summaries from our newsletter:
- Can Fish Oil Slash Kids' Asthma Risk?
- Salmon in Pregnancy Helps Kids Avoid Asthma
- Fish in Infancy May Deter Allergies
- Omega-3s May Curb Kids' Allergy Risk
- Omega-3s Cut Child Allergies in Clinical Trial
- Mothers' Fish Oil Intake May Reduce Kids' Asthma Risk
- Fishy Infant Diets May Curb Eczema Risk
Humans evolved on diets that provided about three parts omega-6 fats to one part omega-3 fats — but that ratio has risen sharply over the past 75 years.
Today, the standard American diet provides 10 to 15 parts omega-6 fats to one part omega-3s. To learn which foods are higher in omega-6 or omega-3 fats, see the "Omega Balance Scores by Food Category" section of our Omega-3/6 Balance page.
And recent evidence suggests that lack of vitamin D may promote the development of allergies: see Allergies & Vitamin D: The Overlooked Links.
These fish contain far more vitamin D than any other foods, providing amounts per 3.5-oz serving that rival the doses delivered by most vitamin D supplements.
5. Weaken symptoms with alkaline water
The pH (potential hydrogen) of water or any substance scale designates its relative acidity or alkalinity.
A pH of 0 is totally acidic, a pH of 14 is completely alkaline, and a pH of 7 (the pH of water) is neutral.
You may be able to ease allergy symptoms by drinking spring water — or tap water — with a significantly alkaline pH of 8 or more*.
Either purchase some high-pH mineral water, or make your own alkaline water by adding baking soda (sodium bicarbonate).
At the first sign of allergy symptoms, mix 1/2 to one teaspoon of a baking soda in eight ounces of water and drink one glass every two hours until your symptoms subside. Cut back to three to four times a day until symptoms are gone for at least two days.
Do not continue drinking highly alkaline water if your symptoms don’t subside, because that can be unhealthful.
Most mass-produced bottled waters — including Dasani, Perrier, Vitamin Water, Crystal Geyser, Smart Water, and Poland Spring — are much more acidic than most tap water.
The tap water in some parts of the U.S. is naturally very alkaline. For example, the pH of the water in St. Louis averages 9.3. (U.S. EPA regulations say the pH of drinking water must fall between 6.5 and 8.5.)
Water-pH test strips are readily available online, and in hardware or home stores — or contact your local water authority to learn the pH of your water.
*These are the pH values of some prominent mineral waters, listed in descending order from most alkaline to least:
- Essentia – 9.5 (extremely alkaline)
- Waikea Volcanic Water – 8.8 (highly alkaline)
- Iceland Spring – 8.8 (highly alkaline)
- Eternal Water – 7.8 to 8.2 (significantly alkaline)
- Fiji Water – 7.5 to 7.7 (alkaline)
- Evian – 7.0 (neutral)
- Volvic – 7.0 (neutral)
- Gerolsteiner – 5.9 to 6.0 (acidic), despite a high mineral content relative to most spring waters
6. Alkalize your diet
The severity of allergy symptoms may depend to some extent on the relative acidity or alkalinity of your diet.
There’s some evidence — albeit thin — that if your diet is overly acidic, mast cells will react more strongly to allergen-induced IgE antibodies, generating more inflammatory chemicals.
Your pH levels vary throughout your body, and the pH of your urine changes constantly, depending on what you eat.
Blood is slightly alkaline, with a pH between 7.35 and 7.45, while the stomach is very acidic, with a pH of 3.5 or below.
The acid/alkaline balance of your diet exerts little effect in your body, which tightly regulates its acid/alkaline status to avoid severe consequences, including death.
That said, growing evidence suggests that humans evolved on diets substantially more alkaline than most modern diets.
University of California researchers who conducted an evidence review came to this conclusion: “… any level of acidosis may be unacceptable from an evolutionarily perspective, and indeed … a low-grade metabolic alkalosis may be the optimal acid-base state for humans.”
(Acidosis refers to a relatively acidic state in the body, while alkalosis refers to a relatively alkaline state; but these terms describe small variations within a narrow range maintained by the body.)
Importantly, the alkaline diet described by most advocates is hard to follow easily, enjoyably, and healthfully.
The list of acid-producing foods they want you to avoid includes meats, dairy, grains, legumes (beans and lentils), seafood, coffee, and many fruits. In other words, you’d end up eating a vegan diet that excludes some major categories of plant foods.
If you want to test the effects of a more alkaline diet, it’s easy to do that by taking moderate amounts of supplemental potassium bicarbonate (follow label directions). That will do the trick without adopting onerous dietary restrictions that may undermine your health.
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