Our Ultimate Seasonal Allergy Guide

By: Courtney

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In this guide to seasonal allergies, we're explaining why seasonal allergies occur and comparing the best traditional and natural allergy treatments so you can find the best ones for you!

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Disclaimer: This post may contain affiliate links. Any purchases made through these links will result in a small commission for me (at no extra cost for you), but all opinions are my own. You can find our full affiliate disclaimer here

Congestion, watery eyes, drainage, sneezing, coughing – many of us know these symptoms all too well. If we are familiar with them, we likely experience them at least a couple of times a year. Seasonal allergies can take down the best of us. Let’s dive into what seasonal allergies are and look at different treatment options – including more traditional treatments and natural options.

What are seasonal allergies?

To make it very simple, seasonal allergies cause an immune response to things in the air that our body is interpreting as harmful. However, in reality, they are not actually harmful. Seasonal allergies are also referred to as hay fever.

When is Allergy Season?

Depending on what you’re allergic to, you can experience allergies year-round or during specific times of the year. The term “seasonal” allergies relate more to allergies to plants, trees, grasses, etc. that have seasons of when they are blooming and releasing more pollen. Typically, there are two peak times for seasonal allergies: spring and fall. Spring allergy season runs from late February to early summer and fall allergy season spans from August-November (1).

What Causes Seasonal Allergies?

There are many different things that can cause seasonal allergies but the most common risk factors are a family history of allergies and/or having asthma. Some of the culprits that trigger these allergies are pollen from trees, grass, and ragweed. Mold can also be a common allergy trigger depending on the amount of rain that occurs during these allergy seasons.

Here's how seasonal allergies work:

  1.  You are exposed to an allergen, for example, pollen. It comes into contact with and passes through your mucous membrane, often in your nose.
  2. Your body doesn’t react to the first contact with the allergen, but the plasma cell starts to create an IgE antibody to help protect you from this “threat” (even though we know the pollen is not a true threat). This IgE antibody is like a watchdog that is created specifically to recognize and “fight” against that pollen (also known as an antigen).
  3. The next time that you are outside and come into contact with that same allergen, you start to experience a runny nose and/or itchy eyes – which is thanks to the antibodies that have been building up. These antibodies surround themselves around a big cell called a Mast cell – another part of the immune system. The antibodies hang out on this Mast cell waiting for the “threat” to make an appearance and attack whenever it does. When the pollen gets into your system again, the antibodies attack and send signals to the Mast cell to release histamines to help fight against it.
  4. Histamines are released to expel the threat – this triggers mucus production which tickles your throat or nose to make you cough or sneeze to get rid of the invader. Ultimately, your body is trying to evacuate what it has interpreted as “dangerous offenders”.

Seasonal Allergy Symptoms

Allergy symptoms can differ from person to person but often show up as:

  • Congestion with a runny or stuffy nose
  • Sneezing
  • Itchy or watery eyes
  • Scratchy throat or cough
  • Headaches or pressure in the sinuses are also common symptoms

Traditional Allergy Treatments

Antihistamines 

  • Overview: Antihistamines are a common allergy treatment and likely one you’ve heard of. They come in different pill or liquid forms and they do exactly what you’d think from the name – block histamines. Antihistamines help stop your body from releasing histamine to help prevent the symptoms of the runny nose, cough, etc.
  • Pros: For many people, antihistamines can be a treatment for temporary seasonal allergies. They are often affordable and have few side effects.
  • Cons: Originally, the only antihistamines that existed were the ones that made you sleepy, but nowadays, there are many non-drowsy versions that help prevent that sleepiness side effect. Some negative side effects antihistamines can cause include that drowsiness mentioned earlier, headache, dry mouth or feeling sick (2). These also aren't usually effective for severe allergies, and if your allergy symptoms last for more than a few weeks, you may not want to relay on a daily pill.

Immunotherapy 

  • Overview: Another more traditional to combat seasonal allergies is immunotherapy – AKA “allergy shots”. Immunotherapy is individually tailored to each person with the specific allergens they are allergic to and is administered under a doctor’s supervision with an allergist. An allergy shot is similar to a vaccine – a small dose of the allergens you’re allergic to are injected and your body begins to build up a tolerance to them.
  • Pros: Immunotherapy is effective in helping treat allergy symptoms and can help people potentially wean off medications and not be miserable during their allergy seasons. Unlike other options, it can also last for years!
  • Cons: The efficacy depends on multiple factors, some of which include dosing, timing, the specific person, the allergies present, etc. Immunotherapy also requires a significant time commitment. You have to be consistent in going to the doctor for the injections. The timing/schedule is determined by the doctor, but often varies somewhere between every 2-4 weeks and for allergy shots to be most effective, consistency is key. This can be time-consuming but for some, it is very worth it.

Note: the information presented in this article is in no way intended as medical advice. Consult your physician before making any changes to your diet, medication, or supplements.

How Diet and Lifestyle Impact Seasonal Allergies

Next, let’s talk about some things we can do regarding our lifestyle to help fight seasonal allergies.

Stress

First, let’s discuss stress. Stress can actually aggravate our immune system, causing it to have an even larger reaction to allergens. So, while we may not be able to totally control our allergies or our stress, if we can put into practice some techniques and tools to help us relieve stress, this can help mitigate the allergy response.

What does this look like? It can vary for everyone – but during stressful times, trying to prioritize sleep, nutrient-dense meals/snacks, getting your body moving for a few minutes each day, doing deep breathing exercises, meditating, etc can all help your body better handle stress, and in turn reduce your allergy symptoms.

Diet

Diet can also play a role in helping alleviate our seasonal allergies; the goal here is to help decrease inflammation wherever we can. So, eating foods that are anti-inflammatory (rather than inflammatory) to help decrease the inflammation that is naturally happening when our body Is responding to allergens. We’ve talked about anti-inflammatory foods often, but as a refresher, think:

Also, avoid foods that are inflammatory so that you are not adding fuel to the fire during allergy season. Here are a few to steer clear of:

  • Foods high in sugar
  • White, refined/processed grains
  • Refined and hydrogenated fats like canola or vegetable oil
  • Any extremely processed foods

Alcohol

Another aspect of diet and inflammation we want to touch on here is alcohol. Alcohol can be inflammatory by itself but to add to the allergy mess, alcohol can contain its own histamines. If alcohol is part of your plan, limiting your alcohol intake to 1 glass or drink with your meal is helpful. If we are trying to decrease histamines in our body, consuming them seems pretty counter-intuitive, right? Many people actually experience a runny or stuffy nose after drinking, which is likely related to the histamines in the alcohol!

Dairy

Dairy intake is another aspect of your diet to consider. Some people have seen improvement in their allergies when they remove dairy from their diet. Another thing to consider is that allergies and dairy may be more linked to conventional dairy vs. dairy from grass-fed cows. So, if you are one that consumes more conventional dairy, dialing it back may be worth a try to see if you do experience some allergy relief.

Our Favorite Natural Allergy Remedies

If you're looking to avoid traditional allergy treatment, here are a few of our favorite natural allergy remedies to try first!

honey in pots on a marble board

Local Honey

The idea behind local honey is that since it is from local bees, the local allergens you’re suffering from have been exposed in the honey (in the smallest of doses) from pollination with the bees, so it is like taking a tiny dose of exposure to these allergens and over time. This one is definitely worth a try, especially if you aren’t ready to commit to allergy shots!

Apple Cider Vinegar

Apple cider vinegar is thought to help thin out mucus and has benefits for cut health. Since it is so acidic, you don’t want to drink it straight. We recommend diluting a teaspoon in a glass of water with a squeeze of lemon. If you can’t stomach the taste, this would be a great place to incorporate local honey, too!

Nettle Leaf Tea

Nettle leaf tea is thought to act as an anti-inflammatory in the body and has been known to help alleviate symptoms of seasonal allergies, though more studies are needed to confirm its effects. It may not taste the best but is definitely worth adding to your allergy-fighting routine!

Neti Pot

Another tool or remedy that can be very helpful with alleviating allergy symptoms is the Neti pot. Many people use this when they have colds or sinus congestion, but using it when you’re struggling with seasonal allergy symptoms can also be helpful. This is because it helps flush out the allergens that have been swirling around in the air that in return end up in your nasal passages causing the runny nose, congestion, etc. The Neti pot helps flush these particles out of your nose which can help reduce the reaction of the histamine in your body.  If you do use a Neti pot to help relieve you of allergy symptoms, make sure to follow the directions to use it safely.

natural allergy remedies - supplements in glass jars lined up

Supplements

Supplementing your diet with some specific herbs or nutrients can be helpful in your fight against seasonal allergies.

  • Quercetin: quercetin is a flavonoid found in fruits and veggies including apples, onions, and grapefruit. It has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. It also may help inhibit the growth of histamine, which would decrease allergy response activity.
  • Stinging Nettle: if you can’t stomach the tea, you can also get nettle in herb form!
  • Bromelain: bromelain is a naturally occurring enzyme found in pineapple. It has anti-inflammatory properties and may play a role in immune system regulation.
  • Black cumin seed: black cumin seed is a plant that is often used in cooking and can be taken in supplement form. It has been shown to potentially decrease allergy activity in relationship to histamine release from the mast cell.
  • N-acetylcysteine (NAC): NAC is a compound naturally found in the body that has been used to potentially help with clearing and breaking up mucus, so this is a great one to incorporate if you are stuffed up!
  • Vitamin C: Vitamin C is an essential nutrient found in many fruits and vegetables; most abundantly broccoli, peppers, and citrus fruits. It is a potent antioxidant and can act as a natural antihistamine.

Before jumping on board to take any of these supplements, we’d absolutely recommend discussing with your doctor or doing some research of your own to see which would be the best fit for you.

Acupuncture

Last but not least on our list of remedies to try help combat seasonal allergy symptoms is acupuncture. Acupuncture is a form of complementary medicine that involves using needles to stimulate different parts of the body to help relieve pain and/or help heal different conditions or ailments. Acupuncture has been used to help decrease nasal congestion that is related to seasonal allergies. In one study, those who received acupuncture for their allergies felt relief and noticed an improvement to those who did not receive any treatment (11). However, symptoms eventually returned. The frequency and consistency of acupuncture may make a difference when and if using it for treatment.

We know what a huge inconvenience seasonal allergies can be, and we hope that the strategies outlined in this guide help you get some relief this allergy season! Take time to explore these and do some research of your own to see which ones may be best to try out first and go from there.

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Episode 100 Links

Episode 100 Transcription

References

  1. “Seasonal Allergies.” ACAAI Public Website, 29 Oct. 2018, acaai.org/allergies/seasonal-allergies.
  2. “Antihistamines.” NHS Choices, NHS, www.nhs.uk/conditions/antihistamines/.
  3. Seymour, Tom. “Allergy Shots (Immunotherapy): Efficacy, Side Effects, and Types.” Medical News Today, MediLexicon International, 2017, www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/320402.php.
  4. “Allergy Shots (Immunotherapy): AAAAI.” The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, 2019, www.aaaai.org/conditions-and-treatments/library/allergy-library/allergy-shots-(immunotherapy).
Comments

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  1. Veronica says:

    Hi Cassy. Happy Birthday! I love the science-y episodes of your podcast and how you break down complex topics into relatable information. I haven’t listened to all 100 (!!!) episodes of your podcast yet, so I don’t know if you have already addressed this, but I have a hard time explaining to people about why vegetable oils are so bad for you and fats like coconut oil and (high quality) animal fats are so much better. I also have some vegan friends who argue that grass fed animals are even more harmful to the environment than commercially raised animals, but I believe that there is some vegan propaganda out there perpetuating this theory. Would you be able to (or have you already) address(ed) these topics? Thank you!

    1. Cassy says:

      These are GREAT topics, Veronica!! I will add them to our production list!

  2. Leslie says:

    Hi Cassy! Happy birthday!! I loved this episode, as I love all of your more science-y episodes.

    1. Cassy says:

      Thanks, Leslie!!

  3. Jessie says:

    Thanks, Cassy–great episode, and very timely topic!! I was on Zytrec for years–I took it every day, year round–until I realized dairy gives me symptoms of seasonal allergies. So I stopped taking Zyrtec a couple months ago, and I actually went through withdrawal–who knew that was a thing?! Also, I didn’t know how much Zytrec affected me until I stopped it–it really changed my sleep. I used to take it at night, and now I feel like I need less sleep and wake up earlier, which is wonderful. Anyways, I’ve been doing great without it, but I’m nervous now that it’s spring; I don’t know how much trouble I’ll have once everything starts growing, and I refuse to take any medications now. I do have a Neti pot, and I think it helps a lot, so I’m hoping with that and your tips here, I will survive. Fingers crossed!

    1. Cassy says:

      Fingers crossed it’s an easy season for you, Jessie!!

  4. Darcy says:

    I loved this episode, Cassy! You really broke it down into easy-to-understand terms and I found it very helpful!

    1. Cassy says:

      I’m so glad you liked it, Darcy!

  5. Jessie says:

    Went off Zyrtec and never going back! It was affecting me so much more than I thought… I’ve found avoiding foods high in histamines to be helpful, and def dairy! Also, recently discovered CBD oil helps clear my sinuses! Seems to reduce the inflammation/swelling so I can breathe through my nose again! And hallelujah for the Neti pot!!!!