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Sweet relief

Lessen allergies using natural springtime remedies

by Diane Silcox-Jarrett


You can’t stop rubbing your watering eyes, your head feels fuzzy inside and you can’t keep enough tissues handy. Ahhh, springtime in the Triangle.


Spring brings us wonderful songbirds but also the yellow-green pine pollen that covers each nook and cranny of your car, deck, and driveway. It’s enough to make you sneeze. But sadly, it’d be wrong to blame your frequent use of tissues on that annoying pine pollen.


“Its particles are so large that they can’t easily get into airways. The culprit in the Triangle area usually is oak trees, and there are plenty of them,” explains Dr. Kevin Doyle of Raleigh Ear, Nose and Throat, who also is affiliated with Rex Healthcare.


“Here, we have lots of trees surrounding our homes, work, highways and parks,” adds Dr. Michael Land, an allergy and immunology specialist at Duke University School of Medicine.


“Our great weather and beautiful surroundings unfortunately also cause our high load of allergies.”


‘Tis the sneeazon

Raleigh is considered the City of Oaks for good reason, and oaks are among the trees most likely to produce pollen allergies. Other local offenders include ash, box elder, hickory, mountain cedar and pecan.


“People certainly complain about how their allergies are much worse here than where they moved from, and it’s not just anecdotal,” explains Dr. Michael Ferguson, director of WakeMed Faculty Physicians Ear, Nose and Throat and assistant professor at the UNC School of Medicine.


“Raleigh is one of several North Carolina cities that ranks in the top 50 U.S. cities for allergies,” he adds.


Allergies occur when the immune system reacts to allergens that generally are harmless to most people. Allergy testing can help take the mystery out of which allergens make your eyes blurry.


“Skin testing with needle sticks shows the physician what is causing the allergic reaction in a patient,” Boyle explains, adding that blood tests measuring antibodies in the blood also are used.


Allergy shots also can be used, though Land notes that they are available by prescription only.


“These injections expose your body to small amounts of what you’re allergic to,” he notes. “By starting low and gradually increasing concentrations in regular injections over time, your body then develops a lower sensitivity to what you are allergic to.”


The alternative

While prescription and over-the-counter medications can be used to alleviate allergy symptoms, in contrast to Land’s approach many alternative natural remedies are increasing in popularity.


For example, Doyle suggests using a neti pot to clear a stuffy head.


“The salt-water saline solution washes out allergens,” he explains. “Using a neti pot on a daily basis helps keep sinuses clean and makes breathing easier.”


Keeping your body healthy and functioning properly also is essential to fighting allergies.


“One of the best ways to defend against allergies is to boost your immune system and lower susceptibility to them in the first place,” says Dr. William Jackson of Community Chiropractic in Garner.


“Chiropractic adjustments have been shown to improve the body’s immune system, therefore decreasing sensitivity to pollen, mold and dander.”


According to Jill Currin of Fuquay Chiropractic in Fuquay-Varina, adjusting the spine regularly can help immune system function by freeing joint and muscle tension, which can prevent proper drainage of lymph nodes in the neck and shoulders.


“Many points on the body correlate to specific allergy symptoms, including the histamine response,” she says.


Currin adds that acupuncture also can be helpful in relieving allergy symptoms, and recommends avoiding foods that can be related to allergy triggers. For instance, those allergic to ragweed should avoid drinking chamomile tea and those allergic to poison sumac should avoid pistachios.


“Keeping a food journal can help uncover correlations if you don’t care to learn about plant taxonomy,” she says.


Eating honey regularly also can help reduce sensitivity to certain allergens.


“You have to consume honey that has been grown in your area,” explains Lisa Treadaway, owner of The Little Herb House in Raleigh.


“You are ingesting small amounts of pollen compounds that aggravate your allergies,” adds Treadaway, who has been propagating herbs and studying their healing powers for the past eight years.


“This helps to build up your tolerance of these compounds.”


She says several types of herbs can help alleviate allergy symptoms as well. For example, stinging nettle is known for its antihistamine properties when brewed into tea, while horseradish root has properties that dilate nasal and bronchial passages. Garlic, apples and onions contain quercetin, an antihistamine compound, while elderberry tea provides a tasty way to boost your immune system while soothing mucus membranes.


Keep it clean

Avoiding airborne allergens can be a challenge, but some precautions can help.


“Keeping your windows closed both inside the house and car helps minimize contact with outdoor pollens,” Land explains.


“Also, it’s a good idea to run your air conditioner during warm weather.”


Being outside during early morning hours also can help keep sneezing to a minimum. Ferguson suggests other simple lifestyle changes such as showering after being outdoors, vacuuming carpeted areas frequently, and using and regularly changing HEPA filters throughout the home.


When — despite all efforts — pollen particles ride in on your clothing or pets, ridding your home of them also can be done naturally.


“Look for natural cleaners using essential oils that are antiviral, antibacterial, antiseptic and antifungal,” Treadaway says.


Essential oils from tea tree and thyme are good for tackling household dirt and possess all four properties.


“You can mop hardwood floors with vinegar, tea-tree oil and water,” she adds. “Mixing lemon-cedarwood essential oil with Murphy’s Oil Soap and water in a spray bottle makes a good furniture dusting polish and leaves your house smelling so good. Our grandmothers made their own surface cleaners. Why shouldn’t we?”


Treadaway notes that once you get started, making your own cleaners often can be less expensive and can help eliminate chemicals from the home.


So when those delicate spring buds begin to appear and your nose and eyes start to react, take comfort in the knowledge as you reach for that tissue that there are ways to reclaim spring naturally. 


Diane Silcox-Jarrett is a freelance writer based in Raleigh.