Symptoms of allergic rhinitis (hay fever) and other allergies of this type, as well the incidence of secondary sinus infections, can be largely alleviated by herbal therapy and dietary modifications. Typically these allergies do not go away but quality of life can be improved substantially. The best results are usually achieved with long-term support rather than simply treating the symptoms as they arise.
Seasonal allergies are often dismissed by observers as a ‘non-serious health condition’, but to those who suffer the itchy/watery/red eyes, sinus headaches, sneezing, runny nose, and stuffy/foggy head, it can feel like slow torture. Modern medicine uses drugs to block the body’s immune response, but rarely addresses the underlying causes. The most success in treating seasonal allergies naturally is found when the person is assessed to determine the root cause, and then a customized plan is made. Doing this a month or two before allergy season starts will give the person a chance at avoiding the associated symptoms.
If you have seasonal allergies, there are some herbal considerations for addressing the root cause as well as using herbs for acute symptom relief.
TREATING THE CAUSES
The aim when looking at your diet is to reduce the overall inflammatory state of body, this can be done by:
Increasing flavonoid-rich foods into the diet.
Colorful berries and vegetables are rich in anti-inflammatory compounds, and can be eaten daily. Smoothies, berry fruit salads, fruit compotes, jams, and healthy pies and crumbles, are just some of the many choices.
Quercitin, a type of flavonoid, has been shown to stabilize mast cells (special immune cells that produce histamine and other inflammatory compounds in response to an allergen.) Quercitin is found in high concentrations in kale, watercress, dock, red onions, capers, and buckwheat.
Increasing consumption of omega-3 fatty acids.
High quality omega-3 fatty acids can help in reducing the production of pro-inflammatory eicosanoids (lipid-based hormone-like molecules). Good choices include: flax, chia, and hemp Seeds, mustard oil, seaweed, winter squash, leafy greens, cauliflower, berries, wild rice, herbs and spices such as cloves, oregano, marjoram, and tarragon, mangoes, and honeydew melon.
Eliminating food allergens and pro-inflammatory foods.
Many people find that food allergies/intolerances exacerbate sinus allergies. The most common culprits are gluten, dairy, MSG, and sugar, but look out for corn and soy as well. Removing mucus-producing dairy during hay fever season often produces dramatic results.
Tonic Herbal Support:
Tonics should be taken for at least three months, some of the options are:
Nettle leaves :
The gold standard in tonic allergy relief, nettle leaves can also provide acute relief to some. Many herbalists use strong nettle infusions or double macerated tinctures rather than the freeze-dried capsule alternative.
Can be extremely effective both for tonic and acute allergy relief. Turmeric helps to reduce mast cell degranulation, or histamine release, and thus acts as an herbal antihistamine. Turmeric can be eaten liberally in food, but to ingest a medicinal portion a tincture, capsules, or mixing the powder with honey (see below) is typically recommended. A sprinkling of black pepper helps the body to assimilate turmeric more effectively.
Works through a process called ‘desensitization’. Allergy immunopathy would inject pollen into patients before the sufferers allergy season to reduce symptoms. Similarly, honey introduces minute quantities of heavy-grained pollen (which doesn’t trigger allergies in the human body) into the system to develop immunity. Take 2 tablespoons daily in the 2 or 3 months preceding hay fever season.
Also not to be ignored are:
Licorice root is an excellent tonic anti-inflammatory, especially for people who run dry. Reishi mushroom is a great tonic anti-inflammatory and immunomodulator. It lessens the immune system’s overzealous response to allergens.
As mentioned above with foods, reducing your overall systemic inflammation is a powerful way to lessen seasonal allergy symptoms. Herbs high in antioxidants will also be useful. Parsley, Paprika, and Turmeric are just a few amongst hundreds available to choose from.
Seasonal allergies often stem from an imbalanced immune system. Immunostimulant herbs can support optimal immune system function and are especially suited for those who have seasonal allergies, and are easily fatigued or frequently get colds and flu. Some choices include Astragalus, Cordyceps, Elderflower, and Reishi.
TREATING THE SYMPTOMS
What to take:
In addition to all the stuff to eat, drink or take (or not to eat, drink or take), if you’re already experiencing the symptoms of seasonal allergies it’s also important to give some direct, herb-to-mucosa relief to those afflicted tissues.
Generally, if a tissue is swollen, inflamed and leaking fluids, it’s telling you it needs an anti-inflammatory astringent.
Some favorite astringents to use are goldenrod, ox eye daisy, and ragweed. You can also use a weeping willow tincture added to a saline solution for sinus swelling with intense inflammation and pain.
For eyewashes, astringents target swelling, inflammation and mucus discharge. Use very mild astringents such as strawberry leaf and purple loosestrife. Eyebright is good too, but it’s by no means the only or “best” eye herb available.
Aromatics disperse congestion, are often antimicrobial, and like astringents also act as topical anti-inflammatories. Many of the astringents mentioned above for nasal washes are both astringent and aromatic (we could also add yarrow to the list). This is no coincidence as congestion and leakage are both common in upper respiratory allergies.
- An aromatic that’s also vulnerary is feverfew
- For sinus inflammation and congestion an aromatic that’s not as strongly astringent is wild bee balm. It’s quite fiery and should be made as a very mild tea, otherwise it could irritate.
- For eye issues, congestion is less of an issue, but chamomile is a spectacular soothing aromatic anti-inflammatory.
These herbs aid in healing damage to tissues. Plantain leaf (broad or narrow) by itself, can do tremendous good, and is a great base for the majority of washes. Also think of calendula, comfrey, and feverfew, though probably just add a little rather than make it the base of a mix.
If the person runs dry, a demulcent will help reduce the intense anti-catarrhal actions. You can also use common demulcents like slippery elm, marshmallow, and licorice.
For eyes use mallow, sassafras leaf, violet, and purple loosestrife flowers, all are good choices to avoid the irritation caused by blinking.
You could also think about herbs with an anti-histamine nature like eyebright or ragweed. Osha root which is not an actual antihistamine, does produce a similar effect and may be help calm respiratory irritation.
How to take it:
While all of these can be taken in capsules of freeze-dried powders, providing relief directly to the affected areas can be much more effective and soothing. A combination with proportions chosen depending on how much swelling and leaking (astringents), congestion (aromatics), or how irritated or damaged the tissues are (vulneraries) can be tailored to each individual and specific time. Here are some things to try:
Help to clear the sinuses and reduce inflammation, and work to lessen secondary infections. Bring a pot of water to boil and add your herbs. Keep the eyes closed and inhale the steam with a towel over the head.
Great for stronger preparations, you can make overnight infusions or concentrated decoctions which can be warmed as needed. The warmth can help sooth the throat and chest, and you can breathe in the vapors as you drink for extra nasal relief.
Eye and Nasal Rinses:
For eye and nasal rinses, make a pot of weak tea (no strong decoctions for this), strain it well through a coffee filter (floating bits are fine for drinking tea, but not really appropriate for your eyes or nose), and add 1/4 teaspoon of salt per 8 fluid ounce cup of strained tea (this creates a saline solution that makes the tea more easily accepted by your tissues).
- Whether for the eyes or nasal cavity, don’t use very strongly astringent preparations, as you can dry the tissues out too much, especially for eyewashes.
- Eyewashes can be applied with a dropper, poured over the eye as a rinse, or use an eyecup. Nasal washes can be administered by neti pot or nasal spray bottles.
- Be aware, especially for eye and nasal rinses that this mixture isn’t preserved, and will spoil just like tea will, so use it in a day, two max. You can always freeze excess for later use but whatever you do, don’t spray rotting tea up your nose. And if a batch of tea goes bad in a plastic nasal spray bottle, recycle it and get a new one so as not to recolonize your next batch of fresh tea with microbes more rapidly than is usual.