Spring is sprung! It came early this year, which for many means complete and total misery because of mould spores and pollen. As a lover of winter and a sufferer from allergies, I feel totally ripped off right now. Conventional treatments include antihistamines and, for the seriously allergic, shots. But what if you want to go holistic?
It's early days yet, but there's promising research in Switzerland regarding an herb called butterbur. And a Japanese study has shown that green tea may help ease symptoms (though, really, they say green tea cures everything, don't they?).
Here's what else.
What the experts say
"Freeze dried stinging nettle seems to help with symptoms. There's also a German product called Sinupret Plus, an herbal remedy that decreases the symptoms of allergic rhinitis. These tend to be short-acting. Your general health will either make you more or less susceptible to seasonal allergies. If your diet stinks, you're more likely to have a reaction. You need to be on an anti-inflammatory diet. People often have multiple allergies - they're allergic to cats, dogs, dust mites, and they have dirty houses. Their allergies are already ramped up, so when the pollen or mould comes around, they go crazy. Allergic people need to have immaculate houses."
JAMES DILLARD, integrative medicine specialist, New York City
"Goldenseal is effective for drying out mucous membranes - too effective, but if you combine it with solidago (goldenrod), you get a better treatment. Pregnant women shouldn't use goldenseal, and it will wipe out your body's bacteria if you take it for too long. Eating cayenne causes fresh mucus to flow through the sinuses, bringing lubrication and floating away debris. Putting essential oils in a bowl of hot water and breathing in the steam is soothing, as is any kind of steam. Steam your nose, and then blow it. Most of our homes are too dry, but if you live in an overly moist place you may be exposed to mould spores. People with allergies have overreacting immune systems, partly because they've been exposed to black mould."
JOHN REDDEN, herbalist, Toronto
"The only ‘natural' thing we recommend for seasonal allergies is saline rinses, which reduce the swelling inside your nose, and that improves symptoms. There is cross-reactivity with certain foods. For example, ragweed will cross-react with melons and bananas, so a certain percentage of patients have ‘oral allergy syndrome.' When you eat those foods raw, your body thinks it's seeing the pollen, because the pollen structure looks a lot like the food. When you cook the foods, it changes the structure. Birch tree cross-reacts with apples, pears, plums and cherries. So about 50 per cent of people with a birch allergy have problems with these fruits. If your tongue isn't itchy or swollen, you're not allergic to those foods."
UJWALA KAZA, allergist, New York City
"The new therapies are sublingual immunotherapies. You put the allergen under your tongue and swallow it. Studies show that if you put grass pollen or ragweed under your tongue daily, you can reduce eye and nose symptoms. It's the same idea as allergy shots, but you do it daily and at home. The other new development is vitamin D. A recent study shows that if you take vitamin D along with your nasal steroid, you get a better benefit. If you're allergic to ragweed, you may react to banana and kiwi. If you're allergic to tree pollen, you may react to tree nuts. People who are allergic to dust mites might react to shrimp or lobster."
PAUL KEITH, allergist, clinical immunologist, professor, McMaster University, Hamilton
"Our studies indicate that there are subtle but clear changes of cognitive function and mood associated with people going in and out of their allergy seasons. When people are in their season, what we call their ‘positive affect' drops, and when they are out it returns to a normal level. The most likely cause of that is the release of cytokines. When you have an allergic reaction, the immune system releases cytokines, which produce feelings of lethargy, fatigue, flat emotions, in some people even mild sadness. Having allergies doubles your risk for major depression. The important thing is to understand that in allergy season people's mood can change."
PAUL MARSHALL, neuropsychologist, Hennepin County Medical Center, Minneapolis