Health Extra: How to Combat Seasonal Allergies
A local allergist and a community herbalist offer their tips for weathering allergy season
Spring is officially here, and allergens (like the notorious ragweed) are floating all around us, provoking non-stop sneezes and itchy eyes, amongst a long list of other symptoms. According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, an estimated 50 million people are affected by nasal allergies in the United States. And in Michigan, we’re right on the cusp of allergy season when allergens like dust mites and various types of pollen are prominent.
Dr. Rachel Kado, an allergist with Henry Ford Health System, notes that spring and early summer are problematic for a lot of people. “For seasonal allergies, I usually tell my patients [that] when you start seeing the snow melting until it comes back, you should be wary of allergy season,” says Kado. During that period, each seasonal change brings its own set of allergens, she explains. “So, for us, like around March and April, that’s when trees come out, and then in the summer you have grass season, and then in the fall, that’s when you tend to see leaves and pollinating.”
So, how do you weather Michigan’s long allergy season? Kado’s first recommendation is avoidance, but also notes that allergy sufferers can’t necessarily live in a bubble. A clean home is the best option. “You always want your home to be a base zone. So, unfortunately, you don’t want your windows open,” she explains. Kado also recommends taking a shower and changing your clothes right when you get home to prevent trekking allergens through the house.
Kado says that pre-medicating yourself can be helpful measure, alongside practical and more natural measures like wearing a mask, if, for example, you’re prone to grass allergies and are going to be mowing the lawn. As allergy season rolls in, Kado says she sees an increase in patients using combinations of medications, including pills and eye solutions, to alleviate symptoms. But nasal sprays are the best first-line therapy. “Humans are obligate nose breathers and so the first area of introduction for these aeroallergens is going to be through your nose, and a lot of times, if the patient is consistent with nasal spray, that alleviates a lot of the symptoms.”
In terms of natural plant-based solutions for allergies, Detroit-based herbalist and teacher Heather Mourer says that it’s really a personal preference. “Because most seasonal allergies are not life-threatening, just annoying and uncomfortable, this can be a good area to try out some herbal or natural remedies,” she explains. “Some people may find that using plant remedies for allergy relief, may reduce their symptoms over time, for good.”
A few of Mourer’s natural alternatives (all of which can be taken in tea or tincture form) include:
1. Goldenrod or eyebright as an astringent to stop a runny nose and watery eyes.
2. Stinging nettles as an antihistamine.
3. Aromatic herbs like wild bee balm or peppermint to open up the sinuses.
4. Ragweed, although it is a common allergen, is also effective as an anti-histamine and astringent if it's gathered before it goes into pollen
Mourer stresses that these alternatives would have to undergo clinical trials to test their effectiveness in comparison to over-the-counter prescriptions, but, “If someone is looking to take fewer medications or consume fewer chemicals, plant or food alternatives... can be an excellent choice.”
Dr. Rachel Kado a board-certified allergist and immunologist with Henry Ford Health System, who treats both children and adults. With expertise in food allergies and a strong foundation in immunology, amidst other qualifications, she is the Associate Program Director of the Allergy and Immunology Fellowship at Henry Ford.
Heather Mourer is community herbalist, teacher, and founder of Hedgewitch Holistics, which provides access to natural wellness by way of informative workshops and plant-based teas, tinctures, salves and more. Mourer has more than a decade of self-taught experience in using herbs as medicine, has studied nutrition therapy under KP Khalsa, Western herbalism and energetics under Jim Mcdonald, and is currently furthering her herbal studies under Rosemary Gladstar. For more information, visit hedgewitchholistics.com.