Allergy season is definitely in full swing! Everywhere I go I hear people talking about it, and that old, familiar "dust" is coloring everything green. Years ago I associated seasonal allergies with stuffy/runny nose, red and watery eyes, and scratchy throat, but then I really started to learn about the deeper impact allergens can have on the body.
For me, I have less of the "typical" seasonal allergy symptoms, but my nervous system really seems to take a hit. I experience an increase in anxiety, nighttime insomnia and daytime lethargy, inflammation that manifests as joint stiffness and muscle tightness/spams, headaches and nerve pain, itchy skin/hives, and even raw and irritated spots on my tongue! Another interesting thing I have experienced is seasonal food sensitivities. For example, I find that when ragweed is out I don't tolerate foods from the squash family. After doing research I learned that squash is part of the ragweed family! There are a lot of cross-allergens between seasonal pollen and the foods we eat, which makes perfect sense. You can learn more by looking up "Oral Allergy Syndrome." The most important thing to know is you are NOT crazy! Always listen to your body for clues about what does (and does not) make you feel your best. Everything is connected!
Now for the most important part of my post, WHAT YOU CAN DO TO HELP YOURSELF! My personal approach is from a common functional medicine/holistic point of view - to think of my whole system (body and mind) as a bucket. Once I reach my "limit" of irritants (and my "bucket" overflows) I start reacting to more things and with increasing intensity. Nothing exists in a vacuum. If you can pinpoint and remove what is setting you off you will start feeling better and better. It is like peeling back the layers of an onion, and every little bit helps.
I do not use allergy medication, so here are some super simple, safe, and non-invasive things to try during times of increased allergen/pollen exposure:
1. RINSE: At the end of the day (or whenever I know I am inside for the night) I wash my face and thoroughly rinse my hair to remove all of the pollen my hair/eyelashes/etc. have trapped while out and about. (When you go to bed with "pollen hair" you are depositing allergens on your pillow only to be breathed in while you sleep.)
2. FLUSH: Along the same lines as above...I use a saline spray to wash out my nasal passages, and I use homeopathic eye drops to clear and cleanse my eyes. I only use the gentlest products since my irritated system doesn't need anything else to contend with! Of course you could also use a neti pot, and I am sure they are great, but I have just heard too many stories about brain infection and amoebas! ;-) I also gargle with an herbal mouthwash to clear allergens out of the back of my throat (I love this one - Vita-Myr Natural Mouthwash.)
3. REMOVE: I have a strict "no-shoe policy" at my house for many health reasons (which I plan to blog about in the near future), but shuffling pollen all over the house is one of them. If you are wearing sandals outside I suggest washing your feet before getting into bed at night, too. I also remove the clothes I wear outside when I do my "rinsing and flushing" outlined above, and then I put on my "comfy clothes" or pajamas for the afternoon/evening.
4. HYDRATE: Have you noticed a theme yet? Rinsing, flushing, cooling...hydration is your best friend when it comes to dealing with allergens. Make sure you are drinking more water than ever this time of year...and then drink some more! Also, dry post-Winter skin is sensitive, inflamed, and over-reactive. In addition to hydrating from the outside, make sure you are using a good moisturizer on the outside to lock hydration in. Try not drying off after your bath/shower and applying your lotion right away to wet skin. All of this should help prevent allergy rashes/hives.
5. NOURISH: Diet is also extremely important to keep your immune system at its best in order to manage allergens. 80% of your immune system is in your gut, so gut health is key for allergies! The #1 item you should consider cutting back on (or dropping) is sugar! It is an immune-system-saboteur! Dairy (which is mucous producing) and gluten (inflammatory) are other food categories you might experiment with reducing or eliminating. Aim to keep your diet on the lighter and "easier to digest" side so your body can focus its energy on proper reaction and repair. Some ammunition that is particularly helpful when it comes to allergies are - Vitamin C, Quercetin, Magnesium, Omega-3s (like fish oil), Probiotics, Stinging Nettles (herb)...just to name a few heavy hitters.
6. AVOID: I know most of us love the fresh Spring air (especially after a particularly long Winter), but be aware of how much and when you are enjoying it. If you wish to air out your house, do so first thing in the morning before the heat of the day rises along with the pollen (skip it altogether on particularly windy days). While you are driving around keep windows closed or cracked instead of wide open, and have your fan on recirculate instead of bringing in the outside air. If you have pets that go outside, do your best to wipe them down (with a damp towel, wet brush, etc.) when they come in, and try to keep them off furniture - especially your bed! We also have air filters throughout the house, which help with indoor air quality.
7. BALANCE: I feel like this one deserves a drumroll! This is the #1 most helpful category when it comes to overall health! This one I am speaking about from personal experience. From early on in my healing journey I have known (intellectually) that yoga and meditation have amazing benefits. However, I only practiced them here and there, and never strictly stuck with them for an extended period of time. One of my New Year's resolutions for 2015 was to do yoga regularly...and I have been doing it 2-5 times a week ever since! Then, 8 weeks ago I decided to get back to my meditation practice with complete commitment. I have spent 20-50 minutes each day resting my mind and nervous system. The results?! NO anxiety and very minor allergy symptoms so far this Spring! I am a believer! If you take the time to rest, recharge, and reset your system, the benefits will be more far reaching than you can even imagine! Stress wages a major attack on all systems in your body and increases your chances of allergic reactions, infections, and disease. Finding a healthy way to manage, and relax, should be your top priority...along with consistently getting a good night's sleep. Those two go hand-in-hand, and I would argue are way more important than even diet and exercise. Other helpful alternatives for bringing balance and managing allergies include acupuncture, acupressure, chiropractic adjustments, and essential oils (especially a blend of lavender, peppermint, and lemon - I like it in my bath or added to an oil and rubbed on feet, chest, etc.).
Remember, allergies = heat and inflammation. For people with pre-existing inflammatory issues, like arthritis, this causes problems beyond just the nuisance of a stuffy or runny nose. The same goes for nervous system conditions, such as migraines, which typically increase during allergy season. Think of ways to clear, cool, and calm your body and mind. Your perception also makes a big difference. Instead of thinking of your body as the "enemy," or that it is failing you/malfunctioning in some way when it overreacts to allergens, take its symptoms as signs that you need to pay closer attention and bring yourself back into balance. Your body is your friend! Think of a baby or toddler who is melting down because they are teething and/or sick and haven't eaten or slept well...would you blame them? Would you yell at them or punish them? I would hope not! You would give them extra loving-kindness, rest, nourishment, and problem-solve to find anything to make them comfortable and help them heal. Apply the same care to yourself when your body "acts out" with symptoms. It is doing the best it can at any given time and has a lot to deal with in today's world. You will be pleasantly surprised to find that small acts of self-care make a big difference in chipping away at your allergies!