Pollen, smog, pets, dust… It doesn't take much to get many of us sneezing, sniffling, coughing or rubbing our itchy, watery eyes. It turns out 55% of us in the U.S. test positive for one or more allergens according to WebMD, placing allergies among the top five chronic diseases in the nation. A growing number of sufferers who once reached for conventional allergy meds — your standard Benadryls, Zyrtecs and Claritins — are now turning to relief alternatives without harmful medication effects like drowsiness, mood swings, nose bleeds and trouble sleeping. Thankfully, natural allergy relief is within reach through easy tweaks to your home and habits. But before we get to those tweaks, let's clarify what causes allergies, and how to discern it from its look-alike, the common cold.
Allergies BasicsCommon Symptoms Allergies manifest when a hypersensitive immune system misidentifies certain substances as harmful and fires back with a vengeance, triggering symptoms like:
- Watery, itchy eyes
- Runny nose and nasal congestion
- Swollen, bluish under-eye bags
- Itchy nose, roof of mouth or throat
- Dust and dust mites
- Dander from pet fur or feathers
- Spoors from fungi and molds
- Smog or smoke
Allergies or Cold?It can be hard to tell the difference, but unlike colds, allergies (sometimes called hay fever ) aren't caused by a virus. And although they share common signs, colds are often characterized by additional thick, yellow discharge, body aches, and low-grade fever. Below is a handy comparison chart, courtesy of the Mayo Clinic:
|Signs & Symptoms||
|Onset||Immediately after exposure to allergens||1-3 days after exposure to a cold virus|
|Duration||As long as you remain exposed to allergens||3-7 days|
Small Tweaks for Big ReliefFortunately, there's much you can do to counter allergy symptoms without harmful chemicals. But you know what's even better than finding relief? Stopping allergy attacks from happening in the first place. You can achieve both — speedy recovery and effective prevention — by better managing what goes into your home and body. Note you don't have to follow every tip in this article. You may experiment, mix and match to find what works for you, your lifestyle, and what tools you have handy.
Wash irritants down the drainRinse and repeat Often, you pick up and carry allergens in your hair, clothes, and body — particularly if you've spent time outdoors during pollen season, or have interacted with pets if you're allergic to them. You can find some relief by changing your clothes and showering so you're no longer wearing those irritants. If you wake up in the middle of the night with a coughing, sneezing allergy attack, a hot shower may wash off any pollen residues you've collected on your body throughout the day, writes HowStuffWorks. It may also help open up your sinuses, at least for a while, making breathing a little easier. Similarly, rinsing your eyes with cool, clean water can help soothe itchy eyes in a pinch.
Make your home allergy-resistantWash your home, too The relief you experienced with a hot shower may be short-lived if your pillowcase, sheets, carpets and pets are all covered in allergens. For that reason, wash all of the above regularly — including little Toto or Fido. Wash your sheets and vacuum at least once a week, recommends Dr. Karen S. Lee, a holistic physician. If you don't have time to wash your pets, wash their feet and blow their coat with a hair dryer in the meantime, but do make sure you bathe them before allowing them to climb into bed with you. Finally, don't forget to also wash your car regularly, says Dr. Lee. You could be tracking pollen inside each time you drive. Block allergens from reaching you Allergens have a way of finding their way into your home each time anyone (or anything) enters it, or the wind blows your way. Minimize irritants by practicing the following:
- Keep pets out of your bedroom, recommends Health Grades. Also make sure they're bathed and brushed regularly, as we've discussed.
- Leave your shoes outside and change clothes as soon as you come in after spending time outdoors, says Dr. Karen S. Lee.
- Minimize dust by cleaning often, and choosing blinds and hard floors instead of drapes and carpeting, if possible, writes Health Grades.
- On windy days during pollen season, wear eyeglasses to shield your eyes from flying irritants, suggests HowStuffWorks.
- Wear a mask if you must vacuum, sweep, dust, rake leaves, or mow the lawn, cautions Health Grades. (If you can get someone else to do it for you, even better.)
- Avoid burning wood or trash on your property, warns HowStuffWorks. The resulting smoke can carry heavy metals and other harmful chemicals. If using a fireplace, be mindful of any material you burn in it, avoiding wood that's been treated with chemicals.
- Change your furnace filter often and use a hypoallergenic one. (Health Grades)
- Keep windows closed at all times. Fresh air often means fresh misery when you're allergy-prone.
- Dehumidify. Mold and dust mites love humidity. HowStuffWorks recommends you invest in a dehumidifier and use exhaust fans when cooking or showering.
Power up your eatingMore than 80% of your immune function happens in your gastrointestinal tract, shares Dr. Axe — one reason why your ability to heal is closely tied to your gut. Out with the bad Start off by eliminating or reducing inflammatory foods like sugar, processed foods, trans fats, and grains, says Dr. Lee. These foods are known to worsen inflammation and produce excess mucus, leading to congestion and nasal irritation, explains Dr. Hardy for Fitness Magazine. In with the good Choose fruits and vegetables high in anti-oxidants (like berries, spinach, and grapes) and foods that contain omega-3 fatty acids (fish, almonds, and flax seeds). Probiotics can also be very effective — so much so that a recent study published in the Pediatrics journal found expectant mothers who took probiotics throughout their pregnancy significantly reduced their baby's risk of developing allergies, reports Dr. Axe. Spice it up Experts say the spicier the dish, the more likely it is to thin mucous secretions [and] clear nasal passages, writes WebMD. Recommended spices for this purpose include cayenne pepper, hot ginger, and fenugreek, as well as the traditional onion and garlic. Anti-inflammatory spices like ginger, garlic and turmeric are also great additions to your diet, says Dr. Lee.
Other relief & immunity enhancersAcupressure Dr. Carolyn Dean, a New York-based naturopathic physician, told Fitness magazine that a couple of simple acupressure moves can help relieve sinus pressure. Press the following points with your forefinger and thumb several times a day for 10 seconds each, her advice reads: the bridge of your nose (on either or both sides); the spots where your eyebrows start; the points on your face next to where your nostrils flare out. Exercise Prevention magazine reports Thailand researchers found that when allergy sufferers exercised at a moderate intensity for just 30 minutes, they saw an 83% decrease in nasal congestion, itching, and sneezing. Not too shabby, and well worth breaking a sweat over. Herbs & Natural Supplements We all know eliminating the cause of allergies by 100% is impossible, even after tweaking your home and habits. That's where the convenience of Phytofed-HF comes in. Herbs, natural nutrients and supplements have shown to be extremely helpful in fighting allergy symptoms. Gathering and consuming the right combination of nutrients isn't always feasible, which is why many allergy sufferers opt for natural supplements, so they glean the healing benefits of these nutrients without the drag and side effects of conventional drugs. To that end, Wonder Labs has combined the below working ingredients into Phytofed—HF, a natural, gluten-free nasal decongestant and sinus relief formula.
- Golden seal – Anti-inflammatory agent for nose, sinuses, and post nasal drip.
- Nettle leaf – Reduces runny nose and nasal irritation due to allergies. If you have nettles in your garden, eat it like it's going out of style, recommends Dr. Lee.
- Eyebright – Relieves nasal, sinus, throat, and upper respiratory inflammation with discharge.
- Grape seed – An antioxidant and slight expectorant that can greatly reduce allergy symptoms.
- Echinacea purpurea – Supports the immune system in recurring infections and mucous membranes inflammation.