Spring represents renewal, new growth of beautiful flowers and trees, but for allergy sufferers it means sniffling, sneezing and watery eyes. According to the Asthma Society of Canada one in five Canadians suffer from respiratory allergies like seasonal allergic rhinitis, better known as hay fever. Depending on the particular allergen, allergy season can begin in the early spring and persist until late fall.
There are various allergens including dust mites, mold, pet dander and pollen from plants and trees, and symptoms are caused when the immune system tries to protect the body by releasing histamine, prostaglandins, and inflammatory chemicals such as leukotrienes.
The most common symptoms of allergic rhinitis include:
- Fatigue and general malaise
- Nasal congestion, sneezing, runny nose, post nasal drip
- Itchy nose, eyes and throat
- Headaches, sinus pain, vertigo
- Dark circles around the eyes
- Wheezing, coughing and trouble breathing
- Increased mucous production
- Allergic rhinitis is also a risk factor for asthma
Testing and diagnosis
To measure antibodies to a specific allergen your health care provider may order an immunoglobulin E (IgE) blood test. However, the most common test is a scratch test where a small sample of different allergens are applied to the skin (usually on your forearm or back) and then the area is scratched or pricked with a needle. Scratching the skin allows the allergen to get under the surface. If you are allergic to the substance the area will become itchy red and irritated in approximately 15 to 30 minutes.
The most common medical treatment involves either prescription or over the counter anti histamine medication, corticosteroid sprays, and decongestants.
Regardless of your allergy or the season, you may instead, opt for immune-enhancing supplements that will keep your immune system strong while providing health benefits without unwanted side-effects of medications. In clinical practice I would have my patients with seasonal allergies take vitamin C and quercetin starting about one month prior to their allergy season.
Vitamin C In addition to vitamin C’s immune enhancing effects, it also prevents the formation of histamine. To maximize effectiveness, vitamin C is best taken with bioflavonoids — the natural pigments in fruits and vegetables — in divided doses spaced throughout the day. Bioflavonoids enhance the activity of vitamin C in the body and help to stabilize the cells which secrete the histamine.
Quercetin contains polyphenols, and flavonoids and it is known for its antioxidant activity and anti-allergic properties. The mechanisms of action contribute to the anti-inflammatory and immunomodulating properties of quercetin that can be utilized in treatment of allergic rhinitis. Common food sources include onions, broccoli, fruits (apples, berry crops, and grapes), black tea and red wine.
Quercetin is best taken with vitamin C mixed with bioflavonoids, as this improves the antihistamine effect. Quercetin may be effective for allergies, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, bronchitis, sinusitis, cold and flu. Much like vitamin C, quercetin stabilizes the mast cells (specialized immune cells) that cause an allergic reaction, and decreases the release of histamine, helps to decrease allergy symptoms.
Take 500 to 1,000 mg two or three times per day with 1,000 mg of vitamin C two to three times a day.
To reduce symptoms, you could also:
- Close windows in your home and car during the spring, summer and early fall when pollen counts are higher.
- Enclose pillows, mattresses and box springs in dust mite covers.
- Keep pets off couches and beds, and close doors to bedrooms you don’t want them to enter.
- Use filters in your vacuum cleaner and air conditioner to reduce the amount of allergens in the air.
- Use an air purifier.
- Wash your hands often, especially after playing with pets.
- Wear a hat and sunglasses to protect your eyes from pollen when you’re outside. Change your clothes as soon as you come indoors.
Talk to the knowledgeable staff at the Vitamin Shop to provide more information and choose the best products for seasonal allergies.