Ah, spring. That time of year when the sun starts to shine, light showers bring out the flowers… and seasonal spring allergies turn us all into an itchy, sneezy, groggy mess!
Allergies are a type of immune reaction that occur in response to foreign microorganisms or particles invading the body. Allergies (such as Allergic Rhinitis, aka Hay Fever) are a common occurrence that affect over 50 million people in the United States. In my studies and in my practice, I’ve found three major culprits that exacerbate common spring allergies:
- Air quality
- Water quality
- Poor gut health
I’ve also pinpointed some easy ways to ease allergy symptoms naturally that I use on myself and my family, including:
- Filtration systems
- Anti-inflammatory nutritional pharmaceuticals
I’ll go into more detail about common—yet little known—causes (did you know there’s probably chloroform in your tap water irritating your lungs?) and some natural—yet effective—allergy management techniques and answer, once and for all, what causes seasonal allergies. But first, a little background on the rise of allergies in our modern society.
The Industrial Revolution Caused Our Seasonal Allergies?
What many do not realize is that the first case of Hay Fever was reported in medical literature in the 1820s, and by the 1840s it was an epidemic throughout Europe. During this time, the industrial revolution was taking place, and a transition to coal-burning for energy was apace in Europe. Many of us remember the pictures of major European cities in the 1850s from our grade school textbooks, where the smog was so thick that people could not see more than a few feet away from their faces. One of the many stories from this time is about the white moth in London that disappeared and evolved into a black and white “peppered” moth because all the trees were so black with soot that the white coloring made them an easy target for birds to pick off and eat.
Why do I tell this story? Because it’s no coincidence that people started reporting allergies on an epidemic scale during the Industrial Revolution. Environmental pollution was, and continues to be, a huge factor causing allergies.
Environmental Particulates, Gut Health, and Allergies
In the functional medicine world, we’ve come to find that gut health can be tied to almost all health issues—and allergies are no exception. 90% of your immune system is in your gut, so trying to address an immune-inflammatory condition (like seasonal allergies) without addressing the gut is definitely putting the cart before the horse.
Inhaling environmental particulates (especially combusted petroleum products that we are all exposed to) irritates the respiratory tract, nasal sinuses, and lungs—and ultimately this feeds back into the gut and skin. This results in a whole array of atopy or allergic-type symptoms from sinusitis, bronchitis, to eczema and more gut issues.
This backdrop is important because a functional medicine practitioner looks at all these factors to try to treat allergies. Yes, you can use nasal sinus rinses, like a neti pot with nasal saline (which I use daily). You can also use antihistamines or nasal steroids.
But these are just treating the superficial symptoms. How do you prevent seasonal allergies in the first place?
Going a little deeper on getting to the root cause of a patient’s allergies, a functional medicine specialist looks at air quality. HEPA filters in your house are a great adjunct to preventing and treating allergies. They remove 99.97% of microparticles from the air, which are a huge irritant to respiratory and nasal passageways.
The water in your house can affect allergies. Many do not realize that chloroform, chloromethanes, and other chemicals are produced by the breakdown of cleaning chemicals and chlorine that is added to tap water. When taking showers, these are inhaled and can cause low-grade irritation to the lungs. This irritation can be increased during allergy season. A simple activated charcoal filter in the shower and on your drinking water tap in your house can limit exposure to this and in turn, reduce allergy symptoms.
Natural Herbs and Supplements to Ease Allergies
In addition to an activated charcoal filter in the shower and a HEPA filter in your home, there are herbs and other natural anti-inflammatory nutritional pharmaceuticals that can help with gut health—and in turn, help mitigate allergy symptoms. Because, as mentioned above, having a healthy immune response is dependent on optimal gut health.
- Quercetin: One of my favorites! I use it routinely for my own personal allergies in the spring. I used to get bronchitis every spring and fall, and since using quercetin as a preventative with a few other herbs, I have not had an issue with my allergies for almost 10 years. Quercetin is a mast cell stabilizer and natural antihistamine. It can calm down gut inflammation and respiratory tract irritation from allergies.
- Turmeric: Turmeric is also a great natural herb supplement that decreases inflammation and helps the liver detoxify. It activates over 82 different chemical pathways that help modulate inflammation.
- Probiotics: And let us not forget probiotics! There’s great data on probiotics helping eczema, atopy allergies, IBS, chronic UTIs, vaginal infections, and a whole host of other issues. Having the right gut bacteria balance in your gut not only helps your GI tract to detoxify but also helps calm down the inflammation that sits there.
- Vitamin D: Last, but not least, is vitamin D. By now you might have heard how vitamin D can help fight COVID-19, but vitamin D is a huge nutrient for modulating your immune system in general. The two arms of your immune system, the Th1 and Th2, must communicate and switch back and forth. Vitamin D is required for this, and without an adequate vitamin D level, this hand off does not occur. The immune system gets stuck in either a Th1 or Th2 dominant position. This can look like anything from allergies to chronic inflammation, to chronic fatigue, pain, and other similar syndromes.
These are a few of the integrated functional medicine approaches to spring allergies and allergy symptoms throughout the year.
I do have a little bit of good news when it comes to this allergy season! Although environmental factors are largely the same this year as years past, there is one thing that’s actually causing a bright spot in my 2021 Spring Allergy Forecast: The widespread use of N95 masks. Yup, An N95 mask, by definition, has a 95% efficiency for removing small particles and therefore lowers our exposure to allergens like pollen grains and dust mite wastes. This phenomenon is actually playing out in my clinical practice. My patients with COPD in general have had fewer flares this year. My patients with chronic sinus issues, respiratory disease, bronchiolitis, and allergies have all had fewer respiratory tract infections and sinus issues in the past year.
If you’re interested in becoming one of our patients, find out more about our online Functional Medicine Doctor membership community.
While this is certainly a silver lining, it’s highly unlikely that usage of an N95 mask will eliminate 100% of allergy issues in 2021.
Since 2010, Richmond Integrative and Functional Medicine has been helping people to restore their health and hope with an integrative approach to conventional and alternative medicine that’s entirely science-backed. We at RIFM believe everyone is made for health. We offer a comprehensive, in-person patient membership program to ensure you get access to the care you need to thrive.
Don’t Miss Out
Sign up for our newsletter and be the first to know when Dr. Hartman posts a new article.