For some people, a warm winter like this one means that allergy season is hovering. A few years ago, with no warning, one of my boys started suffering from seasonal allergies. He asked me why he suddenly became allergic, and why he wrestles with allergies and his siblings do not.
Although his siblings do not share his misery, my son is not alone; it is estimated that about 50 million Americans fight seasonal allergies. An allergy is essentially the immune system reacting, or overreacting, to a trigger. Triggers can be something in the environment such as mold or pollen or a food we eat such as peanuts or eggs.
There are so many factors that can cause someone to suffer from allergies, and the exact science isn’t precisely understood. It also doesn’t help that everyone’s body is different. According to the “The Allergy Solution” by Leo Galland and Jonathan Galland, factors that contribute to the immune system’s sensitivity to allergens can include environmental toxins in the air, the overuse of antibiotics, an overly sterile early childhood, vaccines before a baby's body can handle them, and a changing food system that can cause internal inflammation and nutrient deficiencies.
Certain people’s immune systems may be triggered more easily because of a genetic predisposition or another factor. According to Kenneth Bock in his book “Healing the New Childhood Epidemics,” “all classic allergies are triggered by the immune system, anything that harms the immune system can contribute to allergies.” He explains that our immune system is like “a kettle that can hold only a certain amount of water. If you keep filling it, the kettle will eventually overflow.”
Because 70 percent of the immune system is found in the digestive tract, it is no wonder that the foods we eat either contribute to or counteract immune function.
My kids grasped that certain foods could trigger an allergic reaction, and that pollen, fertilizers and other outdoor pollutants could be culprits, but they had a harder time believing that our electronics and carpets shed chemicals that end up annoying our immune systems. According to the Environmental Working Group, flame retardants are one big offender because they are in so many consumer products, such as telephones, televisions, sofas, toys and basketballs.
Over time, allergies can lead to many other health issues that don’t look or feel like allergies, such as fatigue, muscle aches, sleep issues and bodywide inflammation, so it is wise to handle them when they present themselves. There are many nonmedical methods that support the immune system and could help keep your allergies in check.
Certain food choices can help alleviate allergies:
- Vitamin C is a natural antihistamine, so load up on berries, lemons and other citrus fruits, broccoli, leafy greens and chilies.
- Chlorophyll-rich spring greens such as watercress, arugula, kale, Swiss chard, spinach and mustard greens, and the bitter spring vegetables such as radishes, asparagus and artichokes all help clear allergies because of their immune-enhancing anti-inflammatory properties, and because they detoxify the liver, helping the body to process any immune triggers that may have entered the system.
- Quercetin is a potent flavonoid that prevents allergies and is found in onions, the cabbage family and apples.
- Probiotics can help normalize immune function and kill allergens and unhealthy bacteria in the gut.
- Ginger, nettle and dandelion teas are natural antihistamines and are detoxifying.
- Avoid inflammatory foods such as dairy, wheat, refined carbohydrates and sugars, and increase intake of anti-inflammatory Omega-3 fatty acids found in fatty fish such as salmon, flax seeds, chia seeds and walnuts.
Habits at home that can help prevent allergies:
- Remove shoes when in the house.
- Shower immediately after being outside to wash away pollen and other irritants.
- Buy a HEPA-filter air cleaner. The one we put in my son’s room has made a mjaor difference.
- Use a vacuum with a HEPA filter and vacuum frequently during allergy season.
- Irrigate the sinuses with a saline solution or Neti-pot to remove pollen from the nasal passages where it generates an allergic response.
- Choose home electronics made without PBDEs (polybrominated diphenyl ethers, a category of fire retardants that has been taken off the market). Some of the companies that have pledged to go PBDE-free, according to the Environmental Working Group, include Acer, Apple, LG Electronics, Lenovo, Microsoft, Nokia and Toshiba.
- Buy products made from natural fibers.
- Skip synthetic cleaners when dusting, as they can be irritants, and use a wet mop and a microfiber cloth that will cling to the particles.
- Seal cracks in your house.
- Change air conditioner and heater filters frequently.
- Limit exposure to pesticides.
First published in the Washington Post on Thursday, February 23, 2017.