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Published May 01, 2013, 11:30 PM

Positively Beautiful: Welcome spring, unwelcome allergies

We are really happy about the arrival of spring at our house, with warmer weather, longer days, and budding trees. But these seasonal changes also mean itchy, watery eyes; sneezing; coughing and congestion due to allergies related to snow mold, grasses and trees

By: Dr. Susan Mathison, INFORUM

We are really happy about the arrival of spring at our house, with warmer weather, longer days, and budding trees.

But these seasonal changes also mean itchy, watery eyes; sneezing; coughing and congestion due to allergies related to snow mold, grasses and trees.

My 5-year-old son, Grant, pointed to his nose, and told me “Mom, the holes in my nose are not working. No air is going through.”

So what’s an allergy sufferer to do?

First of all, allergies deserve respect. Illness related to allergies is a major cause of absenteeism and “presenteeism,” meaning low productivity while at work due to feeling so poorly. The economic impact is in the billions of dollars a year. Allergy sufferers are also prone to mental fatigue, sadness and more migraine headaches.

Severe allergies should be evaluated and treated with the help of your doctor. Testing can help you identify exactly what the problem is and how to avoid the allergens.

Medications such as nasal sprays, anti-histamines like Zyrtec and Claritin, and decongestant pills are major options. Sometimes anti-inflammatories like steroids might be used to get you through a really tough bout of allergies.

But less than 30 percent of patients feel that their medication provides good symptom control. Some turn to weekly allergy shots, which are used to help build the immune system over time.

Another increasingly popular option in my office is drops under the tongue, which provide immune protection similar to shots. This is an U.S. Food and Drug Association off-label use, but ongoing medical research indicates that drops are helpful.

Here are some other solutions that may help you minimize office visits and work along with medical treatments.

  1. Avoidance is not always practical, but do what you can to minimize exposure. Keep the windows closed in your home and car, especially on windy days.

  2. Nasal irrigation with saline can be very helpful. In essence, you wash away the pollen or mold invaders before they have a chance to bind to the cells of your mucous membranes and cause reactions.

    You can buy pre-made bottles like Ocean or Ayr, or make your own with 1 teaspoon pickling salt and ½ teaspoon baking soda mixed in a pint of water, preferably boiled and cooled. You can use a Neti pot or a squeeze bottle for rinsing.

  3. Supplements like Vitamin C and the antioxidant quercetin work together to knock out allergies. Research shows quercetin suppresses allergy-related inflammation, while stress – including allergy-related stress on your body – depletes vitamin C.

    Fruits and vegetables like oranges and red peppers supply vitamin C, and quercetin-rich foods include green tea, red onions, oranges and apples, but you’ll likely need to supplement to get adequate amounts.

  4. Herbal remedies such as stinging nettle and butterbur compare favorably to over the counter anti-histamines. Also consider using garlic, rosemary, turmeric and curcumin to spice up your cooking and add an anti-inflammatory burst. But avoid too much spiciness. Extra jalapenos will make watery eyes worse.

  5. Anti-inflammatory Omega-3 fatty acids are allergy fighters, too.

    They’re found in wild-caught cold-water fish, chia seeds, freshly ground flax seeds and walnuts. You might also try krill oil, which is naturally rich in the anti-oxidant astaxanthin. Try cooking with coconut oil and enhance salads with a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil.

  6. Try making some diet changes during allergy season to see if food sensitivities are triggering your allergies.

    Gluten and dairy seem to be the worst culprits. Eliminate both of them completely for 21 days, then challenge yourself with for two to three days with dairy and see how you feel. If symptoms recur, leave dairy out of your diet. Repeat the challenge with gluten.

I hope the holes in your nose work better after trying these suggestions.

This column was written exclusively for The Forum.

Dr. Susan Mathison founded Catalyst Medical Center in Fargo and created PositivelyBeautiful.com. Email her at shesays@forumcomm.com.

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