Expert Advice: Allergy Relief

March 1, 2012
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Dr. Low Dog is an internationally recognized expert in the field of herbal medicine and integrative approaches to women’s health. She is currently the Fellowship Director at the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine and Clinical Associate Professor of Medicine at the University of Arizona Health Sciences Center. Find out more at drlowdog.com.

Allergies–they can be debilitating for the approximately 50 million Americans that suffer from them. If you’re looking for relief from your symptoms, whether they’re caused by cat dander or tree pollen, take some advice from Dr. Tieraona Low Dog, MD, and member of Pharmaca’s Integrative Health Advisory Board.

Avoid or remove the allergens. “There’s a way to monitor pollen levels,” says Dr. Low Dog, who recommends keeping track of your known allergens via the local news or on websites such as weather.com. When the pollen counts are high, “keep the doors and windows closed, and limit outdoor activity.” Dr. Low Dog says you might feel weird wearing a mask to do yardwork, but it’s vital if it means the difference between an allergy–or even an asthma–attack.

In addition, Dr. Low Dog strongly urges allergy-sufferers to get rid of things that collect dust, dander and other allergens in your house, such as throw pillows, thick carpeting and drapes. “How often do you get drapes cleaned?” she asks. Invest in a vacuum with a HEPA filter and, of course, wash your hands frequently and take off pollen-filled clothes as soon as you get in the house.

Indoor air filters can also be very useful, says Dr. Low Dog. “Houses with forced air heating and air conditioning can spread allergens throughout the house,” she says. “Putting a HEPA filter into that central unit can help remove a lot of those allergens.” You can also try a stand-alone air purifier in the allergy-sufferer’s bedroom, which Dr. Low Dog recommends running at least four hours per day. The highest-quality purifiers will have the UL seal and FDA approval, she says.

Finally, Dr. Low Dog strongly recommends a saline nasal rinse. “It helps to keep the mucus thin and get rid of the pollen that’s in your nose,” she says. “It also relieves dryness, which is important–when you get cracks in the nasal mucosa it can increase the chance of infections.” Nasal rinses can be easy and inexpensive, too. Just add 1/8 tsp of iodine-free salt to 8 oz of warm water, along with a pinch of baking soda to neutralize the pH. She recommends using a neti pot, or a bulb syringe, to apply the rinse.

Boost your allergy response with vitamins and supplements. Dr. Low Dog recommends getting several small doses of vitamin C each day, along with essential fatty acids from fish oil and flaxseed. “I also recommend freeze-dried stinging nettles. I like the Eclectic Institute brand, which was part of a clinical trial,” says Dr. Low Dog. “And I like butterbur, which has been shown in several trials to be as beneficial as a non-sedating antihistamine. Make sure you use a brand that is free of pyrrolizidine alkaloids, compounds that can be toxic to the liver.” She recommends taking the nettles or butterbur at the beginning of hayfever season.

Try over-the-counter or prescription solutions. “Non-sedating antihistamines like Zyrtec and Claritin can be useful,” says Dr. Low Dog. “I tell people that if they know they’re going to be outside on a high pollen day, take one a few hours before going out. You’ll get the short-acting effect without it making you sleepy.” Benadryl, on the other hand, should be reserved for quelling attacks, since it almost always induces drowsiness.

Another option is a prescription nasal steroid, ideal for patients who with severe nasal allergy symptoms that do not respond to other measures. “They offer localized relief without necessitating a medication that affects the whole body,” says Dr. Low Dog.

Boost digestive health. “I am a firm believer that reducing inflammation in the body is key,” says Dr. Low Dog. “Watch for food sensitivities and allergies, and do things to restore gut health.” She often recommends taking bitters (such as Angostura Bitters, one tbsp in 4 ounces water or Gallexier by Floradix) before a meal to help prime the digestive tract, along with a multi-strain probiotic. Together these help improve digestion and restore intestinal integrity, decreasing the risk of food-borne allergies and improving overall health.

Ultimately, reducing allergy symptoms is as simple as reducing your exposure. But there are a variety of integrative approaches to quelling symptoms when exposure is inevitable. Speak with a Pharmaca practitioner about other ways to find relief from your allergies.    

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