The Dr. is In
Welcome to spring on the Big Island. Yes, Hawaii does have an allergy season, especially when mango and avocado trees are in bloom, and mold spores, ragweed and grass pollens fill the air. With allergy season come annoying and embarrassing symptoms of swollen, itchy eyes, ears and throat, and runny nose. Further symptoms of headaches, irritability and interrupted sleep make it hard to concentrate. This constellation of symptoms is most often known as allergic rhinitis.
How does it work?
Not everyone has allergies, but exposure to allergens over time causes some peoples’ immune systems to produce antibodies called IgE (Immunoglobulin E). IgE triggers the release of histamine from mast cells and the production of leukotriene from leukocytes and other cells. These two components are responsible for the allergy symptoms of itchiness and mucus production.
Common remedies and how they work
Most of us are familiar with prescription and over-the-counter allergy medications such as anti-histamines and leukotriene antagonists that work by blocking receptors so that we don’t get itchy eyes and runny noses. Oral and nasal spray decongestants shrink swollen mucous membranes in nose, mouth and sinuses but do not address the itchiness. Anti-histamine nasal sprays target the direct area, but can cause a rebound effect of increased symptoms after several days’ use. Steroid nasal sprays are used to shrink inflamed tissues.
For those who don’t tolerate the side effects of dry mouth, rebound symptoms, drowsiness or restlessness, among others, there are a few other options that can also be implemented to manage your seasonal allergy symptoms. A recent study from the University of Florida shows that a specific blend of probiotics can be helpful for mild seasonal allergy symptoms due to probable increase of T-cells that regulate the immune system’s allergy response.
Quercetin, found in apples, green tea, dark berries, onions, and other plants, strengthens the walls of histamine-containing mast cells, making them less likely to break open and flood the system with histamine. Vitamin C is known to have anti-histamine properties and stinging nettles have been shown to reduce histamine production. Bromelain, an enzyme from pineapple, can calm an over-reactive immune system and N-Acetyl-L-Cysteine (NAC) thins mucous congestion.
Simply reducing exposure to allergens lightens the load on an over-reactive immune system, can reduce symptoms.
So, start in the bedroom where we spend about 1/3 of our lives. Clean bedding often using non-allergenic detergent and dry in the dryer. Keep bedroom windows closed, at least on the side with pollen. Use an air filter, and if you live on the wet side, a de-humidifier to reduce mold spores. Change the filters often. Keep pets out of the bedroom, and hands away from face until they can be washed after touching pets.
Enjoy a day trip to other parts of the island that has different pollens/plants than the ones you are sensitized to.
Regular use of a neti pot or other safe saline nasal washes will decrease the total pollen numbers that interact with the tissues, and soothe reactive mucous membranes. Saline eye drops used frequently will rinse pollens from eyes.
If you have been out in the garden or nature, shower immediately, change and wash clothes or put in closed bag until they can be washed.
Decrease other allergens to decrease total load. Avoid food sensitivities, airborne irritants (vog, smoke, dust, etc). Decreasing each of these by 10 percent can make the difference between histamine reaction or not.
Whichever combination of remedies you and your health care provider choose for safety and effectiveness regarding your individual situation, you can breathe easy that you’ve found relief from those annoying allergy symptoms.