10 Home Remedies for Seasonal Allergies
Allergies happen when your immune system overreacts to a certain trigger, such as pollen from weeds, grasses, or trees. As a result, the body makes antibodies and histamine, which are released into the blood stream to fight off the foreign substances. This starts an inflammatory reaction that causes symptoms like sneezing, sore throat, congestion, runny nose, and itchy eyes.
Anyone can experience allergies—but they generally start after age 3, peak in late childhood or the teen years, and subside in adulthood. Depending on your location and allergen, symptoms may begin in February and last until the end of September. Medications such as antihistamines and steroid nasal sprays can provide relief, but some natural DIY methods may also be worth a shot. Here are some of the best home remedies for seasonal allergies to try yourself.
Avoid allergy triggers.
Doctors say that if your child is prone to seasonal allergies, the best way to treat symptoms is avoiding the allergens in the first place. Keep updated on the pollen counts in your area and act accordingly. For example, if you know that ragweed is your child's allergy trigger, limit the time they spend outdoors on the days when that particular pollen count is highest. It may seem cruel to make your children come inside when the weather is gorgeous, but this strategy really helps, experts say.
Allergy-proof your house.
Keep your windows closed, especially when warm, dry conditions make it easier for pollen to travel on the breeze. Be sure to put a clean filter in the air-conditioning system at the start of the season and replace it every two to three months. Many allergens thrive in moist environments, so use a dehumidifier to lower your home's humidity level. You might also consider buying a portable high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter.
Reduce pollen cling.
Like a fine household dust, pollen clings to clothes, skin, and just about anything else it lands on. (Oak pollen, for example, forms a yellowish powder that you may notice dusting parked cars in springtime.) To keep it off your child, avoid hanging clothes, towels, or sheets outside to dry. When your child comes inside, use a damp washcloth to wipe their face, especially around their eyes. Just before bedtime, have your child take a bath or a shower. "Otherwise, she'll go to bed with a head full of pollen, which she'll react to all night long," says Robert Wood, M.D., director of pediatric allergy clinics at Johns Hopkins University Hospital, in Baltimore.
Protect your kid's eyes.
Itchy, red, teary eyes are one of the most aggravating symptoms of allergies. The itch stems from inflammation of the mucous membrane covering the whites of the eyes and inner eyelids. The fix: Keep pollen away from your child's face. Edith Schussler, M.D., a pediatric allergist at Weill Cornell Medicine, in New York City, advises wearing sunglasses and a hat with a brim. Kids touch their face all the time, but with these accessories on, your child will be less likely to rub their eyes.
Try a saline solution.
Older children might want to try nasal irrigation using a saline solution, either from the drugstore or homemade (most instructions call for mixing distilled or boiled water with non-iodized salt). This flushes out mucus to relieve nasal congestion. Neti pots can also work wonders for combatting congestion.
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Stay away from smoke.
Keep all children with known allergies away from cigarette smoke, as this can worsen the child's allergy symptoms. Avoid public places where people are smoking.
Use cold compresses.
Does your child have itchy eyes due to nasal allergies? Try a cold compress, which can help reduce the itch and soreness. Also, remind your kids to avoid rubbing their eyes—this only makes itching and irritation worse.
Drink plenty of water.
Yup, plain ol' H2O can work wonders. Drinking enough each day is important because blowing and sneezing can dry your kid out. Your child can also sip on herbal teas, which have anti-inflammatory properties. Finally, the steam in a warm shower or bath may help to clear out their stuffy nose.
Look into alternative treatments.
Some allergy sufferers swear by alternative home remedies for seasonal allergies. These include butterbur (a plant also known as Petasites hybridus), acupuncture, spirulina (a blue-green algae), stinging nettle, eucalyptus oil, and bromelain (an enzyme found in pineapple). There isn't too much evidence on these treatments, so it's best to conduct your own research and consult a doctor with any questions.
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Eat allergy-reducing foods.
"Any foods that produce natural and high quantities of vitamin C, zinc, vitamin D, antioxidants, and other helpful vitamins and minerals can boost the immune system and are good choices for fighting nasal allergies," explains Chitra Dinakar, M.D., an allergist at Children's Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, Missouri. Here are some options to try.
Blueberries and raspberries. These contain vitamin C and flavanoids, which may mitigate some of the histamine response for allergies in children, according to Jack Maypole, M.D., pediatrician, associate professor at Boston University School of Medicine, and Educational Advisory Board Member of The Goddard School. "While organic is best, well-washed conventionally grown versions of these fruits are a great and healthy addition," he says. Elena Klimenko, M.D., a specialist in integrative medicine in New York City, agrees. "Try a serving of 3/4 cup once or twice a day, "she suggests. Mash ripe berries well for tots who are still learning to handle solids.
Apples. These shiny orbs also have vitamin C and flavanoids, including quercetin, which can act as a mast cell stabilizing agent. "Mast cells are important mediators of allergy because they release histamine," explains Corinna Bowser, M.D., an allergist at Narberth Allergy and Asthma in Narberth, Pennsylvania. Because chunks of raw fruit can be a choking hazard for kids younger than 4, it's best to peel and grate apples when serving. You could also bake them at 400 degrees F until softened.
Onions: The antioxidant quercetin is also found in this veggie, though you may find onions to be a tougher sell to your kid. If that's the case, this bulbous root, also known as allium cepa, can be consumed in pellet form, says Klimenko. It's safe for kids over 2 years of age (follow the instructions on the package).
Honey. This sweet treat gets mixed reviews when it comes to easing nasal allergies, but it may be worth a shot. "The thought behind it is that bees collect pollen and pollen is behind allergies, so if you eat honey regularly the body might get used to the allergen and not make the [allergy] response," says Dr. Bowser. The problem with this theory is that the pollen that causes allergic rhinitis, asthma, and allergic conjunctivitis is only from wind-pollinated plants, and honey doesn't contain a significant amount of pollen allergen—it's mainly a sugar and allergens are mostly proteins. But Dr. Klimenko recommends local bee pollen. "Buy it seasonally and start with one to two granules, working up to a teaspoon a day," she notes. But don't give honey to a baby under 1 year because of the risk of infant botulism, a serious gastrointestinal condition.
Spicy foods. If your child will try them, dishes made with cayenne pepper, fresh ginger, and fenugreek, as well as onions and garlic, may help thin mucus and open up nasal passages. "The capsaicin found in spicy foods, including red peppers, may work by desensitizing nasal nerve fibers," says Dr. Bowser.
When to Seek Medical Treatment for Allergies
Are your child's symptoms not letting up? Talk with a doctor, who may be able to diagnose allergies by examining your child and reviewing their medical history. In some cases, the doctor may order some blood or skin tests to make a diagnosis.
Various allergy medications can safely and effectively relieve your child's symptoms. For example, some antihistamines block the immune system from releasing histamine into the blood, stopping allergic reactions before they start or slowing them down once they have begun. Steroids work to decrease the inflammation caused by the immune reaction; these can be in the form of nasal sprays, eyedrops, and pills or liquids taken orally. Allergy shots, the injection of tiny doses of an allergen, are helpful for some patients; they work by producing antibodies against the allergen, preventing severe allergic reactions in the future.