Spring is upon us and with warmer (and rainy) weather comes pollen, hay fever and seasonal allergies. If you’ve struggled with the typical side effects like itchy, stuffy nose, sneezing, and itchy, watery eyes, you know that seasonal allergies can feel debilitating. But what if you could help support your body’s response and decrease your seasonal allergy symptoms—not just by avoiding the outdoors and popping a Benadryl?
We’ve talked before about how seasonal allergies are the result of histamine being released into your body. But taking an anti-histamine isn’t the best long-term solution. Why? Because sometimes seasonal allergies have a deeper root cause. Here’s what you should consider when dealing with seasonal allergies, especially those that have become worse over time.
Potential Root Causes of Seasonal Allergies (It’s NOT Just Pollen and Freshly Cut Grass)
The typical symptoms of allergies (red, itchy, runny eyes; swollen nasal passages or throat; sneezing) are all linked to our bodies’ level of inflammation. The more inflammation in our systems, the more likely our cells are to release the chemical (histamine) that it uses to protect us.
Lots of things can increase our inflammatory response—including stress. Skimping on sleep, eating lots of sugar and processed foods, having additional stress at home or work (or in #quarantinelife) can all lead to higher levels of inflammation in our bodies… and more potential allergy symptoms. See why this year’s allergies might be worse than normal?
Eating Your Food Allergens
Another correlation to inflammation is related to how our bodies respond to food sensitivities. When we have intestinal permeability or some microbial overgrowth of the gut, our immune systems become hypersensitive to what we eat.
Then, when we eat those same things over and over, our bodies will start to create an immune system response to them. That immune response? Massive amounts of histamine.
During allergy season, we’re also being inundated with environmental allergens. If food allergens are an issue, our bodies are now overreacting to internal and external allergens—and worsening our hay fever symptoms.
Eating Food Containing (or Liberating) Histamine
There are certain types of foods that actually contain natural histamines themselves. Eating these foods while we already have an abundance of our own histamines (created by seasonal allergies) can make symptoms much worse.
Since histamine is the chemical in the body that creates all the hay fever symptoms, it needs to get broken down to relieve those symptoms. And the enzyme the body uses to do this is called DAO. Certain foods and medications can slow down our bodies’ production of DAO, thereby potentially contributing to seasonal allergy symptoms. So, what should you check your cabinet (medicine and food) for if you’re struggling with worse than normal allergy symptoms?
- Dairy: Whether you’re allergic to dairy (or sensitive to it) or not, it’s generally best to limit or avoid dairy while you’re having an exacerbation of your allergens. Dairy can increase the amount of mucous secretions that come from our sinuses and throats—and eventually contribute to sinus or respiratory infections.
- muscle relaxants
- pain medications
- gastrointestinal medicines
- nausea and gastroesophageal reflux disease, GERD
- over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) and painkillers, such as acetylsalicylic acid (aspirin) and Naproxen (aleve).
Alcohol contains a lot of natural histamines on its own. It can both increase the amount of histamines in our bodies, and it can slow down the degradation of histamine, allowing it to more freely float around the body. Alcohol also inhibits our bodies’ ability to process histamines out—meaning they’re just not more present in our bodies, but they’ll stick around longer.
Beer and wine are the biggest culprits, generally, due to the histamines that populate in the fermentation process. If you still want to imbibe in a fermented drink, there’s been some research that notes that if you choose a low sulfite or biodynamic wine, it can reduce the symptoms associated with high histamines.
Otherwise, stick to vodka, gin, and tequila—they’re less likely to contribute to histamine symptoms.
Your Gut Health
You might have heard it before, but 80% of our immune systems are made in our guts. So, if our gut health is out of balance, we might find that our reaction to histamine is higher.
Here’s how: Bacteria ferment things—that’s just what they do (it’s how we get that wine and beer we just talked about). The fermentation process releases histamine, causing higher levels to invade our bodies. If our guts are full of certain species of bacteria or yeast that are fermenting food bits and pieces, they could be creating extra histamine that worsens our seasonal allergies. SIBO falls into this category.
Luckily, gut balance is something we can check with a microbiology panel. It tells us what types of bacteria and yeast are living in the GI tract, and gives us a better idea for how to calm things down. And, our Nurse Practitioner Jenikka Tomashek, is highly skilled at diagnosing and treating gut issues across the board—schedule an appointment with her to learn more.
Whether you’re experiencing more allergy symptoms or not this year, it’s a great time to check in with yourself to see if there are any of these easy ways to address the root cause of your itchy eyes and nose. Pollen, freshly cut grass, and weeds may be part of the problem, but you can find the root culprit with just a little bit of paying attention.