Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Oh those Allergies!

Spring is here and that means misery to those who suffer from seasonal allergies. With the pollen counts at the highest levels since 1990 many people are finding their allergies especially bad this year. Some people develop sinus infections and even bronchitis from their allergies. There are several ways to avoid the antihistamines and other allergy medications and still alleviate allergy symptoms such as runny or stuffy nose, itchy eyes, and sneezing symptoms.

A Neti pot is a small ceramic or metal pot resembling an Aladdin’s Lamp, with a short narrow spout, designed to hold eight to sixteen ounces of fluid. The Neti pot is filled with warm salt water and used to irrigate the nasal passages and sinus cavities.  First time users can be intimidated, but the method is easily learned and even small children can be taught to use this useful tool. Filled with warm salt water, one inserts the spout into the opening of one nostril and, bending over a sink, water is slowly poured into the nostril where it passes through the nasal cavities and out the other nostril.

This serves several purposes. First the warm water softens and loosens thick or sticky mucus, allowing it to be flushed out. Additionally any pollen or other irritant is flushed out, lessening the body’s histamine reaction to the allergen. Nasal passages are lubricated and irritation lessened. Used twice daily for a period of two weeks can resolve many peoples’ issues. Daily use is recommended long term for anyone with sinus or middle ear problems.

Neti pots are available from many stores, including local Herb stores, and online. The price runs around fifteen dollars. It is important to use a good quality sea salt, and never table salt, as it contains agents to prevent caking that are sinus irritants. Pots come with instructions for use.

Simply washing the face with cool water when returning from high pollen areas can have a moderate benefit, as this removes pollen before the histamine reaction can begin. Remember to wash hands more frequently and avoid touching the face after handling plant material or gardening. Consider wearing a respirator mask, like doctors use, when cutting grass or doing yard work to prevent pollen from being inhaled.

Raw local honey is excellent for allergies. Honey made within fifty miles of your location is considered local. It contains tiny bits of pollen and when used daily it helps the body become less sensitive to the allergens. Pasteurized honey is useless for this purpose. Use honey to sweeten tea or other drinks or just swallow a teaspoon daily. It takes some months to have an effect, so is best started several months before allergy season. However, starting now can help lessen allergies that are associated with pollens that come out later in the summer and early fall, and continued use through the winter months should help improve allergies next spring.

Stinging nettle (Urtica dioica), a local herb, is excellent for helping the body overcome allergies. Nettles works on the adrenals, and seems to have the benefit of “resetting” the body’s allergic response. This herb can be taken several ways. It is delicious when lightly sautéed and served as a green. Add fresh or dried leaves to soups and stews when cooking. Freeze dried nettle is available in capsules and should be taken daily for several months for best effect. Dried nettle can also be taken as an infusion. Place a half cup of dried nettle leaf into a jar, cover with boiling water and cap tightly. Allow it to steep on the counter for four to eight hours, strain, and drink at least a cup daily. I like to make mine at bedtime, so it is ready by morning. Nettle seeds are also effective and can be taken in tiny doses. Just a pinch taken daily for several months can have a significant effect on allergy symptoms.

I recommend several local herbs as tinctures as well. A few drops of Plantain (Plantago major or P. lanceolata) tincture in the Neti pot helps increase the moistening effect. Red Clover tincture tonifies mucus tissues and can be added as well. Both herbs are mildly astringent and can be used to help control that drippy nose. Goldenrod (Solidago spp.) tincture, taken in small doses, just three or four drops, can help speed healing of those irritated membranes. Echinacea tincture is helpful in sinus infections, and for a more severe infection Goldenseal may be used.

Many of our common culinary herbs are excellent choices for sinus issues. Adding fresh or dried basil, sage, or oregano to a pot of boiling water releases essential oils to the steam. Cover the pot and set it on a table. Cover your head with a towel and bend over the pot, remove the lid carefully to avoid getting burned, and inhale the steam. Do this for several minutes for best effect. Sinus passages often open right up for relief. This is a good time to follow up with the Neti pot, to flush out mucus.

Consuming garlic is a well known method of addressing allergies, as are fish oil capsules. The high Omega 3 fatty acid content of fish oil is a natural anti-inflammatory. Drinking lots of water helps the body flush the sinuses and keeps mucus thin, as does avoiding air conditioning or low humidity areas
Unlike over the counter and prescription medications, herbs work slowly and gently, addressing the cause rather than simply stopping symptoms. However, consistent use of herbs can result in a significant decrease of symptoms and even in some cases resolve allergies altogether.