Seasonal allergies are sometimes dismissed as a common nuisance; however, they can have a significant impact on an individual’s quality of life. If you experience seasonal allergies, it’s important not to underestimate their severity and the importance of managing the condition in order to obtain relief and improve quality of life. (1)
In this article, you’ll learn about seasonal allergies and how to treat allergies, including interventions for natural allergy relief.
Seasonal allergies typically present in the form of allergic rhinitis (AR), also known as hay fever, which is characterized by nasal congestion, a runny nose, sneezing, postnasal drip, and nasal pruritus (itchy nose). Allergies, asthma, and atopic dermatitis (eczema) all fall under the umbrella of atopic conditions, which involve having a genetic tendency to develop allergic diseases. (1)
Allergic rhinitis is an irregular immune response that occurs in two phases, involving a number of immune mediators and cells. The early phase, triggered by inhaled allergens, occurs within five to 15 minutes of exposure. The early phase immune response is mediated by immunoglobulins (antibodies) and involves mast cells releasing compounds, including histamine, that cause symptoms such as sneezing and runny nose. (1)(4)(13)
During the late phase response, which occurs four to six hours after allergen exposure, immune cells known as mast cells will release immune signalling proteins called cytokines. Cytokines stimulate an influx of white blood cells and other immune cells, which cause nasal swelling and congestion. (1)(4)(13)
Types of allergies
There are two primary classifications of AR:
- Seasonal allergic rhinitis (intermittent/seasonal allergies), which occurs in 20% of cases
- Perennial allergic rhinitis (chronic allergies), which occurs in 40% of cases (1)
The remaining 40% of individuals have features of both perennial and seasonal allergies. (1) Seasonal allergies are more common in children, while perennial allergic rhinitis is more common in adults. (1)
What causes allergies?
Allergies can be triggered by the inhalation of various allergens, such as animal dander, house dust mites, mold, and pollen from plants (e.g., trees, weeds, grass). (4)
Certain factors may increase your risk of allergies, including:
- Being male
- Early introduction of baby formula and/or foods
- Exposure to cigarette smoke in the first year of life
- Family history of atopic diseases (e.g., allergic rhinitis, asthma, eczema, food allergies)
- Higher socioeconomic status (1)
Seasonal allergy symptoms and complications
The most common seasonal allergy symptoms include:
- Runny nose
- Watery eyes (1)
Individuals with seasonal allergies may also experience general allergic rhinitis symptoms, such as:
- Allergic conjunctivitis (eye inflammation)
- Eustachian tube dysfunction (the tubes connecting the upper throat and ear)
- Nasal congestion and itchiness
- Postnasal drip
- Sinusitis (sinus inflammation) (1)
Factors such as season and geographic location can affect the severity of allergy symptoms. Allergy symptoms generally peak during adolescence and early adulthood, and tend to improve over time or go away entirely. (1)
Individuals with allergies report experiencing fatigue, headaches, (13) irritability, and challenges in some social situations. (11) Allergic rhinitis has been associated with several complications, including asthma, persistent cough, chronic rhinosinusitis (persistent sinus inflammation), and eosinophilic esophagitis (an allergic/immune disease of the esophagus). (1)
Types of allergy testing
Diagnosing allergic rhinitis involves allergy testing, commonly available in the form of a skin allergy test or allergy blood test for allergen-specific immunoglobulin E (IgE). For individuals with seasonal allergies, it is best to perform allergy testing during the peak of allergy season, which can help identify specific triggers. (1)
How to treat allergies: 12 tips for allergy prevention and relief
An integrative approach to seasonal allergies can include pharmaceutical medications, lifestyle modifications, and natural remedies for allergies.
Work with your healthcare provider(s) to determine treatment
Seasonal allergies are commonly treated with medications such as antihistamines, steroid nasal sprays, and allergen immunotherapy, which can help to build tolerance to allergens. Immunotherapy can be provided as subcutaneous immunotherapy (allergy shots) or sublingual immunotherapy (oral allergy tablets). In some cases, allergy shots may exacerbate allergies and asthma or trigger an anaphylactic reaction, so appropriate medical administration and supervision is advised. (1)
Monitor your allergen exposure
If possible, it is best to avoid your specific allergy triggers. The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology offers an online pollen count map that allows you to view timely pollen and mold levels in your area. (2) You can use this resource to plan activities, such as vacations and longer periods of outdoor exercise, around peak pollen levels and inform the timing of preventative medication. (16)
Consider your indoor environment
You can minimize your allergen exposure in your home and car by closing windows and using air conditioning during periods with high pollen levels. Special car air filters are available to reduce pollen levels in your car. (16) In your home, ensure your air ducts are correctly installed and maintained to minimize contaminants such as dust, mold, and pollen. (15) Additionally, as pollen grains can adhere to clothes and hair, removing clothing and washing your hair after spending time outdoors and before entering your bedroom or living spaces in your home may be helpful. (16)
Wear protective equipment
Protective equipment, such as wrap-around eyewear and nasal filters may be helpful in reducing seasonal allergy symptoms and improving quality of life. (11)(16) Various types of nasal filters exist, most of which use a mesh which acts as a physical barrier against allergens inhaled through the nose. (11)
Enhance nutrition during infancy
The timing of food introduction might influence the risk of allergies in infants by modulating immune function, promoting healthy gut microbiota, and decreasing exposure to antigens (substances that trigger an immune response). (12) Research findings are mixed; however, both researchers and the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recognize the nutritional and immune benefits of breastfeeding and recommend exclusive breastfeeding for six months when possible. (12)(14)
Mend your microbiome
A factor that can help prevent allergic disease and sensitization to allergens is having a large diversity of microbiota in the gut, airways, and on the skin during childhood. Factors that may impair microbial diversity include antibiotic use, poor diet, and an urban lifestyle (compared to a rural lifestyle). (16) You can support the health and diversity of your microbiota by eating a microbiome-friendly diet, minimizing antibiotic use whenever possible, having a pet, spending time with animals, (16) and managing stress. (7)
Did you know? Individuals who have farm and farm animal exposure during early childhood have decreased allergen sensitization, a phenomenon known as the “farm effect” on allergy. (16)
Natural remedies for allergies include acupuncture, a practice that originated in Traditional Chinese medicine. A comprehensive literature review found that acupuncture may provide some beneficial effects on symptoms, but research results are mixed and ongoing treatment may be required to maintain benefits. (16)
Optimize your vitamin D levels
A systematic review of the relationship between vitamin D status and allergic rhinitis found that a serum 25(OH)D level at or above 75 nmol/L (30 ng/mL) may be protective in certain populations. This vitamin D level is associated with a reduced risk of sensitization to airborne allergens in children and a reduced risk of allergic rhinitis in adult men (but not women). (3) Vitamin D can be found in foods, such as fatty fish, egg yolk, liver, and supplements, and is produced in the skin from sunlight exposure. (8)
Include honey in your diet
Honey has traditionally been used as a home remedy for seasonal allergies, and it’s been theorized that the environmental allergens found in local honey can help to build allergen tolerance. There is some evidence that honey can improve seasonal allergy symptoms and decrease the need for medications; however, high doses may be required to obtain these benefits. (16)
Find your yoga flow
A controlled trial examined the effects of Hatha yoga on allergy symptoms and inflammatory cytokine levels. After eight weeks of three weekly 60-minute Hatha yoga training sessions, individuals practicing yoga had decreased allergic rhinitis symptoms and improved cytokine profiles compared to controls. (4)
Get some exercise in
Research that has investigated various types of exercise in individuals with allergic rhinitis suggests that moderate-intensity exercise, such as running at moderate intensity for 30 minutes, is more effective at improving immune function than exhaustive (high-intensity) exercise. However, both moderate and high-intensity exercise are associated with improvement in allergy symptoms. (13)
For specific exercise recommendations, download a handout on physical activity guidelines.
Several evidence-based supplements may be used as natural remedies for allergies.
The medicinal herb butterbur (Petasites hybridus) contains petasine, an anti-inflammatory compound. A placebo-controlled trial that compared the effects of a butterbur extract containing petasine with an antihistamine medication found that the butterbur extract and antihistamine had comparable effects on symptoms of intermittent (seasonal) allergies. (9)
A systematic review and meta-analysis reviewed the effects of probiotic interventions on individuals with allergic rhinitis. The findings indicate that probiotics were associated with benefits for immune function and allergic rhinitis symptoms. Lactobacillus paracasei (LP-33) strains were specifically associated with improvements in seasonal allergies. (6)
Spirulina, a blue-green algae, has been associated with improved allergy symptoms, including sneezing, nasal congestion, itchiness, and nasal discharge, when compared to a placebo. (5)
A double-blind, placebo-controlled study of high-dose vitamin E supplementation in individuals with seasonal allergies found that nasal symptoms were reduced when supplementation was administered during hay fever season. The study authors indicate that further clinical studies are needed to fully understand the impact of vitamin E. (10)
The bottom line
Seasonal allergies can cause significant symptoms that interfere with daily activities and overall well-being. Fortunately, the evidence-based tips in this article can help prevent seasonal allergies and manage symptoms. If you’re a patient considering dietary supplements for natural allergy relief, always be sure to speak to your integrative healthcare practitioner.
- Akhouri, S., & House, S. A. (2020). Allergic Rhinitis. In StatPearls. StatPearls Publishing. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK538186/
- American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. (n.d.). National Allergy Bureau: Pollen count stations. American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. https://www.aaaai.org/global/nab-pollen-counts?ipb=1
- Aryan, Z., Rezaei, N., & Camargo, C. A., Jr. (2017). Vitamin D status, aeroallergen sensitization, and allergic rhinitis: A systematic review and meta-analysis. International Reviews of Immunology, 36(1), 41–53.
- Chanta, A., Klaewsongkram, J., Mickleborough, T. D., & Tongtako, W. (2019). Effect of Hatha yoga training on rhinitis symptoms and cytokines in allergic rhinitis patients. Asian Pacific Journal of Allergy and Immunology, 10.12932/AP-260419-0547.
- Cingi, C., Conk-Dalay, M., Cakli, H., & Bal, C. (2008). The effects of spirulina on allergic rhinitis. European Archives of Oto-Rhino-Laryngology: Official Journal of the European Federation of Oto-Rhino-Laryngological Societies, 265(10), 1219–1223.
- Güvenç, I. A., Muluk, N. B., Mutlu, F. Ş., Eşki, E., Altıntoprak, N., Oktemer, T., & Cingi, C. (2016). Do probiotics have a role in the treatment of allergic rhinitis? A comprehensive systematic review and meta-analysis. American Journal of Rhinology & Allergy, 30(5), 157–175.
- Maltz, R. M., Keirsey, J., Kim, S. C., Mackos, A. R., Gharaibeh, R. Z., Moore, C. C., … & Bailey, M. T. (2019). Social stress affects colonic inflammation, the gut microbiome, and short-chain fatty acid levels and receptors. Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition, 68(4), 533–540.
- National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements. (2020, October 9). Vitamin D. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminD-HealthProfessional/
- Schapowal, A., & Study Group. (2005). Treating intermittent allergic rhinitis: A prospective, randomized, placebo and antihistamine-controlled study of butterbur extract Ze 339. Phytotherapy Research: PTR, 19(6), 530–537.
- Shahar, E., Hassoun, G., & Pollack, S. (2004). Effect of vitamin E supplementation on the regular treatment of seasonal allergic rhinitis. Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, 92(6), 654–658.
- Sigsgaard, T., & Tovey, E. R. (2014). Nasal filters: A novel approach to tackling allergic rhinitis. Expert Review of Clinical Immunology, 10(9), 1133–1135.
- Szajewska, H. (2012). Early nutritional strategies for preventing allergic disease. The Israel Medical Association Journal, 14(1), 58–62.
- Tongtako, W., Klaewsongkram, J., Jaronsukwimal, N., Buranapraditkun, S., Mickleborough, T. D., & Suksom, D. (2012). The effect of acute exhaustive and moderate intensity exercises on nasal cytokine secretion and clinical symptoms in allergic rhinitis patients. Asian Pacific Journal of Allergy and Immunology, 30(3), 185–192.
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. (2020a). Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025. https://www.dietaryguidelines.gov/sites/default/files/2020-12/Dietary_Guidelines_for_Americans_2020-2025.pdf
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. (2020, September 22). Should you have the air ducts in your home cleaned? United States Environmental Protection Agency. https://www.epa.gov/indoor-air-quality-iaq/should-you-have-air-ducts-your-home-cleaned
- Wise, S. K., Lin, S. Y., Toskala, E., Orlandi, R. R., Akdis, C. A., Alt, J. A., … Zacharek, M. (2018). International Consensus Statement on Allergy and Rhinology: Allergic rhinitis. International Forum of Allergy & Rhinology, 8(2), 108–352.