NEW YORK — With seasonal allergies reducing many New Yorkers to a mess of runny noses and itchy eyes, some are desperate to find a way to relieve symptoms.
While many of the estimated one in six Americans who suffer from asthma and allergies load up on Claritin, Benadryl and other antihistamines this time of year, there are an increasing number of people turning to holistic treatments, experts say.
For those who want to try a more natural approach to fighting allergic rhinitis (as seasonal allergies are known), the sheer number of theories out there about what works — from gluten-free dieting to slashing dairy to pouring salt water up noses — can be overwhelming.
“Sometimes patients come in with wacky things — they get all kinds of things from the internet. But if they feel better, who knows if it’s the placebo versus a real cure?” said Dr. Sezelle Gereau-Haddon, an ear, nose and throat specialist at Beth Israel Medical Center’s Continuum Center for Health and Healing in the Integrative Medicine Department.
“If the things that they’re on are things that aren’t potentially harmful to their liver or their kidneys or their stomach, I usually tolerate it.”
Among the holistic treatments she can't vouch for but won't stop her patients from trying are changing diets in order to alleviate the symptoms of pollen allergies.
“For example, patients routinely want to eliminate dairy,” she said. “There’s not any clear evidence that eliminating dairy does anything for allergies or sinusitis complaints. But, empirically, when I see patients do it, some patients feel better.
"If a patient wants to try it, I certainly encourage them to try it.”
Eliminating gluten is another popular practice among New Yorkers who would like to reduce allergy symptoms naturally.
“Even patients who don’t have a known celiac disease or sensitivity to wheat specifically or a wheat allergy, sometimes if they eliminate gluten, you’ll see them land in a better place,” she said.
To help clear up the confusion over effective allergy symptom fighters, DNAinfo.com New York has collected a list of natural solutions that doctors commonly recommend.
Be sure to work with your healthcare practitioner to determine how these treatments might interact with your regular medications or conditions.
Avoid foods that cause inflammation
According to Dr. Roberta Lee, Integrative health practitioner at Beth Israel Medical Center’s Continuum Center for Health and Healing, eating unhealthy foods can worsen your response to an allergen.
"If you have saturated fats in your diet, if you’re a steak eater, if you’re a junk food eater, if you’re a fried food eater, if you’re a high cheese eater" you may have a harder time fighting off allergies, Lee said.
The foods can inflame your nose and throat and make it harder for your body to protect itself, she said. Making matters worse, a junk food diet doesn't give the body all of the important vitamins it needs to stay healthy and allergy free.
She suggests eating Omega-3 rich fish like salmon and sardines, which have anti-inflammatory properties. She also recommended people supplement their diets with Vitamin D, which has been linked to tamping down allergies, she said. Herbal supplements like butterburr and quercetin, used together, create an antihistamine concoction that ease allergy symptoms. The combined supplement can be found in natural food stores, experts said.
Flush your system
The Neti pot — a ceramic pot specifically designed for irrigating the nasal passages — remains a trusted allergy aide. Regularly flushing out your sinuses with a saline solution keeps the presence of allergens to a minimum.
“[Allergy sufferers] don’t have to do it every day, all the time, but if someone’s got a known tree allergy, for example, this is the time when you want to decrease the pollen that’s actually in their nose,” Dr. Gereau-Haddon said. “You get less of a reaction from that because you’re decreasing the quantity of allergen that’s there to provoke a reaction.”
Try stinging nettles
This local herb is a great quick fix for your allergy symptoms and can be consumed in capsule form, as a tincture or in its completely unprocessed form. “Nettles have some natural antihistamine activity and can be very helpful in reducing the severity of the symptoms that one is experiencing,” said Richard Mandelbaum, clinical herbalist of the ArborVitae School of Traditional Herbalism.
Grow your gut flora
“We want to make sure we’re getting good probiotics — either supplements or foods — that help replenish the beneficial flora in our guts,” Mandelbaum said. “When that balance goes away, it can throw off our normal immune function.”
When your allergies are at their worst, a calming acupuncture session can quell your body’s reaction to pollen, experts said. The ancient Eastern practice has been used for centuries to heal ailments from muscle aches to fertility problems, and is often used for allergy symptom treatment at Beth Israel Medical Center’s Continuum Center for Health and Healing.
Control your environment
It’s common sense — use an air purifier, clean your carpets and drapes and wipe down pets that have been outdoors. “Sometimes patients just want the quick fix of just something to make it go away and don’t necessarily want to do the work for getting the allergen out of their environment," Dr. Gereau-Haddon said. Taking preventative measures are also "really important,” she said.