What the Evidence Says Thus Far ...
We get a lot of inquiries about integrative treatment for allergies in San Francisco, especially since the recent weather has made allergy season much stronger. Here’s a guide to the most common types of summer allergies in San Francisco and how to treat them naturally.
Every area has its own unique pollen level and ecosystem. Pollen levels can vary, depending on a number of factors such as the weather and types of plants growing in the region. Rain helps plants grow more bountifully and dry windy weather helps pollen strengthen and spread. This year, San Francisco got so much rain and plant growth that pollen counts are 3-4 times higher than normal. People living in certain regions of the Bay Area will experience varying levels of summer allergies. For example, people living downtown will be spared with fewer allergy symptoms since concrete and high rises help absorb and redirect pollen. However, those living in more rural or suburban areas, surrounded by trees, greenery, and open space, will need to take more caution to avoid summer allergies in San Francisco.
A variety of trees, grasses, weeds, and molds that grow every year are responsible for spreading pollen that irritates some of our immune systems. Some common types of San Francisco allergens are olive trees, mulberry, oak, pine, and sycamore, as well as chamise and sorrel dock, with plenty of other aggravators lurking in the mold and grass. As the season progresses, and other plants come to bloom, your allergies could still get worse.
Despite how common it seems to be, did you know that seasonal allergies are not a normal response to local pollens? Most people blame pollen, but the real cause of seasonal allergies is the immune system. Our immune systems produce antibodies to prevent us from getting sick, and people who suffer from allergies have a high number of antibodies called immunoglobulin-E that are found on the nose, eyes, and lungs. When pollen lands on one of these antibodies, our immune system perceives it as harmful and sends a signal to release histamines and other chemicals that inflame the area and try to fight “infection.” However, since there is no infection, this bodily response just continues until there is no more pollen. Thus, the root cause of your allergy symptoms is not pollen; it is your body’s overreaction to pollen.
Symptoms can vary in severity, including nasal congestion, runny nose, sinus pain, cough, sneezing, sinus headaches, watery/itchy eyes, rash, itching, upset stomach, constipation, or diarrhea. Severe symptoms can include swelling of the throat, trouble breathing, hives, throwing up, dizziness, and if untreated, death. On top of all that, allergies can also drain your energy and cause many people to experience brain fog, making it hard to focus or think properly.
Reaching for antihistamines is the only way most of us really know how to deal with allergies, but they don’t even offer a solution, just temporary and minor relief with an extra layer of drowsiness. This conventional approach doesn’t get to the root of what causes allergy symptoms in the first place. It just helps you block and hide the symptoms you are experiencing.
There are many things you can do to relieve symptoms, strengthen your immune system, and help prevent your allergies from reappearing next year. Here are the top integrative treatments for allergies that avoid the brain fog you can get from conventional antihistamines.
For starters, make sure you wear sunglasses outside to avoid pollen interacting with the eyes. Exercise outside early in the morning before the wind starts and temperatures rise. If your symptoms are unbearable, stay indoors during high-pollen times of the day: generally mid-morning to early evening.
If you’re having trouble with your breathing, inhaling steam is an ideal way to loosen up trapped mucus. Having a warm shower in the morning may help, but it is best to try this steam treatment several times a day: simply fill a bowl with steaming hot water, drape a towel over your head to trap the steam, and breathe slowly and deeply through your nose. You can also add one drop of eucalyptus oil to the water.
For a stuffy nose, do a saline nasal rinse once or twice a day. It will lubricate your nasal passages and block allergens from entering the respiratory tract. You can use an over-the-counter nasal spray, or make your own saline solution. To do this, mix ¼ teaspoon of salt, 1/8 teaspoon baking soda, and one cup of warm, sterilized water. Gently flush one nostril at a time, using a neti pot or similar device.
It may sound too simple, but drinking more water will help alleviate your allergy symptoms. Drinking more fluids helps thin out the mucus in your nose, and hot fluids are especially soothing as the steam helps open up your nasal passage. Drink one or two glasses of warm water upon awakening. To accelerate hydration, add lemon, ginger, and ½ teaspoon of the spice turmeric to the water. Try consuming this drink all day long for maximum results.
To relieve allergy symptoms such as itchy, watery eyes, runny nose, and sneezing, try drinking nettle leaf tea every few hours. Nettle leaf is packed with anti-inflammatory nutrients and minerals such as iron, calcium, magnesium, and vitamins A, C, K, and B6. It’s also full of potent phytonutrients like chlorophyll.
Many people underestimate the importance of having warm meals and wholesome foods throughout the day, but they are important for your immune system. You should include a variety of vegetables like dark leafy greens, beets, legumes (i.e., lentils, moong dal, navy beans), and unrefined whole grains (i.e., amaranth, buckwheat, quinoa, barley, brown rice, millet). A healthy, balanced diet containing fresh vegetables, legumes, seeds, non-wheat or white rice whole grains and fresh fruit are critical for boosting the immune system. Dairy products, meat, and processed foods will aggravate your symptoms and should be avoided.
Regularly add healthy spices to your meals such as ginger, onion, garlic, and cayenne pepper. These foods have great anti-inflammatory properties and healthy compounds that reduce congestion, improve mucus flow, and strengthen your immune system.
Increasing your intake of vitamin C and Omega-3 fatty acids will also go a long way for your immune system and seasonal allergy conditions. Foods with omega-3's (such as salmon, tuna, halibut, mackerel, flaxseed, walnuts, almonds, pumpkin seeds, kidney beans, mung beans, avocado) contain a lot of anti-inflammatory properties. Vitamin C counteracts histamines, which contribute to inflammation and allergy symptoms. Some great sources of vitamin C are oranges, grapefruit, strawberries, tomatoes, bell peppers, onions, kale, spinach, brussel sprouts, and broccoli.
Drinking homemade fruit and veggie smoothies is an easy way to add nutrients to your diet and strengthen your immune system so it can fight seasonal allergies. Try drinking vegetable juice made from dark green leafy vegetables, turmeric & ginger root, and a touch of healthy oil for a major immune system boost. Furthermore, certain herbs and supplements such as spirulina and golden seal can also help fight allergy symptoms and boost your immune system as well. Butterbur is a strong antihistamine that can successfully reduce airway inflammation.
Some argue that eating raw honey can help prevent seasonal allergies, since it would contain local pollen collected by bees in the area. However, there is a lot of conflicting research about whether it contains enough of the right types of pollen that cause people to have allergies. Nevertheless, using raw honey in place of refined sugars is a healthy choice to make.
If your symptoms don’t go away, or you experience severe symptoms, visit your doctor for a consultation. Dr. Payal Bhandari can help you figure out the underlying cause of your allergies. Working together on a personalized treatment plan can effectively reverse these inflammatory conditions. As an integrative functional medicine physician, Dr. Payal Bhandari, M.D blends diagnostic and medical expertise with evidence-based complementary therapies for people with chronic illness. She will guide you through how your symptoms or illness can be directly impacted by your lifestyle and other environmental factors. She loves to help people take back control of their lives through simple tips we can each be empowered by. With her exceptional care and guidance you will quickly see an improvement in your overall health.
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