The Natural Path To Allergy Relief

cayenne pepperDealing with allergy symptoms throughout the year can have a considerable impact on your life, making it hard to function at work and at play.

Allergy relief medications can help, but some have side effects such as drowsiness that may make it even harder to function. An alternative approach to allergies is to try natural therapies, including herbs, nasal rinses, and certain foods.

Natural remedies that help keep your allergies in check can empower you to take charge of your health. However, some natural therapies, such as herbs, come with their own list of side effects, and they can be toxic if you take too much. People can be deceived into believing that if it’s natural, it’s safe. The goal is to take small amounts of herbs to get the effects you’re looking for.

Consult with a naturopath or a homeopathic physician if you plan to try herbs for allergy relief. It’s also vital to tell all of your doctors about the herbs you’re taking, because natural remedies could interfere with any drugs you’ve been prescribed, both for allergies and other conditions.

Herbs and Other Allergy Relievers

Herbs are only one type of natural therapy for allergy relief. Here are the ones most likely to help, along with other approaches to consider.

  1. Nasal irrigation. One effective way to keep your sinuses clear of mucus during allergy season is to flush the nasal cavity and keep your nose moist with a saline solution that you can buy at your drugstore. Nasal irrigation helps promote good nose health. Some people are comfortable using a small syringe, while others prefer a neti pot for nasal irrigation. During allergy season, it’s probably a good idea to use irrigation every day or even more than once a day, but even just two or three times a week will help.
  2. Butterbur. Extracts of butterbur are going head-to-head with antihistamine products on the market. In a study of 330 people who were given either butterbur extract, the antihistamine fexofenadine (Allegra), or a placebo, extracts of the herb worked as well as Allegra at relieving allergy symptoms. Another study found butterbur extract to have similar effects to the antihistamine cetirizine (Zyrtec). The herb helps get rid of mucus and has been used to treat asthma and bronchitis. There’s some concern that if butterbur is from the same family of ragweed it could trigger allergies, but that’s only in theory. Butterbur does have side effects, including the possibility of drowsiness, headache, and an upset stomach. It’s recommended to take butterbur in extract form.
  3. Stinging nettle. The jury is still out on whether stinging nettle provides allergy relief. A small study found that it might help relieve symptoms, but more research needs to be done. If you try stinging nettle, be sure to consult your doctor before taking it. As with butterbur, take nettle leaf in extract form. You shouldn’t take stinging nettle if you’re pregnant or give it to young children. And if you take a blood pressure medication, a blood thinner, or a diuretic, or you have diabetes, be sure to talk to your doctor before you take stinging nettle.
  4. Quercetin. The flavanoid quercetin, which is the phytochemical that gives fruits and vegetables their color, has been found to block the release of histamine in test tube studies. Research hasn’t found definitively that quercetin can help with allergy symptoms in people. However, getting plenty of quercetin in your diet from apples, berries, grapes, squash, greens, and sweet potatoes certainly doesn’t hurt.
  5. Spicy foods. Turning up the heat of your food with horseradish and chili peppers can act as a decongestant and clear away the mucus that’s been building from allergies. If you like spicy food, this may be the most enjoyable approach to allergy relief.

As you try different therapies to ease allergy symptoms, keep in mind that there’s no quick and easy fix. So while you shouldn’t turn to natural therapies with the expectation that they will cure all of your ills, you should work with your doctor to determine what therapies will work best for you.

The Bottom Line On Smoking & Asthma

A cigarette and an inhalerSecondhand smoke is bad for everyone’s health, but even worse for the millions of children and adults with asthma: If you have asthma, any exposure to cigarette smoke can lead to an asthma attack, and frequent exposure to cigarette smoke can make asthma symptoms even worse.

Cigarettes do not cause asthma, in the sense that people don’t become allergic to cigarette smoke but contact with cigarette smoke either by actively smoking or through secondhand exposure can trigger asthma symptoms. An asthma attack occurs when your airways become irritated and inflamed. Cigarette smoke is one item on a long list of potential asthma triggers.

Smoking and Asthma

Though many airborne pollutants can trigger an asthma attack, cigarette smoke is especially dangerous. The single most important environmental factor that can make asthma worse is tobacco smoke.

Statistics show a fivefold increase in hospitalizations among children who have asthma and live with smokers. Living in a house with a smoker — even a smoker who says that the smoking takes place outside of the home — can make it very difficult to control asthma. Keep in mind that even traces of smoke on clothing can irritate the sensitive airways of someone with asthma and can trigger an asthma attack.

In fact, close to 90 percent of children with asthma who live in a nonsmoking household can achieve good control of their asthma. The proportion drops dramatically, to only 50 percent, for children who live in homes with smokers. Likewise, adults who smoke and also have asthma may find that they are much less responsive to asthma medications that are known to be effective in asthmatics who do not smoke.

Pregnancy, Smoking, and Asthma Risk

Pregnant women are advised not to smoke and to avoid secondhand smoke. There are many good reasons for that advice because cigarette smoke leads to low birth weight and higher infant mortality. One little known reason to avoid exposure to smoke during pregnancy, though, is that data show a link between a mother’s exposure to smoking — either her own or someone else’s — and an increase in her baby’s future risk of asthma attacks.

Additionally, there is research that shows if your parents smoke [during your childhood], you’re more likely to develop asthma.

The Bottom Line on Smoking and Asthma Attacks

In a recent, comprehensive set of guidelines for asthma management, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute strongly recommends the following steps for preventing asthma attacks:

  • If you smoke, stop smoking now.
  • Do not permit smoking in your car, home, or anywhere around you.
  • If your child has asthma attacks, find caregivers or daycare centers where there is an absolute no-smoking policy.

If you smoke and are also the parent or close relative of a child with asthma, talk to your doctor and get help from family and friends to kick your habit. There isn’t a better gift you could give your child — or yourself, for that matter.