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By Y. Clare Zhang, PhD, MAcOM, LAc
Acupuncturist at Peaceful Spirit Massage and Wellness Centers

Allergy season in Tucson usually begins in February and culminates in May. This year might become a record year for seasonal allergies. Not only in Tucson, but also nationwide, allergists have reported seeing double the usual number of patients. With warm temperatures, low rainfall and high wind sweeping through southern Arizona, pollens and dust permeate the air. Here I would like to share some natural allergy relief methods. This article is not meant to cover all natural therapies for seasonal allergy. Instead, I just hope you walk away with a few practical tips that are easy to implement and have proven effective.

Tips for Relieving Acute Symptoms

Herbs and supplements

Many herbs/supplements have been traditionally used for relieving allergy symptoms such as nettles and goldenseal. The following two have shown great promise based on science and consumer feedback.

  • Butterbur: Great for seasonal allergy, and even better if you tend to get migraine headaches related to allergy. One caution: Butterbur naturally contains components called pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PAs). PAs are toxic to the liver. So purchase butterbur extract free of PAs from a reputable laboratory. There are plenty of safe butterbur products in the market which I will mention below.
  • Quercetin with Bromelain: Great for seasonal allergy, and even better if you have asthma triggered by allergy. Quercetin has significant anti-inflammatory and anti-histamine activities.
  • Bromelain is anti-inflammatory and enhances quercetin absorption. This supplement can be very helpful in reducing allergy symptoms, particularly in conjunction with vitamin C.
Many reputable manufacturers produce these two supplements. Just to mention a few: Now Foods, Source Naturals, Douglas Laboratory, Swanson, Jarrow Formula. You can find them in the local health food stores or online.

Acupuncture and Chinese herbs

Acupuncture and Chinese herbs are very effective in reducing allergy symptoms, such as runny nose, watery eyes, uncontrollable sneezing, nasal congestion and sinus headaches. They work through strengthening Qi (i.e. increasing immunity to fend off allergens), transforming Dampness (i.e. facilitating removal of excess mucous) and regulating flow of Qi in the channels (i.e. assisting the metabolic and detoxifying pathways in our body to work smoothly). Many patients in our practice have benefited from weekly acupuncture treatments supported by Chinese herbs. Its effectiveness is under active investigation in scientific studies and has attracted broad public attention. Here is a link to a report in Fox News.

Nasal irrigation with salt water

This can be done with bare hands or more easily, with Neti pots. Warm saline solution (0.9% sodium chloride water) is used to flush the nasal cavity and remove pollens and excess mucous. Daily irrigation is recommended in the allergy season.

Tips for Long-term Prevention

Local honey and bee pollen

Taking local raw honey and bee pollen is helpful in preventing and reducing allergy symptoms due to pollens. Start before allergy season begins and throughout the season. One teaspoon of honey and/or bee pollen per day is usually enough. There are at least two keys to success. First is to use raw honey that is produced locally and has not been heated or filtered. Second is to be proactive and persistent. It is usually too late to start using this method when your symptoms already kick off. You can find high-quality raw honey at the farmers markets around Tucson. Personally I have enjoyed honey collected by Freddi Terry’s Apiaries based in Oracle with great results, and of course, great taste too.

Omega-3 fatty acid and NAC

Combination of omega-3 fatty acid, N-acetyl cysteine (NAC) and quercetin is commonly used to treat allergy and asthma in naturopathic medicine. In my experience, omega-3 in conjunction with NAC can be effective in the prevention of allergy symptoms. Not all omega-3 fish oils are the same. Nordic Naturals and Carlson Laboratory are two brands of fish oils recommended by my naturopath friends.

Acupuncture and Chinese herbs

Most people with recurrent seasonal allergy have an underlying imbalance in the body, especially weakness in respiratory and digestive systems. Although pharmaceutical drugs and some methods mentioned above can relieve acute symptoms and treat the “branch” (as is called in Chinese medicine), they do not deal with the cause of these symptoms or treat the “root”.

In the Chinese medicine approach, patients continue to receive treatments between allergy seasons. The treatments aim to resolve the root cause mainly by boosting immunity, improving digestive and respiratory functions and stimulating metabolism and detoxification. After 6-12 months of continuous or intermittent treatments depending on the patients’ conditions, most patients not only experience fewer or no allergy symptoms, but also see improvements in their general well-being, among which better energy, sleep, emotion, digestion, pain relief and weight loss.