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Q: Help! What can I do about my allergies besides medication? Why do I suffer with allergies and my friends don’t?
A: First, what are allergies? Basically, allergies are your body’s response to stimulus from an outside substance. This outside substance or allergen triggers a response from our body’s immune system, usually in the form of mucus, congestion, itchiness, rashes, etc. Well, if not everyone responds this same way, we must ask: what is it about me that causes my immune system to get triggered? If my whole self were in balance and clear, I wouldn’t be getting irritated and triggered so easily. So maybe it is not the allergen that is the problem (that’s just Mother Nature, after all). Maybe the issue is our internal environment that is out of balance or overloaded so much that one breath of pollen tips the scales, causing a flood of symptoms to pop up. In Ayurveda, we call this toxic build up ama: Stuff that’s congesting the channels of our body somewhere, inhibiting clear communication between the systems of our body, leading to an alerting response from one system because it feels it needs help, feels isolated or alone, and so reacts in a scared way with an over-defensive, over-reactive immune response.
One of the best natural remedies for seasonal allergies is a neti pot. With a neti pot you are essentially flushing your nasal passages with a saline solution to flush out any irritants. This is very effective and I highly recommend using some form of neti pot on a daily basis during your allergy season. While this is a great method, if used too much it can be drying. So even though it’s great at flushing out irritants, it tends to dry the nasal passages in the process. And what does the body do to respond to these dried out membranes?….produce more mucus of course, which I’m pretty sure is what you were trying to stop in the first place. So, a great counter balance to the neti pot is nasya oil, or herb infused oils that re-lubricate and nourish the irritated lining of your sinuses. These oils also create a protective barrier against future irritants and create a supportive environment for good protective microbes. The combination of these two techniques I have found to be extremely effective for many people.
There are many other natural remedies that bring relief as well. Things like local honey, stinging nettle, quercetin rich foods/supplements, vitamin c, probiotics, and essential oils of lavender and peppermint. These options can be used like emergency help and yes, these are better for you than pharmaceuticals without the side effects, but they are still mostly a band-aid. To really end your allergies, you will have to go a little deeper and bring a bit more awareness to what your body is trying to tell you. For more tips on dealing with seasonal allergies, check out this post.
After treating the symptoms, you can look at and adjust how you are nourishing your inner terrain. How are you feeding your gut and microbiome? Because that will influence what kind of messages your immune system is getting. The wrong types of foods could be triggering your immune system, which if it’s activated already, is then primed to react to the perceived allergens in your environment -- setting you up for allergy response. Taking out heavy, inflammatory, and mucus forming foods like processed foods, gluten, dairy, and whatever foods are aggravating to you can be a huge first step to calm down your internal environment so you have a better chance at staying calm and not reactive to the environment around you.
Take some time to listen to the signals your body is sending you so you get a handle on your allergies. Instead of looking at this as a singular event, see it as the result of accumulation of ama in channels in the body. Your bucket is pretty full if one whiff of pollen or other allergen sets you off. So, we need to look at what your bucket is full of. Which systems in the body are out of balance…digestion, elimination, lymphatic system, immune system? What else in your life can you not take one more drop of? What do you need to let go of and release so that you can feel calm, secure, and safe? Next year try to get ahead of the game. Take the time to do a cleanse or a detox to empty your bucket and clear these channels before the time of year when your allergies tend to come on. Feed and nourish your inner ecosystem with the proper foods for you for that time of year. Learn how to keep your body systems in balance so you can respond appropriately to life and be able to stop and smell the flowers and enjoy nature’s bounty!