Natural Allergy Relief? It Can Be Done

6 min read  |  February 10, 2022  | 
Disponible en Español |

In many ways, it’s great to be a South Floridian. Our northern neighbors cope with pine, oak, and other allergy-boosting bloomers that cause plenty of sneezing, sniffling, and teary eyes.

“We have clean ocean breezes and far fewer super pollinators than other regions,” says Karen Koffler, M.D., medical director for the Osher Center for Integrative Health at the University of Miami Health System. Dr. Koffler practices functional medicine, which aims to uncover the root cause of a health issue.

Although South Florida has fewer allergy concerns, many people still struggle with congestion, runny noses, coughs, and other seasonal or environmental ailments. “Environmental allergens can also be complicated by food allergies,” Dr. Koffler says.

You could manage your allergy symptoms with over-the-counter or prescription medications. However, you may experience side effects from those drugs, such as drowsiness, headaches, or dryness in your eyes and nose. If you’re searching for ways to get natural allergy relief that work with your body, Dr. Koffler has suggestions.

Stuffy nose making it hard to breathe?

“Stay well hydrated. It thins secretions and makes it easier to clear your nose. At bedtime, use a saline sinus rinse such as NeilMed. Squeegee it up into your nose, then follow it by inhaling pure eucalyptus essential oil. This opens the airways and acts as a vasodilator, while diminishing swelling. Do this twice a day if you feel congested.”

Cleansing the nasal passages with a neti pot is part of routine grooming in ayurvedic medicine, a traditional health practice that originated in India several thousand years ago. Nasal washes of the pre-packaged variety, Dr. Koffler says, are more user-friendly and don’t run the risk of fungal infections that can result from an improperly cleaned neti pot.

The nose knows: Histamines make it more susceptible to allergens.

“Mast cells (a type of white blood cells that) release histamine to fend off contaminants in the body,” Dr. Koffler says.

Too much of a good thing makes many people reach for a synthetic antihistamine medication. Next time, try a natural ingredient called quercetin to decrease your histamine level and boost immunity.

Quercetin is found in brightly colored fruits and vegetables or as an oral or nasal supplement. Stinging nettle tea also helps reduce the histamine effect.

Dr. Koffler

If you or your children wake up congested each morning, the problem might be your mouth. “Mouth breathers have more congestion. A lot of kids are mouth breathers,” Dr. Koffler says.

Sleep strips or mouth tape found at your local pharmacy keep the mouth gently closed while you slumber.

Some people say that local honey or bee pollen reduces allergy symptoms. There are no large-scale studies to support this theory, but Dr. Koffler says, “Honey makes sense to me since bees eat seasonally. Bee pollen also has immune-modulating effects.”

She believes that part of the reason allergies remain so prevalent is that we no longer eat seasonally. “Avocado may be all the rage but wasn’t meant to be on the table all year long.”

Does dairy cause phlegm?

For Dr. Koffler, the answer is a resounding yes.

“Cow’s milk contains a complex array of proteins that affect immune function and create more phlegm. Dairy, wheat, and sugar are the top three ingredients I take people off to start with.”

Try eliminating dairy products for a month to see if you experience less phlegm in your throat and lungs.

If you love dairy, you might not have to give it up completely.

“Certain cultures tolerate the proteins in dairy better than others.”

Dr. Koffler runs food sensitivity tests on patients to determine how specific ingredients affect them. Individuals with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) might even benefit from milk products. “Some dairy protein provides protection in individuals with IBS.”

It’s interesting to note, Dr. Koffler says, that people who experience unpleasant side effects from eating American dairy or wheat often have no problems eating the same products in Europe.

“The European Union typically has tighter controls on chemicals (used in food) than the U.S. People go to Italy and eat pasta, bread, and other wheat products with no bloating or brain fog.”

You don’t have to move to Italy. Just try eating minimally processed foods with more straightforward ingredients.

Smell well

We all want a fresh-smelling home, but Dr. Koffler recommends resisting the urge to buy artificially or chemically scented products. Use clean personal hygiene and household cleaning products whenever possible.

Like food, the fewer and simpler the ingredients, the less likely the product is to trigger allergies like nasal congestion or cause harm. And while scented candles create a pleasant mood, unscented varieties are healthier.

A nemesis named mold

“Everyone in South Florida is exposed to mold and mildew; most don’t get sick. Our bodies create an inflammatory response to injury or illness that eventually subsides once the injury heals or the illness passes – unless you’re reactive to basic things like mold that exist throughout the environment. If you have mold reactivity, you may have low-grade chronic inflammation.”

Often, a natural remedy can combat mold and other environmental allergens.

  • Use high-quality air filters such as HEPA filters and change them frequently.
  • Use an air purifier.
  • Eliminate dust mites, pet dander, and other allergens by vacuuming upholstered furniture and replacing or washing old pillows and curtains.
  • Eliminate moisture build-up in and outside of your home.
  • Keep your space and your pets as clean as possible.

Functional freedom

Dr. Koffler believes that increasing numbers of people want to be free from chronic conditions such as allergies instead of managing their symptoms with allergy medications.

“People want to understand the root cause of their symptoms, stamp it out, and get on with life. Conventional medicine usually focuses on symptom relief. Functional medicine takes time and patience, but it treats the root causes.”

Nancy Moreland is a regular contributor to UMiami Health News. She has written for several major health care systems and the CDC. Her writing also appears in the Chicago Tribune and U.S. News & World Report.

Tags: allergy relief, Dr. Karen Koffler, natural remedies, Osher Center for Integrative Health

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