By Rachel Welch
Spring is a gorgeous time of year. The blossoms, flowers, greenery, and renewal of bird song make it a happy season that almost everyone can appreciate. Unfortunately, the beauty of spring also comes with pollen, and that means dreaded allergies. Understandably, it can be difficult to enjoy anything when you are fighting to breathe, coughing, and your vision is clouded with allergy-fueled tears. Even though you can't control the pollen count, you can take action to fight off your allergies with a few natural remedies. Go ahead and plan your picnic because we’re going to offer tips so your allergies won’t win this year!
Where do Allergies Come From?
You might be wondering why allergies seem to get worse every year, and why the pollen count continues to rise steadily. You may be interested to know that it’s not anything natural that is to blame. Unfortunately, as is the case with most issues in nature, it is human meddling that has put us in the current, pollen-filled predicament.
Atlanta, Georgia is one of the first states to receive pollen and warm temps every year. Located in the southeast of the US, it has a mild climate with a standard representation of every season. Locals in recent years have noticed that in their beloved city, the spring pollen count seems to get crazier and crazier every year. It wasn’t until recently that one of the reasons was revealed. Urban planning takes a variety of things into consideration when planning their greenery and landscaping for a city. One such detail is the amount of cleanup that a tree, shrub, or plant might require. It is in the best interest of the city’s leaders to ensure minimal leaves, seeds, seed pods, and cleanup, which then reduces work for their clean-up crews.
It seems that Atlanta’s urban planners elected to go with trees that shed the least, to avoid piles of seed remnants and debris throughout the year. Fair choice, right? Perhaps not. For a smidge of botany trivia, male trees shed the least, and produce high amounts of pollen, as their natural purpose is to pollinate the female trees. In an untampered natural system, the female trees would produce fruit or flowers. The fruiting trees’ pollen is much denser than that of the male trees, and is far less likely to go airborne and into your nostrils. So, female/fruiting trees play the pivotal role of balancing out the quantity of pollen. You can probably see where this is going.
By planting exclusively male trees, the city planners unwittingly set themselves and their city’s population up for exceedingly high pollen counts, as they removed nature’s typical means of regulating the quantity. This phenomenon has been branded “botanical sexism,” and Atlanta is not the only city to have engaged in this practice.
California, New Zealand, London, Canada, and many other locations have also adopted the habit of botanical sexism within their urban planning. So much so, that several communities have begun intentionally planting more female trees, in the hopes of providing balance to the otherwise manipulated tree population. You go, horticultural heroes.
Climate Change May Play a Role
Another area of potential blame is of course, climate change. With recently rising global temperatures and a shifting chemical composition in the air, a number of things are impacted including daily temperatures, environmental changes, and even allergies. Researchers have explored differences between modern day allergy seasons, and the factors from years past, and found a significant difference. In a recent study, ragweed (a common autumn allergen) was observed to have changed its physiological structure. The scientists behind this observation explained that ragweed has adapted its form in response to rising CO2 levels, leaving it in a new, spiky molecular form that the human immune system is more likely to see as a threat. This sounds pretty sci-fi and menacing but is happening with other plants’ pollen makeup as well.
Now, should you run from the pollen-filled hills, buy a portable gas mask, or hide in a bubble? Not necessarily. While the odds may seem stacked against allergy sufferers, there are still some steps that can make allergy season more pleasant for you. The first step is to take a deep breath and stay calm. I know, breathing in this season seems counterintuitive, but your brain needs it, and so does your body.
Strengthen Your Immune System
One of the best ways to cope more effectively with anything that inflames your body, whether allergen or virus, is to maintain a healthy baseline. If your immune system is in good shape and reinforced before and during allergy season, your body will have the strength to keep allergy symptoms from growing into anything more. Of course, this isn’t foolproof – sometimes we just get sick, despite our best efforts. However, by ensuring that you routinely receive proper nutrition, vitamins, rest, and all of the good things the body needs, allergies will have a stronger foe to fight against.
Some of the main things to ensure are a part of your normal routine include:
In addition to regular healthy maintenance, you can also tap into some of nature’s wisdom, and embrace the parts of nature that are able to help balance its less appealing qualities.
Work with Nature
You don't have to go hug a tree unless you really want to, but a great way to battle allergies is by embracing the remedies from Mother Nature herself. While it is now “natural” for pollen counts to be off the charts (thanks, city planners), there are some helpful remedies available through natural sources that can help with the symptoms of allergies.
First up, is classic salt water. Good old H2O and sodium chloride make a potent, yet natural combination that can significantly help with allergy symptoms. To use this to your benefit, you should focus on nasal irrigation. This can be done via a Neti Pot, or any other mechanism that allows you to flush out your sinuses. The simple combination of salt and water can help to physically clear out any trapped pollen and can clear out the contents that leave you sniffly. Note: Be sure and use filtered water for nasal irrigation.
Please note, going to Universal Studios and chugging a butterbeer will not help with your allergies. We are talking about butterburr, which is a plant local to North America, Europe, and Asia. Its name comes from its use for illness, and references when one might wrap up in a blanket because they’re cold. Cute, right?
This amazing plant has been used since the Middle Ages and to treat the plague and fever, not to mention coughs, asthma, and skin wounds. More recently, it has been touted as a remedy for hay fever. There are some concerns about unregulated forms of Butterburr, so if you decide to try it, please make sure you get some that has been through the proper testing and that is certified for safe use.
Next up is an ingredient found in pineapple and papaya. Bromelain is known to reduce swelling and inflammation and can be a helpful (and tasty) food to add to your allergy combat weaponry. Another fun fact is that bromelain also helps people with gluten intolerance or celiac disease. If they accidentally ingested gluten, bromelain can help break down the gluten enzymes, leading to a quicker recovery.
There is not insurmountable evidence that local honey helps allergies, but there have been studies that hinted at its efficacy. For instance, a study from Malaysia found that only their honey-receiving group showed significant improvements in allergy symptoms after four weeks. Furthermore, their relief from symptoms extended a month after they had stopped taking honey daily, which is pretty nice. On the other hand, there was a study from Connecticut in 2022 that found no meaningful difference in allergy symptoms between groups given honey versus a placebo. So, take the research as it is, and if you like honey, it couldn’t hurt to try incorporating local honey into your seasonal diet.
You may have heard talks of “superfood spirulina” circling within horticultural communities. It is a blue-green algae that seems to boast medicinal miracles and has been confirmed to help with health of the heart, gut, cholesterol, blood pressure, and more. You name it, and spirulina probably has a studied benefit, which even extends to allergies.
A study from 2008 found that spirulina yielded clinical improvements to allergy symptoms, significantly improving “nasal discharge, sneezing, nasal congestion and itching.” You can take this like the Tik Tok users, as a daily bite of algae from a jar, or can purchase the supplement in capsule form.
If you’ve ever run into stinging nettle while gardening, you may have made a sworn enemy of its painful exterior. If you can bring yourself to not judge the plant by its cover, stinging nettle is proven to be massively beneficial to allergy symptoms. A study from 2017 was able to confirm the clinical benefit of stinging nettle on reducing typical allergy symptoms including nasal discharge, itching, congestion, watery eyes, and fatigue. While it may pack some pain in the garden, it can help reduce pain when used medicinally.
Specifically peppermint, eucalyptus, and frankincense oil are shown to have a positive impact on common allergy symptoms. Peppermint is known for its anti-inflammatory effect, and ability to reduce asthma and allergy symptoms. Eucalyptus is a powerful antimicrobial in its oil form and can provide respiratory relief. You can hang a bunch of eucalyptus from your shower head, and it will release natural oils that help respiratory health and can help congestion. Finally, the inhalation of frankincense oil’s vapor has also been shown to help with allergy symptoms, which was confirmed by a 2016 study.
Please note: if you have pets, you may want to avoid the use of peppermint and eucalyptus, as both have proven to be toxic to dogs and cats. Always do your research to protect your fur babies before adding anything new into their environment!
Pollen? No Problem.
You are now empowered with the knowledge of nature since you are armed with your new allergy-fighting tactics. By keeping your immune system strong year-round, and using these tips when allergies attack, you will set yourself up for a much more beautiful spring season.
Pollen has met its match!