Oh, spring. Fluffs of pink blossoms adorn the trees, daffodils open their buttery ruffles in the sun and ― what is this? Sorry, I was too busy sneezing to finish my thought.
If your nose is so runny that your most notable spring accessory is the fabric that’s always tucked into the cuff of your shirt sleeve, you’re probably in need of seasonal allergy relief. Although you should see an allergist to diagnose and treat yourself properly, there are a few remedies in your own kitchen that can help you breathe easier (and they’re doctor-approved).
You probably already know that spicy foods like jalapenos and wasabi can make your nose run. But have you wondered why? And are spicy foods actually helpful in the long run? What if you’re not a fan of a good burn? Are there non-spicy foods and drinks that can also help? We spoke with experts to get the answers and debunk some myths you may have bought into (ahem, honey dear).
The mechanics of snot: how seasonal allergies can clog up your sinuses
Before you assume you have seasonal allergies, remember what the assumption does for U and ME. Dr. Morris Nejat, allergist and immunologist at New York Allergy and Sinus Centersexplained to HuffPost that “people often can’t diagnose it correctly on their own, so you have to identify what you’re reacting to, whether it’s pollen, animals, dust, etc.”
Nejat said it’s entirely possible that you don’t have any allergies at all, but either have a sinus infection, a deviated septum, or each of those on High of allergies. “By seeing your allergist, you will be able to get appropriate tests and an exam to make sure you are getting the right treatment,” whether it’s allergy medications or injections, Nejat advised.
If you do indeed have seasonal allergies and your sinuses produce snot like it’s their job, consider that it’s actually their work. When your body comes in contact with something it’s allergic to, Nejat explained, your body says, “Hey, that tree pollen is kinda weird, I better be aware of what’s next. times,” and forms immunoglobulin E (IgE), which attacks that tree pollen the next time your body encounters it. These IgEs cause your body to release histamines, causing allergic symptoms like congestion, itchy eyes, runny nose, mucus production, and redness. And without treatment, your body will do this every time it encounters that tree pollen for the rest of your life.
Why Spicy Foods May Relieve Allergy Symptoms
You know the feeling after taking a bite of wasabi, ginger, horseradish, or jalapeno — your nose twitches, your eyes burn, and tears start streaming down your face. Nejat explained that this happens because certain foods trigger the body’s nervous system “to innervate different parts of the body, reversing some of the effects of histamine, which can be a natural relief for some of the symptoms of allergies.”
Jalapenos and some other peppers, for example, contain a chemical compound called capsaicin, an active ingredient found in many nasal sprays. It helps decongest and relieve sinuses by stimulating certain nerves to loosen mucus and help it function. Chili peppers are not the only foods that contain effective chemical compounds. Other spicy foods, such as wasabi, horseradish, and ginger, each contain their own compounds that trigger a similar reaction.
But keep in mind that spicy foods provide short-lived relief, as do many over-the-counter allergy medications. “It works, but I don’t see it as a good long-term treatment,” Nejat said. You don’t want to eat wasabi six times a day during allergy season.
But eating spicy foods in moderation won’t harm your sinuses either. Nejat said spicy foods are “a natural alternative to drugstores and getting allergy medications, especially if you like those foods. If you like wasabi and it makes you feel good, go for it.
Not a fan of heat? Try herbs.
Paul Kempistycertified herbalist and founder of Peekay Herbs, explained that many herbs can be even more powerful than food. “The herbs are pretty amazing for dealing with congestion, allergies, and many mucus-related issues,” he explained. “Herbs are like foods that went through college. They generally have a much more complex and potent nutrient profile. So while herbs don’t really feed us the same level of macronutrients (fats, proteins, carbohydrates , etc.) found in foods, their potency is much closer to the powerful effects of certain drugs, but with far fewer side effects and risks.”
You can definitely try single ingredient herbs (Kempisty’s favorites are nettle, turmeric, elderberry and elderflower, shisho leaf, chrysanthemum flower, ginger root, cinnamon, cardamom and dried citrus peel). But ingredient combinationshe said, are more powerful. “Instead of using massive doses of single ingredients or single medications, a rational herbal approach would be to use moderate doses of several similar herbs to achieve a well-balanced and beneficial result,” Kempistry explained. .
Dr. Clifford Bassett, founding allergist and medical director of Allergy & Asthma Care of New York, said studies have shown that curcumin (found in turmeric) and ginger are helpful in reducing seasonal allergy symptoms. Another study found that consuming curcumin can improve nasal breathing in patients with seasonal allergies.
You can add fresh herbs to your cooking, but you can get higher potency if you buy a liquid tincture or a concentrated granular extract in a capsule or tablet, which can be added to hot tea or water. (Examples of such recipes are Peekay’s Clean as a whistle allergy session support or Sinus solution nose and throat support.) And yes, drinking hot foods and soups goes a long way in loosening up your mucus and getting things moving.
“In general, when trying a new herb for yourself, start small and go slow,” Kempisty advised. “That is, start any new herb with a low initial dose, then increase after you see that your body tolerates it.”
Why Honey Doesn’t Necessarily Help With Seasonal Allergies
The belief that honey can treat allergies is based on an assumption similar to the concept of allergy shots ― by exposing someone to an allergen, the person becomes less sensitive to it over time. But allergy shots deliver allergens in high doses. The amounts of pollen in honey are far too low to be effective, and this treatment is purely anecdotal.
The other claim is that the antibacterial properties of honey can fight allergies, but Nejat reminds us of an important fact: “Allergies are not a bacterial problem.” So if honey soothes your throat and tastes good, go ahead and pour some into your tea. But don’t expect it to cure your allergies.
Foods to Avoid When You Have Seasonal Allergies
The big food group to avoid is milk. Studies show that cow’s milk protein sticks to mucus, which can make allergy symptoms as unpleasant as reading this sentence. “If you have a lot of mucus due to allergies, and then you eat cow’s milk protein in the form of cheese or milk, it makes the mucus thicker,” Nejat explained. “It’s not comfortable. But even worse, it can potentially block drainage pathways and lead to sinus infections.
There is also a small chance that you will experience itching in your mouth or throat when eating certain fruits and vegetables that cross-react with birch pollen―apples, peaches, plums, nectarines, cherries, and even vegetables like carrots ― because some people have very strong trees. pollen allergies, especially birch.
This is called food pollen allergy syndrome, or FPAS. Although generally not dangerous, it will most likely affect you if you eat these foods in raw form. If you eat a raw apple, for example, your mouth may itch. But if you eat a slice of apple pie, you won’t be affected. Consulting an allergist will help differentiate food pollen syndrome from a food allergy.
If you think you have seasonal allergies or FPAS, seeing an allergist could relieve a lot of anxiety. “Part of an allergist’s job is to educate you and relieve your anxiety, because you are in control,” Nejat said. “Knowledge is power, really – understanding what you’re allergic to, what it really means, what you need to do, what the risks are (if any) and how to control them.”
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