Allergy Answers

Allergy Answers
For good measure, add a daily dollop of probiotics, or good bacteria, by eating yogurt that contains live cultures (such as Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus) or taking a probiotic supplement (such as acidophilus). Probiotics shore up the gut and invigorate the immune system. Once primed, the immune system is better able to handle seasonal allergies.

Keep your nose clean
“Whatever you do, wash your nose,” says Terence Davidson, M.D., director of the nasal dysfunction clinic at the University of California, San Diego. As the filter for the lungs, your nostrils’ job is to trap allergens in mucus. “When you wash your nose, you’re washing away some of the allergens before they can inflict damage,” explains Davidson.
Not long ago, Davidson put his theory to the test: He and his colleagues ran a clinical study and literature review of nasal irrigation that was published in the journal Larynogoscope. They found that people with sinus problems who irrigated their noses twice daily for three to six weeks saw significant improvement in 23 of 30 different symptoms, including those associated with allergies. He now recommends nasal irrigation to all his patients. “Patients stop me in the supermarket to say it’s the greatest thing they’ve ever done for their nose,” he says.
The spectrum of nasal-irrigation options ranges from no-tech (cupping water in your hand and sniffing it into your nose) to hi-tech (Hydro Med Grossan Hydro Pulse System, $97). Davidson favors the pulsating action of a mechanical device, such as the Teledyne WaterPik with its sinus cleansing attachment. “Whether it’s your car or your nose, if you’re trying to get something clean, pulsating water is better than smooth-flowing water.” But he concedes an old-fashioned neti pot works just as well. “Washing your nose is like brushing your teeth: The type of toothpaste or toothbrush doesn’t matter, what matters is that you do it.”
Whichever device you choose, use one teaspoon of noniodized table salt per pint of lukewarm tap water (you can also buy premixed packets). Both too much salt and too little salt may cause burning, so experiment with the mixture until you find a comfortable blend. A pinch of baking soda can also squelch the burn, but be sure not to overdo it: Too much baking soda reduces acidity in the sinuses, which can promote unhealthy bacteria growth.
Stir the salt mixture into the water. If using a neti pot, hold the pot in your right hand and bring the spout to your right nostril. Lean over a sink, tilt your head up and to the left, and gently tip the pot. Empty the pot halfway, then repeat using the left hand and left nostril.

Check out botanicals
If you’re still bothered by seasonal allergies after rinsing out your nose, herbs are another excellent line of defense. “Plant compounds have distinct advantages over synthetic hay fever medications,” says Mark Blumenthal, executive director of the American Botanical Council. Plants contain scores of synergistic compounds that defuse side effects, he explains. Most allergy drugs, on the other hand, deliver a single, purified chemical that collides head-on with the body, making irksome side effects such as drowsiness and fuzzy thinking inevitable. The following three herbs have the best scientific track record in trouncing the symptoms of seasonal allergies.

Butterbur Petasines, the active chemicals in butterbur, have recently been shown to help allergy sufferers. The anti-inflammatory powers of petasines quell both the histamine and leukotrienes chemicals that are involved in the allergic reaction. Two recent studies pitted butterbur against Allegra and Zyrtec. At the end of each, butterbur leaf extract proved to be just as effective as the name-brand drugs. “Very popular in most of Europe, butterbur is on the threshold of the American market,” says Blumenthal. Long-term studies on butterbur are still needed, but the herb has a good safety record for short-term use. However, butterbur does contain potentially harmful substances, called pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PA), that supplement makers must be diligent about removing. When buying butterbur, look for the phrase “PA-free” on the bottle—it means the dangerous ingredient was removed during processing. For dosage, follow the directions on the label. (If you’re allergic to ragweed, try a different herb, since butterbur may worsen your symptoms.)

Quercetin A flavonoid found in red wine, onions, and grapefruit, quercetin puts the brakes on allergy symptoms by inhibiting the body’s release of histamines—and it’s a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory, meaning it can tame cellular damage caused by allergic reactions. When it comes to squelching a runny nose and watery eyes, a Japanese study published in 1995 in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology found quercetin to be nearly twice as effective as a popular prescription antihistamine. Mittman recommends taking 250 milligrams of quercetin three times a day on its own—or you can pair it with 1,000 mg of vitamin C, another antiinflammatory, to create a more potent natural antihistamine.