Sneezing, a runny nose, itchy eyes, ears and throat, fatigue: Yes, allergy season is in full swing. And if it feels like it’s lasting forever, you may be right. Fall allergies, typically due to ragweed, are lasting longer, according to a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The later the first freeze, the longer you have to suffer. That means millions of people, including you or someone in your family, are spending more time being miserable or doped up on allergy meds. Here, how to feel better without hitting the pills:
Heal your gut. Your gastrointestinal tract houses the bulk of your immune system and allergies are an overreaction of the immune system. A healthy gut impacts your entire body, from your brain to your lungs to your skin. A diet high in sugar and low in fiber can throw off your gut microbiome, making you more sensitive to allergens. If you have a history of frequent antibiotic use, you need to be especially vigilant about eating healthy foods that feed the good bacteria in your gut. Some research has shown that a Mediterranean diet, which is rich in fruits and vegetables, healthy fats (like the kind found in nuts and olive oil) and fish, may help protect against seasonal allergies.
Get tested. Seasonal allergies are often a diagnosis of exclusion — and timing. If you’re not convinced your symptoms are being caused by pollen and you’ve ruled out the other usual suspects, such as pets, mold and dust mites, you may want to get tested. An allergist will prick your skin and apply the allergen directly or they may inject the allergen under your skin. (Research has shown that blood tests for allergies may not be as reliable as skin testing.) The results can help you pinpoint the culprits, such as a specific tree pollen, ragweed or something entirely different. Skip the hair and muscle tests for allergens; research doesn’t back them up.
Avoid dairy. Cheese, milk and other dairy products can contribute to phlegm, which makes allergies worse. While research hasn’t shown a conclusive link between dairy intake and allergy severity, many people swear they feel better when they cut it out, at least during allergy season. The only way to know if it will help is to give it a try. (Naturally, if you’re allergic to dairy or have lactose intolerance, you’ll want to find alternatives.)
Take a time out. Research has shown that increased stress can worsen allergy symptoms, which shouldn’t come as a huge surprise. Stress makes just about everything health-related worse. Meditation, exercise and adequate sleep can help turn down the dial on tension and improve your allergy symptoms.
Try acupuncture. In 2015, the American Academy of Otolaryngology — Head and Neck Surgery issued updated clinical practice guidelines for treating allergic rhinitis and they include seeking out acupuncture. (Bonus: It’s also good for alleviating stress.)
Keep it clean. Regularly washing your bedding and towels in hot water, vacuuming and dusting, and shedding your “outdoor” clothes as soon as you get inside can help minimize tracked-in pollen.