Search SAFM

Seasonal Allergy and Asthma Solutions

Q:  I have a couple of clients who are really struggling this spring with allergies.  Things like headache, constant congestion, and runny nose.  I confirmed the issues are seasonal because the symptoms only appear during spring (mostly) and fall.  I already know over-the-counter antihistamine drugs have a lot of side effects.  Both clients have a problem with how drowsy and listless the drugs make them.  Do you know of some natural solutions that really work?  There’s a lot of stuff on the internet, but I am not sure if any of them are effective.  Or is there a way for them to take the drugs without all the side effects?  Thanks in advance for whatever guidance you can offer!

***************************************************

A:   You are right about the side effects of typical anti-histamine medications.  These drugs often leave a person feeling drugged, sleepy, or foggy-brained.  They also can have other potent (but not often publicized) side effects such as dizziness, blurred vision, nausea, or making an enlarged prostate or a yeast infection worse. I encourage my clients to avoid them whenever possible.  And yes, there are several natural choices that I have seen make major improvement.  Not only with seasonal allergy symptoms but also asthma and ongoing, chronic allergy.

First of all, keep in mind the simple physiology of allergy.

Our immune system can react with alarm to the protein in a particular type of pollen and develop antibodies to these “foreign invaders”. Think of antibodies as your body’s “Most Wanted” criminal list. Exposure to them then causes our mast cells to release histamine, triggering swelling of mucus membranes and the flow of mucus.  Despite the discomfort, our immune system really does have our best interests at heart ! Mucus can flush unwanted substances out of the body and protects delicate tissue. The problem is that our immune systems can get overwhelmed, especially if your clients are (1) chronically stressed, (2) consume lots of sugar/sweeteners/chemicals,  and/or (3) are not well-rested (three factors which influence our immune system greatly).

In terms of solutions,  I recommend quercetin (pronounced kwehr’-suh-tin). A natural extract from plant foods like onions, apples, berries, buckwheat, and citrus fruit, quercetin is technically a flavonol. Remember from prior articles that these polyphenols help to determine a plant’s color – in this case, a bright yellow. Quercetin is a natural anti-histamine without the side effects of many medications!  Quercetin actually calms the immune system to reduce or prevent histamine release. Several clients of mine over the years with chronic seasonal allergies or asthma have found great relief.  As an aside, quercetin is also being researched for circulation and cardiovascular health too, as it’s been shown to increase blood flow via artery dilation, promoting the release of nitric oxide. This action creates greater tissue oxygenation, nutrient flow, and waste removal.  For this reason, it may also improve symptoms of fatigue and malaise due to poor circulation or in those with anemia or mild hypertension.  Be cautious using quercetin, however, for those already taking blood thinners (e.g. Coumadin, Plavix, or daily aspirin).

In a supplement, quercetin is often combined with bromelain, an extract from pineapples that is a potent anti-inflammatory that also calms the immune system and increases the effectiveness of quercetin.  For seasonal allergies, I recommend clients start using quercetin right away to build up levels in their body and continue throughout the full allergy season.  Consider starting with 1000 mg, taken twice daily on an empty stomach. Allergic reactions to quercetin are virtually unheard of;  I believe this is a safe supplement to explore.

But quercetin has also been heavily studied in recent years because of its ability to heal intestinal permeability.  This is especially helpful for those who may be prone to allergies/sensitivities in part because of the ongoing immune insults that having a leaky gut allows.  This makes Quercetin a perfect two-solutions-in-one remedy!

Stinging nettle leaf (very important:  leaf, not root) has been shown to have effective ‘antihistamine’  action because it makes histamine receptors less sensitive.  Because of this mode of action, I tend to use stinging nettle as a synergistic, additive pairing with an antihistamine like quercetin (vs. an agent on its own).  This can be a powerful combination for more entrenched cases which don’t find sufficient relief via quercetin alone.

Another excellent choice is the herb Butterbur.   This one has actually been formally studied and found to be just as effective as Zyrtec at treating seasonal allergy symptoms.  Unlike quercetin, butterbur is helpful because it is an anti-spasmodic remedy.  Phytochemicals in butterbur relax swollen nasal membranes and alleviate muscle spasms in the respiratory system.  When our immune system reacts to a perceived “foreign invader” (like an allergen), our cells produce  inflammatory signaling molecules called leukotrienes (which usually happens in concert with the production of histamine, as mentioned above).  Leukotrienes trigger spasms in the trachea which can help us to cough – to expel undesirable substances.  Overproduction of leukotrienes, however, causes major inflammation in the respiratory system in the case of asthma and allergy.  Butterbur simply interferes with the production of leukotrienes.   Short-term use (3-4 mos) is generally regarded as quite safe; long-term use has not been studied.   Note that butterbur is not suitable for pregnant or breast-feeding women (or for very young children less than six years of age).   A typical therapeutic dose of butterbur extract is about 200mg/day (divided into an AM and PM dose for greater absorption).  Mild headache or stomach ache may be side effects of butterbur and can be best avoided by taking it on a full stomach.  Before you ask:  yes, in very tough cases, it would be quite syergistic to pair these three agents together.

You may enjoy learn about more natural options for allergy management here.

Keep in mind too that dairy foods are mucus-producing in many people.  You might have your clients embark on a trial, full elimination of all dairy foods (e.g. milk, cream, cheese) to see how it affects them, at least until the worst of the allergy season has passed.

27 Questions for “Seasonal Allergy and Asthma Solutions”

navigate comments
  1. 11
    CAROLINA CILIBERTO says:

    Hi, I was deep diving into this topic and reading the replies i came across what you wrote about “Given her mold allergy, however, I wouldn’t use a probiotic with S. Boulardi but rather a good Lacto/Bifido mix (Udo’s has great age-matched options for kids).” could you explain a bit more why is not a good idea to use a S. Boullardi probiotic? thanks!

    • 11.1
      SAFM Team says:

      It happens more often than not, that severe mold exposure leads to allergy and Ig-mediated sensitivity to yeast by means of cross-reactivity. Thus, using S. boulardi, which is a friendly yeast strain, can result in driving the inflammation up instead of calming the immune system down. Calmer immune responses are the objective behind using a well-matched probiotic to help people who already have allergies or suffer from asthma decrease the symptoms.

  2. 10
    HOLLY FLAKER says:

    I am curious what brand and dosage recommendations are for Vitamin D and Vitamin A for children. Thank you!!

    • 10.1
      SAFM Team says:

      In general, we don’t give advice on the specific brands and dosages of supplements for children as this can vary greatly depending on their age and body mass. However, there are several discussion threads on children-suited supplements on the Wildly Successful FB forum that you may find helpful.

  3. 9
    Marianne Saleeb says:

    Would the above recommended supplements also work for someone who already is in the midst of coughing and struggling with allergy symptoms? Or are these supplements only effective given before the season starts. And can they replace a Medrol dose pack for an acute exacerbation of allergy induced asthma?

    • 9.1
      SAFM Team says:

      Yes, they can indeed work once symptoms have already commenced; they just may be more effective in bringing relief if started earlier. Medrol is an aggressive steroid medication which may indeed be necessary for triage management of life-threatening asthma; you need to consult your physician for specific guidance in your unique case/history/risk. The necessity is going to vary wildly based on many collective factors. Keep in mind that the agents listed here are not addressing truly upstream root causes; they are just non-toxic alternatives to other remedies. You may want to work with a functional medicine practitioner who can help you to get to the actual, true root causes of ongoing allergies/asthma. Specific nutrient deficiencies, environmental insult (e.g. mold), prior toxic exposure/retention, ongoing stress, and/or gut microbial imbalances might all be involved. Each case is unique and needs a custom work-up.

  4. 8
    Daryl Moss says:

    Can clients start with quercetin if they are already taking Allegra or other allergy meds, or should they wait until their allergy season is over before introducing it?

    • 8.1
      SAFM Team says:

      Yes, they can start right away, and it’s fine to add along with other agents such as you mention. Some of my clients find that with adding quercetin, they don’t need their prior meds. Of course, the ideal approach is to start the quercetin a couple weeks in advance of classic “allergy season”, but it’s fine to introduce mid-way.

  5. 7
    Cheryl Wooster says:

    Hi! Would you say that seasonal allergies could also be related to food sensitivities? For example, if someone has a sensitivity to dairy and gets allergies in the spring/fall to say, pollen, could those seasonal allergies just be exasperated by dairy? Wondering if I should start with someone eliminating dairy, wait, then add in supplementation of quercetin. Or add in quercetin and eliminate dairy all at once (since fast relief is obviously important). Any thoughts are appreciated!

    • 7.1
      SAFM Team says:

      I would say that food sensitivities can exacerbate seasonal allergies. And they can be coincident due to a priming of the immune system to be overwrought to substances it should be tolerating. But I wouldn’t label it as a “cause”. Instead, in my experience, the most common drivers for chronic allergies include (1) retained toxicity in the body tissues, (2) chronic gut microbial imbalances, and (3) weak immune function (often secondary to insufficient levels of Vitamin D, A, and zinc). Certainly I agree with the practice of recommending a dairy elimination to all clients who struggle with strong seasonal or chronic allergies in order to reduce their suffering and avoid further histamine/inflammation load on the body. In the spirit of rapid relief, I usually recommend quercetin and dairy elimination all at once, but sometimes in the process of educating a client about the dynamics, they may choose to explore the impact of them in an additive, progressive addition.

  6. 6
    Sharon Lees says:

    What would you recommend for those who go out in the cold and immediately have an asthma like attack….immediate coughing, can’t catch breath etc…but when she goes inside to warm temps, she is fine….i appreciate the help.

    • 6.1
      SAFM says:

      Cold-weather-induced asthma is a well acknowledged trigger for asthma in some individuals – where the shock of very cold air causes a surge of histamine. In sensitive people, this can trigger an asthma attack (just as would happen in response to any other “allergic” exposure). These individuals may struggle with histamine intolerance – which makes them more vulnerable to any histamine surge. I would address the same considerations as you would in asthma in general. Going outside with a scarf over their mouth can be helpful. If mucous is thick in the airways or if they are too dry, asthma attacks are more likely. In the dry winter months, I would use a humidifier in the home, especially the bedroom. Eliminate all dairy products, ensure magnesium is replete to avoid spasm, check B12 status to counter any contribution to wheezing, counter congestion build-up with quercetin (as above), ensure hydration with plenty of plain clean water, eliminate black tea (tannin-laden tea can dehydrate mucous membranes). All investigation into chronic allergy/asthma should start in the gut -where the immune system is being informed about the status of their world. This may be helpful too: https://schoolafm.com/ws_clinical_know/can-you-spot-histamine-intolerance/ .

  7. 5
    Jodi Franklin says:

    I have a client who has Oral allergy syndrome (OAS) “from her hayfever” and cannot eat these raw foods: apples, plums, peaches, nectarines, carrots, almonds, walnuts and celery.

    Would the herbs you recommended help in this situation?

    Thanks!

    • 5.1
      SAFM says:

      Yes. OAS is simply a name given to a hypersensitivity to a cluster of cross-reactive substances. In this case, the body has an allergy to foods which have similar pollen molecular profiles. This particular group is often referred to as the “birch tree allergy family”. Trees, plants, vegetables, fruits, nuts, etc. can have similar profiles which cause a cross-reactive sensitivity. The reaction is usually only to raw foods because cooking denatures the proteins into something that the immune system tolerates. This page shares some other common families of cross-reactive allergies: https://www.aaaai.org/conditions-and-treatments/library/allergy-library/outdoor-allergies-and-food-allergies-can-be-relate. This page includes a larger list which may hep your client to avoid triggers of which she is unaware. Of course, your major opportunity is the same as with any other allergy – to get to the root of why the immune system is overwrought. In the interim, quercetin and butterbur can both help to reduce histamine and the inflammatory response to give some relief, but this is triage and symptom support vs. resolution. A third triage option is stinging nettle (leaf, not root). Our Allergy and Asthma clinical course goes into much greater depth on how to assess and address the root causes.

  8. 4
    Heather Conley says:

    What portion of seasonal allergies are often gut related?

    • 4.1
      SAFM says:

      Ahh…good question, but no way to say for sure. In my experience, the vast majority of them. Logical, since the gut is where most immune dysregulation is going to take place. Sometimes dysbiosis is a major player. Sometimes, however, toxins are the larger issue. Nearly all the time, insufficient immune-supportive nutrition is at play. Stress (and its impact on hormones) is also key.

    • 4.2
      SAFM says:

      Ahh…good question, but no way to say for sure. In my experience, the vast majority of them. Consistent with the overall themes of the course. Logical, since the gut is where most immune dysregulation is going to take place. Sometimes dysbiosis is a major player. Sometimes, however, toxins are the larger issue. Nearly all the time, insufficient immune-supportive nutrition is at play. Stress (and its impact on hormones) is also key.

  9. 3
    Daryl Moss says:

    For 18 years old and above, do you recommend both quercetin and butterbur for spring allergies? Any specific brands?

  10. 2
    Kim Rio says:

    Do you know of a chewable version of quercetin? She’s not great a swallowing pills just yet…..would you still recommend 1000mg for a child? Also, I’ve been giving her Yum Yum Dophilus most days -the chewable kids probiotic w L.acidophilus and L. Plantarum……should I switch to Udo’s (again..that doesn’t seem to be a chewable)? Thanks! Kim

  11. 1
    Kim Rio says:

    Would you recommend the same allergy supplements for children 9 years of age? And if so, what would the dosage be? My daughter has suffered over the years from seasonal allergies and we found out that she is allergic to tree pollen, dust mites and mold spores. Originally, I took her to the allergist to test for for a dairy allergy. Over the past year, I’ve noticed that after she eats more than one dairy product she comes down with tremendous nasal congestion, mucous and sometimes coughing for days. I’ve eliminated dairy from her diet even though the dairy allergy was negative. When she is home she doesn’t consume dairy but sometimes at school she’ll buy a snack or something that has dairy and then the congestion begins again. I know she needs to eliminate dairy 100% and I’m fighting that battle but do you have any other recommendations? Thank you! Kim Rio

    • 1.1
      SAFM says:

      Well, bottom line: I agree. The dairy needs to go 100%. I affirm the need to make that a consistent choice for her, and it’s good that she’s at the age now where she can begin to take responsibility for managing that. Typical “allergy testing” is only looking for IgE reactions, and her immune system may be choosing to react along a number of other lines (as covered in the webinar). Symptoms are the only way to know for sure! And yes, the supplements are fine. Quercetin is quite safe for kids, and of course you want to be sure she is using a daily probiotic and has high-normal Vitamin D and Vitamin A. I really like fermented cod liver oil for kids too (to boost those anti-inflammatory EFAs!). Given her mold allergy, however, I wouldn’t use a probiotic with S. Boulardi but rather a good Lacto/Bifido mix (Udo’s has great age-matched options for kids).

navigate comments

Ask a Question

Practitioner clarification questions are welcome! Please do not post personal case inquiries.