How to Manage Your Allergies

(This article originally appeared in About Face Magazine)

“I never had allergies before I moved to the Pacific Northwest.”

Unfortunately, it’s a statement I’ve heard dozens of times. Our perennially lush, green valley is like a grab bag of different kinds of pollen and mold that seem to enjoy getting into our noses and turning them into water slides. Even though most of these particles are actually harmless, when we have allergies, the immune system responds to them in an exaggerated way. We can feel anything from mildly sniffly to totally brain dead. If you suffer from allergies, here are some suggestions to help you have a more pleasant spring.

Eat Local Bee Products. Many people with pollen allergies find that consuming local pollen or local raw honey with the wax “cappings” helps. Bees press pollen into little yellow pellets that you can buy in bulk from many natural food stores. It’s mildly sweet and can be eaten straight or mixed into a smoothie. “Capping” wax is what bees use to seal honey cells. Luckily, Oregon has lots of beekeepers and these products aren’t too hard to find. Make sure they come from a local source. Pollen from Australian plants isn’t going to help you much. Also, it’s a good idea to start with small amounts, just to be sure you don’t have an allergic reaction, and then work up to about a teaspoon a few times a day. Start a month before allergy season.

Test Your Living Space for Mold. If you suspect mold might be a problem in your home or office, get a mold test kit from a hardware store or call an inspector. I have had patients with stubborn allergies, fatigue, brain fog, and skin rashes who, after going to many doctors, finally discovered it was all due to mold in their home. One girl lifted up her futon and found the entire underside was covered with black mold. After the horror subsides, there’s relief. If you do discover mold, look up “mold remediation” – Portland has lots of good resources.

Keep Your Nose Clean. Many folks find that neti or “nasal irrigation” with a neti pot is the key to managing their allergies. If you haven’t used a neti pot before, they’re easy to come by in Portland and there are plenty of videos online showing you the correct way to pour warm, salty water through your nose. This cleanses the nasal passages and gets the irritating debris out. Neti should always be followed by a process called nasya – putting oil in the nose to re-lubricate it. Put a few drops of olive or sesame oil in each nostril and tip your head back for a couple minutes. If you want to try something stronger, I make my own herb-infused blend, called Nasal Oil, which you can find at The Dragontree Spa.

Check Out Acupuncture and Herbs. Acupuncture can be highly effective at treating allergies and regulating the immune system. Chinese herbs are a safe, effective, and non-sedating alternative to drugs. An herbal formula customized just for you usually works best, but there are several decent, general purpose Chinese allergy formulas you can find at natural food stores. The two most popular is called Bi Yan Pian. If you prefer to stick with local herbs, stinging nettle is worth a shot. You can drink it as a tea or get it in capsules or tincture form. You usually need to take it three to six times a day for best results.

Breathe Some Essential Oils. The aromatic oils extracted from certain plants can be wonderful at opening the head and calming our mucous membranes. Choose up to three of the following: lavender, chamomile, wintergreen, peppermint, and eucalyptus. You often get what you pay for with essential oils, so I recommend not using the cheapest oils you can find. Two quality sources are The Essential Oil Company in southeast Portland and Mountain Rose Herbs in Eugene, Oregon. Also check out Snow Lotus, Young Living, and DoTerra. You can use an electric essential oil diffuser to disperse the oils throughout a room, or you can just put a few drops in some hot water and inhale. A dab of lavender oil on the forehead, temples, and back of the neck may also help.

Desensitize Yourself with Homeopathics. Some of my patients have actually cured themselves of allergies using micro-doses of the stuff they’re allergic to. The best brands are Bio-Allers and Portland’s own Professional Formulas. They make tinctures containing minuscule amounts of local pollens, dust, and mold that you put under your tongue to gradually get your immune system used to these things. Expect it to take a few months.

Try Some Anti-Inflammatory Dietary Supplements. There are many natural supplements that are promoted for respiratory allergies, but I’ve found most of them to be of limited value. Here are the ones  I have had the most success with: MSM – 1500 mg twice a day. Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid) – 250 mg three times a day. Vitamin C – 1000 mg three times a day. NAC (n-acetyl-cysteine) – 200 mg three times a day. If you don’t want to take all of these, start with just the B5 and MSM. You can also dissolve some MSM in your neti solution. (Please check with your doctor before starting a new supplement regimen.)

Visualize. When your allergies are acting up, imagine a blue light entering your nose as you inhale. Visualize the light bathing, calming, and cooling your nasal passages. Imagine that these fluid-engorged membranes are shrinking back and drying out, making a bigger opening to breathe through. See your nasal passages gradually turning from an irritated red to a calm light blue, as if you’re turning the dial on your air conditioning system from hot to cold.

I’ve never been anywhere as magical as Portland in the spring. The city becomes cloaked in pink and white blossoms, petals swirl in the air like a perfumed snow, and people start emerging from their hibernation. Go be a spring flower. Don’t your allergies stop you from enjoying it.


Copyright 2013 by Peter Borten. No reproduction allowed in any form without permission.