Melbourne Functional Medicine
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Spring would have to be up there with one of the best times of year. The clouds lift after a long winter, the sun starts shining and everything comes to life, creating a shift in my mood and perspective.
Being the classic sun seeker, I always look forward to this change in season. However, the reality of enjoying backyard barbeques with friends and family, kicking the footy or shooting some hoops at the park with the kids, and taking long walks in nature comes to an astounding halt the minute my hay fever symptoms kick in.
What this time of year actually means for me is puffy, itchy, swollen, watering eyes, and an unrelenting itchy roof of my mouth, tongue and throat. Along with sinus congestion, nasal dripping and persistent sneezing attacks, not to mention the constant state of inflammation that my body seems to be in throughout this season.
My childhood experience in spring was being the kid in school with puffy eyes, unable to sit on the grass without my legs turning into a red inflamed, itchy, hot mess. I had to constantly visit the bathroom to wash my eyes out with water to relieve the itch and swelling.
Due to the severity of my allergies and symptoms as a child, I was taken to do an allergy skin prick test and learnt that my main triggers were grass, pollen, dust and some animals. Whilst I grew up with an understanding of what my environmental triggers were, I was never educated on how I could reduce, modify or improve my histamine tolerance through lifestyle modifications.
It’s also my experience, that taking a daily over-the-counter antihistamine provides me with such limited relief, that I don’t get to fully enjoy the outdoor lifestyle that spring brings after months living indoors throughout winter.
So, after learning it was going to be a particularly bad season for allergy and asthma sufferers, I was motivated to share the lifestyle strategies I'm using to manage my hay fever symptoms naturally this spring.
Every single winter for as long as I can remember I seem to forget my fate come spring.
So this year before spring, I decided to take some action, get prepared and make some lifestyle changes in preparation for supporting my health and minimising the impact that hay fever and allergy symptoms have on my life.
I'd used antihistamines for hay fever relief, but it wasn't until I started working at Melbourne Functional Medicine that I started to learn more about histamine, it's role in the body and how that was likely to be a contributing factor in my hay fever symptoms.
As a health coach, I support patients who are implementing low histamine diets and lifestyles to help them improve a range of conditions. It was through this coaching work, that I started to really explore and experiment with how I could reduce my histamine load to manage my seasonal allergies.
Here are some lifestyle strategies for hay fever relief that have worked for me:
1. Reducing histamine load through diet
Understanding that some foods contain higher levels of histamines than others has been a game changer for me.
Prior to this, and in an effort to eat a nourishing diet, I was starting each day with a smoothie that contained many high histamine-containing foods. I was essentially overflowing my (histamine) bucket at the start of the day before I even stepped outside!
Understanding which foods are contributing to my histamine load and making key dietary changes has been an empowering lifestyle strategy.
Some of the top histamine-containing foods that I try to minimise during hay fever season include chocolate, alcohol, fermented foods, avocado, bananas, aged, cured and slow-cooked meats, along with leftover food.
2. Experimenting with an air filter
Air filters aren’t cheap and something I didn’t want to invest in without having the opportunity to see how much of a difference it would make to my symptoms. I went about borrowing one to begin with and noticed a difference almost immediately.
My sleep improved because I was no longer waking up with an itchy roof of mouth and tongue. And as an unexpected bonus, my husband has also stopped snoring! In fact, my husband thought an air filter was just another gimmick until I reminded him of how often I’d complained that I was “allergic to our house”. Expense aside, I’m now ready to invest in my own air filter because of the impact it’s had on my wellbeing.
3. Improving gut health and strengthening immunity
Some of the strategies I use to improve my gut health and strengthen my immunity include:
Focusing on diet - Improving gut health, through diet, can make a big difference when it comes to hay fever and seasonal allergies. This is because an allergic response from the immune system often starts with, or is influenced by, suboptimal gut health and an imbalance in the gut microbiome, alongside inflammation. Although this is a year round intention of mine for optimal health, it becomes an even bigger priority in the months leading up to spring. I reduce or avoid common allergens and pro-inflammatory foods including gluten, dairy, corn, soy, sugary and refined foods, food additives and alcohol.
Prioritising sleep - Sleep is crucial for healing, recovery and wellbeing which are all ways in which we strengthen our immune system. Without quality sleep our cortisol levels are dysregulated and so our bodies ability to heal and recover is compromised. I prioritise sleep to ensure that I’m getting good quality and quantity sleep each night by setting up a healthy bedtime routine and aiming for at least eight hours of sleep per night.
Supplementing diet with natural anti-inflammatories and antihistamines - The practitioners at Melbourne Functional Medicine find patients respond well to certain nutrients and herbs that are targeted at supporting or modulating the immune system and reducing the uncomfortable symptoms of hay fever. Since the cause of allergies can be different from one person to the next, I would always recommend speaking with a practitioner who can tailor a protocol specific to your needs. The natural anti-inflammatories and antihistamines I supplement with in the month or two leading up to spring (and throughout spring) include vitamin C and quercetin, as well as probiotics (to support a healthy intestinal barrier).
4. Minimising environmental impact
These are some of the way I try and reduce my exposure to environmental triggers.
Outsourcing outdoor chores - During spring, or lets be honest, as often as I can, I delegate outdoor chores like gardening and getting the washing off the line. You might also consider alternative ways of drying your clothes such as using a clothes dryer or drying your clothes inside. Whilst a clothes dryer is not environmentally friendly, it may help reduce the exposure to allergy triggers such as pollen, grass seeds and dust.
Being mindful of how I spend time in nature - Some examples of this include avoiding parks with freshly cut grass or going for a walk outside on days with a high pollen count.
Having a shower and changing my clothes after being outside - I make a habit of having a shower and changing my clothes at the end of the day or if I’ve spent a significant amount of time outside. I’ve noticed that if I have a shower or wash my face it helps to calm any symptom flares.
5. Maintaining the home environment
The home environment is an equally important consideration. In spring, I make an extra effort to keep dust to a minimum indoors by wiping surfaces regularly, vacuuming and keeping windows closed (particularly on those days with a high pollen count).
As a life-long allergy sufferer, I can relate and empathise with how all consuming hay fever can be, particularly during spring. I hope that by sharing my experience and the game-changing things I've discovered to improve my allergies, it might inspire you to consider what changes you can implement in your life leading into and during spring.
After years of personal struggle, and really believing that I had so little control over my fate, it has been nice to learn this is not the case. Knowledge really is power and I feel empowered knowing there are ways to reduce my histamine load through lifestyle, and can subsequently make the changes necessary to stop feeling caught off guard every season. I hope, like me, you are able to do the same!