Rethinking seasonal allergies

The onset of Spring is a beautiful time of year but it can also be incredibly difficult for allergy sufferers.  Is there a better way to cope with seasonal allergies?

I’ve suffered from mild to severe seasonal allergies since I was about 22 years old. Symptoms typically begin in February in the form of mild itchiness and continue through March, April and May in the form of nasal congestion, fatigue, sleepiness, sinus pressure, dry mouth, sore throat and more. I manage to hang on in good years, waiting for Spring to fully blossom and symptoms to slowly subside. In bad years, I require visits to the doctor's office for sinus infection or similar respiratory ailments. Equally frustrating is the feeling of having wasted Spring's most beautiful months battling this chronic disease (see figure 1).

Figure 1: Counting my daily allergy-related symptoms over past 5 years (2015-2021)

This data confirmed what I have known for a long time—my Spring allergies were at their worst during the early pollen (especially tree pollen) months of February and March.  

When my allergy symptoms flare up, I turn to antihistamines to help me cope with them.  For example, 69% of the total antihistamine doses I took in 2018 were taken in month of April (see figure 2).  This was also the only year over the past five years where April came out on top in terms of antihistamine doses taken.   

How did my body react you ask? Not surprising, the number of daily allergy symptoms I experienced in April 2018 was significantly lower than my five year average (see figure 3). My problem with antihistamines relates to their side-effects including drowsiness, which means I tend to shy away from using them if possible.

On the more surprising side, the data also revealed that, over the past five years, the pattern in my digestive observations (e.g. upset stomach, nausea, dry mouth) is similar to my allergy-related symptoms through the peak Spring months (see figure 4).

Based on these findings, I asked myself the following questions:

  1. How could I improve my antihistamine usage through Spring?

  2. How could I better cope with allergy related respiratory symptoms?

  3. What if any direct link existed between seasonal allergies and digestive symptoms and what to make of this ?

Defining a Better Coping Strategy

Regarding the digestive symptoms,  It is clearer to me now than it was before but an estimated 60 to 80 percent of the immune system resides in the gut, and when digestive problems set in, immune problems are sure to follow as explained in this article:

A chronically inflamed gut—which causes indigestion, heartburn, bloating, pain, diarrhea, constipation, irritable bowel disorders, and more—sends the immune system into overdrive.

As a result, the body becomes hypersensitive and overreacts to stuff it shouldn’t, including pollen, grass, and other triggers associated with spring.

Because allergy symptoms frequently start with poor digestive function, the gut is a great place to start for relief.

Regarding respiratory symptoms, I learned there are negative impacts caused by excess mucus on the both respiratory and digestive systems (there’s that digestive link again).  During the peak allergy months, I tend to get congested, with mucus buildup making it difficult to breathe freely.  To reduce the buildup, I adopted a very simple idea to apply the same saline nasal rinses my wife and I applied to our daughters during the winter cold and flu season.

Regarding antihistamine usage, the data proved to me that early and targeted use of antihistamines really helps to minimize the allergy symptoms I suffer.  I just needed to be more conscious when to start using them (i.e early and brief periods).

Now let’s see if this helps me improve how I cope with seasonal allergies over the next five years.