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Hay Fever? Head for the Fridge, Not the Pharmacy
Allergy season is here, and that means that quite a few of us are feeling a bit under the weather. According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, some 40 million Americans suffer from seasonal allergies. The itchy, watery eyes, sneezing, and sinus pain that come with allergies can take a lot of the fun out of the warm season. While severe allergies may need treatment with antihistamines, slight changes in the diet can also help. Read on to learn how certain foods can affect seasonal allergies, and how to find seasonal allergy relief.
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How Allergies Work
Allergies occur when the immune system reacts to a non-harmful substance in the same way it would to a germ or other harmful invader (Allergy). When this happens, the body releases a chemical called histamine, which causes inflammation. If the body were actually under attack (say by a cold virus), inflammation could be helpful. A stuffy nose, for example, helps trap and remove cold viruses from the body. However, for a person with allergies, inflammation only causes trouble.
Though the most common symptoms of allergies are mild, such as itchy eyes, cough, and sneezing, sometimes the body drastically overreacts to the perceived threat. When this happens, allergies can be fatal. The point at which allergy-related inflammation becomes dangerous is called anaphylaxis (Discovery). Anaphylaxis can reduce blood pressure or interfere with breathing. Fortunately, dangerous allergens usually must be either ingested (as with food allergies) or injected (as with bee allergies). Most seasonal allergies are not strong enough to be dangerous; they’re annoying, not life-threatening.
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Foods that Can Provide Seasonal Allergy Relief
If allergies can provoke inflammation, it makes sense foods which help fight inflammation could also help allergies, and they do (Yeager, 2009). Foods which contain large amounts of vitamin C, and especially those which also include the anti-oxidant quercetin, act like antihistamines and help reduce allergy symptoms. These include onions, green and black teas, and cranberries.
Foods high in Omega-3 fatty acids can also help reduce inflammation and provide allergy relief. These include tuna, salmon, flax seed, flax oil, canola oil, and olive oil (just be aware that healthy oils contain the same amount of fat as other oils; limit consumption to 2-3 teaspoons a day). Those who choose to take flax or fish oil supplements should let their physicians know about it, especially if pregnant or nursing.
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Foods that Can Make Seasonal Allergies Worse
Not all foods, even healthy ones, are good for allergies. In fact, some foods seem to make seasonal allergies worse. Fruits or vegetables that grow from flowers can sometimes produce the same allergic reaction as pollen (this is called cross-reactivity). Doctors are not sure why this happens, but they do know that it can help those who suffer from disruptive allergies to remove selectively certain foods from their diets, then reintroduce each food one at a time to if each one produces an increase in symptoms. If one food does, it should be avoided during the allergy season.
Foods that are known to cross-react with ragweed include cantaloupe, watermelon, and bananas. Foods known to cross-react with tree pollen include apples, cherries, peaches, carrots, and potatoes. Foods known to cross-react with a broad range of pollens include pears, kiwis, nectarines, celery, peppers, and tree nuts.
Cooking seems to deactivate the allergens in these foods, so those who don't want to skip them entirely can make cooked dishes such as peach cobbler, banana bread, and watermelon sorbet.
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Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America Staff. (n.d). Allergy Facts and Figures. Retrieved 4 July, 2010 from http://www.aafa.org/display.cfm?id=9&sub=30
Discovery Health Staff. How Allergies Work. Discovery.com. Retrieved 4 July, 2010 from http://health.howstuffworks.com/diseases-conditions/allergies/allergy2.htm