You don’t need a calendar to know it’s allergy season. “Patients feel fatigued, lack energy they normally have, are less productive at work, and have difficulty concentrating at school,” says David Resnick, MD, director of Pediatric Allergy at New York Presbyterian Hospital.

Some 30 to 60 million people in the U.S. are affected annually by allergic rhinitis (hay fever) according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. While allergy shots and over-the-counter or prescription medications offer relief to some, these traditional approaches don’t always work, aren’t always medically advisable, or may cause side effects as bothersome as the original symptoms. Here’s a three-prong approach to help you breathe more easily — naturally.

Get Tested — If you suspect you have allergies, have tests performed at your physician’s office to rule out other respiratory conditions. Gather knowledge from credible Web sites, suggests Roberta Lee, MD, vice chair of Integrative Medicine at Beth Israel Medical Center. Lee recommends the Mayo Clinic Web site for starters.


Reduce Exposure —
Keep airborne allergens outside the house by closing doors and windows. Remove shoes before entering your home and leave them at the door. Use central A.C. with allergen filters and keep humidity below 40 percent. Using a freestanding air purifier with
a HEPA filter can help, too. “People love fresh air, but it produces clouds of pollen,” says James Li, MD, chair of the Division of Allergic Diseases at the Mayo Clinic.

Buy special window screens designed to block pine and flower pollens, recommends Susan Cocke, MD, an integrative physician in Fullerton, California.

Clifford Bassett, MD, Medical Director of Allergy and Asthma Care at New York University School of Medicine, advocates “washing wisely” — that is, washing your eyelids and nose and getting rid of pollen and mold spores by shampooing at night. “If you use mousse or gel in your hair, it’s like a pollen magnet,” he says.

Use Natural Remedies — Many physicians recommend a saline nasal rinse using a neti pot. “Purchasing a solution is good because it ensures you will have enough salt in the mixture,” Lee says. “If you make your own and don’t put enough salt in, your nose will be even more stuffy.”
Stinging nettle: This anti-inflammatory is available in freeze-dried capsules to be taken two to three times daily.

Quercetin: This flavonoid is a powerful anti-inflammatory found in apples, onions, and garlic that is also available in capsule form. Take 250-500 milligrams twice a day.

Eucalyptus And Peppermint Oils: Lily Au, ND, a naturopathic doctor in Pasadena, uses a combination of eucalyptus, pine, lavender, and peppermint oils. She recommends swabbing the nasal passages with the blend.

Butterbur: Usually available in capsules, Au says the herb decreases the inflammation of the mucous membranes in the respiratory tract. “The extracts that are commercially available have removed the toxic constituents that may cause liver damage,” assures Au.

Local Honey: Cocke and Au suggest that eating local honey — just a spoonful a day — can build up immunity through gradual exposure to the local allergens.

Acupuncture: “Patients come to the office and they are absolutely miserable,” says Cocke. Treatments produce immediate, short-term results, but it’s an ongoing therapy.

One final word of advice from Au: Children and pregnant and breastfeeding mothers should consult with their doctors before taking any herbal supplements.   HARRIET WEINSTEIN