If you've noticed your allergies seem to be getting worse lately, you're not the only one. A very wet winter followed by a sudden shift to warm weather has led to a profusion of tree pollen and mold. In general, allergy seasons have been getting longer and more challenging and global warming is being blamed. It is called The Priming Effect when unseasonably warm weather arrives early and creates a false spring with all its pollen. Then colder weather comes and the pollen levels drop. The cycle happens again and again and these ups and downs are making this year the worst in history. Seasonal allergy sufferers immune systems kick into high gear and the results puffy, itchy eyes, runny noses, continuous sneezing and scratchy throats. Sometimes it is difficult to tell an allergy from a cold but if the symptoms last longer than seven to ten days then they are likely allergies.

The Dreaded Pollen

Pollen from trees, weeds and grasses is the primary culprit behind seasonal allergies. Spring allergies are typically from tree pollen, whereas summer allergies usually come from grasses, and then weed pollens dominate during late summer and fall. Without allergy testing, it's nearly impossible to determine which offenders are causing your sneezes but the time and season may give you some clues.

What Is An Allergy?

Allergies are your body's reaction to allergens (particles your body considers foreign), a sign that your immune system is working overtime. The first time your body encounters an allergen, your plasma cells release an antibody specific to that allergen that attaches to the surface of your mast cells. Mast cells are found in great numbers in your skin and in the mucous membranes of your nose where they help mediate inflammatory responses. Mast cells release histamine when you encounter a particular allergen causing an entire cascade of allergic symptoms: sneezing, runny nose, sore throat, cough, itchy eyes, etc. Pollen is an extremely common mast cell activator, but other agents can trigger these processes as well. Mold spores, dust, airborne contaminants, dust mites, pet dander, cockroaches, environmental chemicals, cleaning products, personal care products and foods can all cause allergic reactions. Every person is different in what he or she reacts to. And, just because you haven't reacted to something in the past doesn't mean you won't react to it in the future—you can become sensitized at any point in time. So, what can be done to ease your allergy angst?

There Is Hope

About one-third of seasonal allergy sufferers have something called 'oral allergy syndrome' in which your immune system is triggered by proteins in some foods that are molecularly similar to pollen. Your immune system looks at the protein molecule and says, "Close enough" and attacks it. If you are allergic to ragweed, for example, you may have cross-sensitivity to melons, bananas, tomatoes, zucchini, sunflower seeds, dandelions, chamomile, and echinacea. If you have a grass allergy, you may also react to peaches, celery, tomatoes, melons and oranges.

Besides identifying and avoiding foods that may trigger your allergy, there are a number of foods that can be helpful for calming down allergy symptoms:

  • Omega-3 fatty acids from grass fed meat, eggs and krill oil appear to reduce symptoms of allergies
  • Probiotics. In a 2008 study, researchers discovered that people who took probiotics throughout allergy season had lower levels of an antibody that triggered allergy symptoms. They also had higher levels of a different antibody thought to play a protective role against allergic reactions. Other researchers found evidence that giving probiotics to newborns and mothers-to-be may help prevent childhood allergies
  • Vitamin D. Insufficient vitamin D levels have been linked to more severe asthma and allergies in children. Vitamin D has also been found to reduce allergic responses to mold
  • Hot peppers. Hot chili peppers, horseradish, and hot mustards work as natural decongestants. In fact, a nasal spray containing capsaicin (derived from hot peppers) significantly reduced nasal allergy symptoms in a 2009 study. You can find it at most health food stores as Sinus Buster
  • Locally produced honey. Many believe that consuming locally produced honey, which contains pollen spores picked up by the bees from your local plants, can act as a natural "allergy vaccine." By introducing a small amount of allergen into your system (from eating the honey), your immune system is activated and over time can build up your natural immunity against it

Other Tips To Make Allergy Season a Breeze

Another simple, inexpensive and very beneficial practice you can do at home is flushing your nasal passages with a neti pot. A neti pot is a small vessel with a spout you insert into your nose that can be used to gently irrigate your nose and sinuses with a salt-water solution. You may want to also consider the purchase of an air purifier. Air purification will result in lower levels of allergens circulating around your home or office. And one of the best things you can do to reduce your allergy symptoms naturally is exercise. In a 12-year long German study, sedentary children had more than twice the rates of hay fever as active children. Or try acupuncture. In one study published in the American Journal of Chinese Medicine, acupuncture reportedly reduced allergy symptoms in all 26 participants. In a second study, just two acupuncture treatments totally eliminated symptoms in more than half of the participants. Also effective is acupressure and this can be done by a professional or at home. Use your fingers to gently manipulate the hollows of your cheeks, then the area around the nostrils of your nose and finally along your eyebrows from the inside to your temple.