Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Avoiding Allergy Attacks

In my area, we are in the midst of a HUGE pollen attack. Cars are coated in a golden dust that accumulates by the hour. Everywhere, the sound of sniffing, sneezing and nose-blowing accompanies the chirps of the singing birds. Ah, the music of spring...

At the change of the seasons, every fall and spring, my allergies would send me into a month-long allergy slump. My eyes would get puffy and oozy. My nose would run constantly. Seasonal asthma kept me wheezing night after night, and I would end up on antibiotics for the inevitable sinus infections that blossomed in my damp, dark, congestion-filled head. Following the antibiotics, I'd undergo several weeks of digestive issues as my system attempted to regrow the friendly bacteria necessary for proper functioning (unfortunately, antibiotics are equal-opportunity killers - they don't discriminate between "good" and "bad" bacteria...). Eventually, I wised up and got on prescription allergy medication. While this could ward off the ultimate cascade into sinus infections, asthma still plagued me, and I never could quite get the right formula that would not cause either drowsiness or insomnia, or sometimes a combination of both. Those months were spent in a mental fog. It was usually a matter of trying to decide between the lesser of the evils...

Visiting family living in Nashville during those seasons would be even more than my allergy meds could handle. Nose red, eyes watering, I am sure that everyone I met while visiting my family would just assume I had a perpetual head-cold (or was possibly some kind of substance abuser???).

Today, I am allergy-free AND medication free, and actually LIVING IN NASHVILLE (I even went for a run yesterday afternoon, during what the newscasters were calling a "high action" pollen alert time! I attribute this victory to a variety of diet and lifestyle changes I've made over the past few years. While it is impossible to avoid exposure to air filled with pollens, it is possible to reduce the effect of those pollens on your system by taking some proactive steps to help boost your body so their assault is not so damaging. Basically, it's like eliminating the other "straws" (as in "the straw that broke the camel's back"), so that your system is not totally bombarded with things it views as "invaders."

Here are the steps that have TOTALLY changed my life, in terms of allergies:

1. Eliminate DAIRY - at least during your high-allergy seasons. Dairy contributes to the production of mucus. A head or lungs full of mucus is like furnishing an incubator with a growing-medium to host an infection.

2. Increase your consumption of DARK GREEN LEAFY VEGETABLES. These veggies are packed full of enzymes that promote healthy lung function. Seriously. Eating 2 large servings of dark green leafy veggies (spinach, kale, collard greens, turnip greens, mustard greens, Brussels sprouts, broccoli) every day will help to protect and fortify your lungs. I get at least one HUGE serving a day by adding greens to a smoothie (sweet OR savory), and then incorporate others into lunch and dinner. Also great to add to salads, replacing the lettuces, or eat layered under your favorite foods (like beans, whole grains, other veggies).

3. Greatly DECREASE SUGAR intake. Sugar creates inflammation in your body. Inflammation in your body includes inflammation in your head, sinus cavity and lungs. Sugar also weakens your immune system, leading to higher likelihood of allergy flare-ups turning into infection, thanks to the damp, dark environment in our sinuses and lungs.

4. SHOWER before bed. Your body and clothing get doused in pollen simply by walking around outside. A pollen-covered head on your pillow creates a powder-puff-like allergy spreader that your face is in contact with all night long. When you consider the number of hours your head is on that pillow, it make sense to keep your bedding as pollen-free as possible. Washing up before bed greatly reduces your exposure.

5. Get EXTRA SLEEP. Sleep fortifies your immune system, making your body more likely to resist secondary infections that may develop as a result of your allergy attacks. While you may not be able to totally eliminate your allergy symptoms, you may be able to reduce the residual effects of those outbreaks.

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