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Natural Home Remedies for Spring Allergies and Sinus Pressure | The Old Farmer's Almanac

Home Remedies for Spring Allergies

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Jim Vallee
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Seasonal allergy symptoms and treatments at home

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If you suffer from spring allergies, you know that they hit hard around March and April when the trees and plants release pollen. Find out if you have seasonal allergy symptoms plus here are the proven home remedies to treat seasonal allergies.

When is Allergy Season?

In this article, we’re discussing seasonal allergies that happen during the spring, which is when trees, grasses, and weeds pollinate. (See separate article focused on fall allergies.)

In springtime, trees as well as some grasses and weeds release tiny grains into the air to fertilize other plants. When they get into the nose of someone who’s allergic, their body sees the pollen as a danger and triggers histamines that lead to runny nose, watery eyes, sneezing, itchy nose and eyes, and puffy eyes.

Also, a rainy spring can cause rapid plant growth and lead to an increase in mold, which means your seasonal allergies could last well through summer.

Pollen being breathed into the nose. Credit: Lightspring

When do spring allergies start and end?

Most trees pollinate in March and April, though they may start as early as February and last through May. It all depends on the trees in your area as well as which pollen triggers your seasonal allergies.

Trees That Can Trigger Seasonal Allergies

  • Alder
  • Ash
  • Aspen
  • Beech
  • Box elder
  • Cedar
  • Cottonwood
  • Cypress
  • Elm
  • Hickory
  • Juniper
  • Maple
  • Mulberry
  • Oak
  • Olive
  • Palm
  • Pine
  • Poplar
  • Sycamore
  • Willow

Spring Allergy Symptoms

Those affected by seasonal allergies sneeze, cough, snort, and blow their noses all day and can’t breathe all night. Their eyes may itch and swell shut, their faces get puffy, and their jaws and teeth ache. They get hit around and just behind the eyes with blinding headaches. Sometimes they can’t smell or taste much.

And that’s just the seasonal allergies. Other folks suffer from year-round post-nasal drip, frequent colds, or recurrent full-blown sinus infections that just won’t quit.          

Seasonal allergy symptoms include runny noses, watering eyes, itchy eyes, and sneezing! Credit: hedgehog94

Is it Sinusitus or Allergies?

If you have allergies, your sinuses may swell because they’re trying to flush out pollen and allergens. (Your sinuses are air-filled spaces in the forehead, behind and around the eyes, behind the nose, and under the cheekbones.)

Normal allergy symptoms are itchy eyes, a runny nose, and sneezing. But if you start to notice a cough, sore throat, pain around your face or teeth, and a post-nasal drip (mucus that moves from the back of your nose into your throat) that won’t go away, you may have developed a sinus infection called “sinusitis.” As it’s difficult to tell allergy from sinusitis symptoms, it’s important to see a doctor.

You may hear your doctor talk about two kinds of sinusitis: “acute” and “chronic.” There’s a simple way to tell them apart. If your symptoms last less than 4 weeks, it’s acute. If they go on for 3 months or longer, you have chronic sinusitis.

Don’t be quick to beg your doctor for an antibiotic to treat your sinus inflammation. Infectious disease experts say only a small percentage of cases result from a bacterial infection that may respond to antibiotics. Most rhinosinusitis results from a cold virus, and antibiotics don’t treat viral infections. Using antibiotics when you don’t need them helps promote antibiotic resistance, a serious global threat, which means that antibiotics may no longer work to treat serious bacterial illnesses.

Depending on your symptoms, physicians have an array of drugs to help manage your sinus problems. You’ll also find a dozen or more decongestants and antihistamines on pharmacy shelves that work in various ways to alleviate clogged sinuses. People with chronic illnesses, or who take other prescription medications, should check with their doctor before using over-the-counter sinus relief products. Long-term or too-frequent use of some OTC products can worsen your symptoms or interact with other medications. 

Prevent Seasonal Allergy Reactions

There are obvious ways to minimize your exposure to seasonal allergies.

  1. Start paying attention to daily pollen and mold levels. Use the American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology’s allergen tracker and they’ll send YOU updates.
  2. Stay inside during high-pollen days, especially windy days and afternoons. Go out early in the morning for your walks or exercise before pollen levels rise.
  3. Shut your windows and doors during allergy season. Keep car doors and windows closed as well!
  4.  When you come home during allergy season, jump in the shower first thing. You’ll wash off any pollen. Always change your clothes, too, and throw the clothes you wore that day in the washer.
  5. If your eyes are itchy and watery, place cold, wet washcloths over your eyes and gently squeeze them to rinse the pollen out of your eyes.
  6. Wear a hat and wrap-around sunglasses. Breath through your nose, not your mouth. A Covid-style face mask works well, too!

Home Remedies for Seasonal Allergies

There are many at-home, drug-free, self-care practices can help relieve regular seasonal allergies and stuffering sinuses.

  • Especially when you have a cold, stay well-hydrated (lots of water and warm tea). Set your alarm and get up to drink every hour! Seriously, set the alarm on your phone!

  • Don’t put way that winter humidifier! Humidify the air in your home, and if you’re really stuffy, try a good, old-fashioned steam (hold a big towel over your head to catch the steam from a pot of simmering water). You might also try a personal steam inhaler, available at pharmacies.

  • Irrigate your sinuses and nasal passages with a warm saline solution to clear dust, pollen, and excess mucus. If you choose to try this ancient sinus-irrigating technique of the neti pot, please read and follow these FDA instructions to the letter. It’s especially important to use only boiled or sterile water in your pot.

  • Before sleep, slap on a Breathe Right or other brand of nasal strips. These band-aid like devices gently pull open the nasal passages and keep them open through the night.

  • If allergies are causing your sinus congestion, try allergy-proofing your home. (Serious work!)

60-Second Exercises for Allergy Relief

One reader suggested these odd 60-second solutions for relief. Try them and see if it works for you! 

  1. Tongue Trick: Press the tip of your tongue to top of your mouth. Release your tongue, then press between the eyebrow on your forehead. Repeat both steps, pressing your tongue and tapping your head for about 20 seconds. This should help relief some decongestion.

  2. Hold Your Breath: Tip your head back, pinch your nose, and hold your breath as long as you can. Take a breath when you have to do so. This tricks your body into thinking it needs more air and releases your sinuses.

Herbal Remedies for Allergies and Sinus Congestion

Many people find relief from seasonal allergic rhinitis or chronic sinus inflammation with herbs, (including me). First, the caveats:

  • Chat with your doctor about trying an herbal remedy. Remember, if an herbal product is effective, it works as a drug. You may experience an allergic reaction or side effects, and the herb may interact with other drugs or herbs you’re already taking. Your doctor will have access to information that might not be readily available to you.

  • Unless you’re under the supervision of a medical professional, don’t take any herbal products if you’re pregnant or nursing, or if you have a chronic illness such as diabetes or asthma.

  • Tell your doctor about all herbs or supplements you take.

  • Don’t take more than what’s recommended on the label of the product you choose.

Indigenous peoples have used, and modern herbalists still use, many native herbs to treat both short-term and long-term congestion. Among the best-known and most widely used: stinging nettle and butterbur. Small clinical studies have shown positive effects for both these herbs.

  1. Stinging nettle has been used for centuries as a remedy for allergic rhinitis (and many other ailments). Modern freeze-drying apparently concentrates the compounds that soothe inflamed nasal passages and sinuses.
  2. Some research has shown that butterbur eases allergic rhinosinusitis (and also migraines), though the unprocessed herb contains potentially toxic compounds called pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PAs). If you want to try butterbur, use only a product that’s certified PA-free.  

My Story with Sinusitis and Stinging Nettles

After years of intermittent severe pain in my left upper molars, and repeated visits to endodontists who couldn’t detect anything wrong, a dental hygienist finally diagnosed the problem from an X-ray.

“Oh, look!” She exclaimed, pointing. “See how the roots of these molars extend way up into your sinus cavity. Whenever your sinuses swell up, they press on those roots and cause your discomfort.”

I’ve suffered from an irritating post-nasal drip for decades, which may (or may not) be related to pollen, woodsmoke, wood ashes, sawdust, and careless housekeeping. My colds lasted for weeks.

I tried OTC antihistamines, prescription steroid sprays, and a Chinese herb that gave me heart palpitations. I used neti pots and steamers. I drank copious amounts of my homemade mix of dried goldenrod-yarrow tea all winter (works well to open stuffed sinuses, but the results don’t last long.)

After reading recommendations from two herb-friendly medical doctors to take freeze-dried nettles for sinus congestion, I decided to try them. I knew I wasn’t allergic to the plant, since I’d pulled and eaten the young leaves in large quantities every spring for decades. (They flourish as weeds in my raspberry patch.) I don’t take any prescription medications, so I didn’t worry about drug interactions.

I started one spring morning with a single 300 mg capsule. Within minutes, my airways cleared, my head stopped pounding, and my eyes stopped itching, without any of the uncomfortable dried-out feeling I get from antihistamines.

Ever since, I’ve taken one or two 300-mg capsules whenever I start feeling stuffy, every few hours if needed. I know stinging nettle won’t work for everyone with a sinus problem, but it’s been life-altering for me.

See which plants and what type of weather causes more allergy problems.

2023 Almanac Club