Can Changing Your Diet Prevent Seasonal Allergies?

As the allergy season approaches, many are desperate to find ways to alleviate tiresome symptoms. Could dietary changes become a key to fighting pollen allergy?

About 60 million Americans have allergic rhinitis, an allergic reaction to pollen, also known as hay fever. The symptoms may include sneezing, runny nose, and congestion. In some, allergic rhinitis also causes inflammation of the eyes.

Climate change has only made allergies worse: the North American pollen season lengthened 20 days between 1990 and 2018, with pollen concentrations increasing 21% during the same period, according to a 2021 study.

Allergic rhinitis treatment usually involves limiting exposure to allergens and taking medications, such as antihistamines and decongestants, among others.

Eating a healthy diet has numerous health benefits — from boosting the immune system to lowering the risk of diseases like type 2 diabetes. However, evidence that dietary changes can prevent or alleviate seasonal allergies is limited.

Dr. Isabel Skypala, a consultant allergy dietitian and clinical lead for food allergy in the Asthma and Allergy Group at the Royal Brompton and Harefield NHS Trust, says the diet does not impact the severity of seasonal allergies.

This means that eating certain foods or avoiding others will not help people with allergies.

Unless they have pollen food syndrome, in which case they only need to avoid the foods that trigger their symptoms, which are usually very specific to the person.

Skypala

Pollen food allergy syndrome (PFAS), also called oral allergy syndrome, is caused by cross-reacting allergens found in both pollen and raw fruits, vegetables, or some tree nuts, according to the American College of Allergy Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI).

Oral allergy syndrome (OAS) mostly affects people who have seasonal allergies or allergic rhinitis. An estimated 47% and 70% of people with pollen allergies suffer from OAS.

The symptoms of pollen food allergy syndrome may include the following:

  • Itchy mouth
  • Scratchy throat
  • Swelling of the lips, mouth, tongue, and throat
  • Itchy ears
  • Hives on the mouth

Fewer than 2% of people with OAS experience anaphylaxis, a serious allergic reaction that makes it hard to breathe and can be life-threatening.

Oral allergy syndrome is commonly associated with the following allergens:

Birch pollen: apple, almond, carrot, celery, cherry, hazelnut, kiwi, peach, pear, plum.

Grass pollen: celery, melons, oranges, peaches, tomatoes.

Ragweed pollen: banana, cucumber, melons, sunflower seeds, zucchini.

Some foods show promise in reducing symptoms

Scientists are looking into whether certain foods, usually those considered natural remedies for many conditions, could help with pollen allergies. However, research is still in the early stages, and many studies are conducted on animals.

For instance, a 2016 study in mice with allergic rhinitis found that ginger suppressed the production of inflammation-causing proteins in the blood, resulting in prevented or reduced allergy symptoms.

High intake of vitamin C, found in citrus fruits, broccoli, and some berries, reduced allergic rhinitis symptoms in South Korean school children, according to a 2012 study. Other antioxidants such as vitamin A, retinol, beta carotene, and vitamin E did not cause the same effect.

Curcumin, the active compound of the spice turmeric, was also shown to reduce allergic response in mice, although further research is needed.

Helping yourself during the allergy season

If you suffer from allergic rhinitis, discuss treatment with your healthcare provider, and do not try to replace medications with food. Meanwhile, limit the pollen exposure by following these tips:

  • Close the windows to keep pollen out of your home. Run air conditioning instead.
  • Use High-Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters for an air cleaner for a single room. Remember to check and change filters regularly.
  • Change your clothes as soon as you get home. Set the outside clothes in the laundry room to wash as soon as possible.
  • Shower at night to wash away allergens that cling to your hair, face, and body.
  • Check current pollen levels in your area using the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology’s National Allergy Bureau interactive map and email alerts.
  • Find the right medication. If current drugs don’t ensure the effective management of the symptoms, you may consider allergen immunotherapy.
  • While outside, wear sunglasses and a hat, and don’t touch your eyes.
  • Wash bedding in hot, soapy water once a week.

There is little evidence that dietary changes can relieve seasonal allergies. However, for people with oral allergy syndrome, it is crucial to eliminate the allergen food from their diet.

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