You don’t want to be the person sneezing in the grocery checkout line, especially this year. While this spring is different in many ways than previous springs, pollens are still coming, causing spring allergies for one in six Canadians. If this is you, here are some tips to minimize the all-too-familiar sneezing, sniffling, and itchy, watery eyes that can make spring miserable for many.
What causes allergic symptoms
If you suffer with seasonal allergies, don’t blame the pollen – blame immunoglobulin E (IgE). IgE is a type of antibody that circulates in blood, usually only in very small amounts, to protect us against certain types of infection. Some people overproduce IgE, causing their immune system to overreact to otherwise harmless particles. Once allergens, such as pollens, are inhaled, IgE travels to immune cells called mast cells, triggering them to release histamines. Infamous for causing sneezing, eye and nose dripping, and other classic, miserable allergy symptoms, histamines are trying to help expel a perceived attacker.
Different allergens have different types of IgE. That’s why some people are only allergic to cat dander or ragweed pollen, for example. The poor souls who are “allergic to everything” have more types of IgE antibodies. High levels of IgE can also trigger conditions closely related to seasonal allergies, such as asthma and eczema. Collectively, these are called “atopic” conditions.
Effectively dealing with seasonal allergies involves supporting the immune system to lay off the IgE and develop more tolerance to the body’s surroundings, stabilizing mast cells so they aren’t as quick to release pesky histamines, and simply dealing with symptoms.
Probiotics appear to be helpful in atopic conditions, especially in children. For adults with seasonal sniffles, clinical research has shown combinations of common probiotic strains decreased symptoms and improved quality of life during allergy season. 
Quecercetin is a bioflavonoid, a vitamin-like molecule found in small amounts in a wide range of foods including grapes, apples, and onions. It stabilizes mast cells, making them less likely to spill histamine and trigger allergic symptoms. Look for Ezymatically Modified Isoquercetin (EMIQ), a type of quercetin developed for optimal absorption. It has been shown to reduce ocular symptoms of pollen allergies, such as itchy, watery eyes.[4,5]
Bee pollen has been used for centuries to address various conditions, including seasonal allergies. It’s a combination of flower pollen, collected by worker honeybees, packed into small pellets with nectar, enzymes, bee saliva, and wax. There aren’t a lot of human trials on this folk remedy, although one study showed that mice who were fed bee pollen had reduced IgE-induced mast cell activation. It is well established that bee pollen is extremely nutritious, containing amino acids, vitamins, minerals, enzymes, and fatty acids. (Note: People who are allergic to bee stings should not consume bee pollen.)
Famous for its ability to ease many types of “itis” (inflammation), curcumin is the medicinal component in the herb turmeric. Since inflammation of the nasal and sinus passages is a major feature of allergies, it’s not too surprising that curcumin has been found to help relieve symptoms of allergic rhinitis. By improving airflow and decreasing the production of inflammatory compounds, curcumin may help with congestion, sneezing, and runny nose.
Allergy symptoms can include painful inflammation of the sinuses. Horseradish contains compounds called glucosinolates that help soothe irritated airways. It is designated as an over-the-counter medication for upper respiratory tract infections by the German Commission E. Unfortunately, the old jar of sauce from your last roast beef supper has probably lost any medicinal potency it might have had. Enteric-coated horseradish tablets protect the stomach while providing consistent levels of active ingredients. Rather than just masking symptoms, horseradish helps heal and reduce symptom duration. (Note: See your doctor if your sinus symptoms are accompanied by a fever, as this is a sign of infection.)
It feels weird, but it works. Studies show that nasal irrigation can help flush allergens, clear nasal and sinus discharge, and relieve allergy symptoms. Use slightly warmed distilled water or boiled tap water cooled to no more than 40°C. Mix 1 cup of prepared warm water with 1/2 teaspoon of table salt and 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda. Use this with your Neti pot or sinus rising bottle to rinse nasal passages once or twice a day when pollen counts are high.
 Zuccotti G, Meneghin F, Aceti A, et al. Probiotics for prevention of atopic diseases in infants: systematic review and meta-analysis. Allergy. 2015; 70(11):1356-1371.
 Dennis-Wall JC, Culpepper T, Nieves C Jr, et al. Probiotics (Lactobacillus gasseri KS-13, Bifidobacterium bifidum G9-1, and Bifidobacterium longum MM-2) improve rhinoconjunctivitis-specific quality of life in individuals with seasonal allergies: a double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized trial. Am J Clin Nutr. 2017; 105(3):758-767.
 Shaik Y, Caraffa A, Ronconi G, et al. Impact of polyphenols on mast cells with special emphasis on the effect of quercetin and luteolin. Cent Eur J Immunol. 2018; 43(4):476-481.
 Kawai M, Hirano T, Arimitsu J, et al. Effect of enzymatically modified isoquercitrin, a flavonoid, on symptoms of Japanese cedar pollinosis: a randomized double-blind placebo-controlled trial. Int Arch Allergy Immunol. 2009; 149(4):359-368.
 Hirano T, Kawai M, Arimitsu J, et al. Preventative effect of a flavonoid, enzymatically modified isoquercitrin on ocular symptoms of Japanese cedar pollinosis. Allergol Int. 2009; 58(3):373-382.
 Ishikawa Y, Tokura T, Nakano N, et al. Inhibitory effect of honeybee-collected pollen on mast cell degranulation in vivo and in vitro. J Med Food. 2008; 11(1):14-20.
 Wu S, Xiao D. Effect of curcumin on nasal symptoms and airflow in patients with perennial allergic rhinitis. Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol. 2016; 117(6):697-702.
 Park HW, Choi KD, Shin IS. Antimicrobial activity of isothiocyanates (ITCs) extracted from horseradish (Armoracia rusticana) root against oral microorganisms. Biocontrol Sci. 2013; 18(3):163-168.
 Hermelingmeier KE, Weber RK, Hellmich M, et al. Nasal irrigation as an adjunctive treatment in allergic rhinitis: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Am J Rhinol Allergy. 2012; 26(5):e119-e125.