A few tweaks to your routine could help you breathe easier this year.
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shallots face mask and spirulina smoothie on a designed background
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If you're one of the 19.2 million Americans who experience hay fever each year, you know how symptoms like a runny nose and dry, itchy eyes can make for weeks (or even months) of misery. Many people with seasonal allergies point to pollen as their top trigger, and grass pollen levels are about to hit their peak in much of the country. What can you do to prepare for the allergy onslaught, besides hiding indoors and stocking up on ultra-soft tissues and eye drops? Practice the following habits to make this season enjoyable instead of irritating.  

1. Nosh Some Shallots

You might shed a few tears when you slice and dice them, but onions could actually help your eyes stay dry during the rest of allergy season. In a study published in the Asian Pacific Journal of Allergy and Immunology, people who ate 3 grams of shallots (about a teaspoon, chopped) and took an oral antihistamine daily had less ocular symptoms (like watery, itchy, red eyes) than people who took the allergy meds alone. The reason? Shallots (and other onions) are rich in quercetin. "This antioxidant helps stabilize mast cells, which are the part of the immune system that release histamine and trigger allergy symptoms," says Robin Foroutan, M.S., RDN, an integrative and functional dietitian based in New York City. Start adding more shallots to your meals with Olive Oil-Poached Carrots & Shallots.

2. Try Spirulina

Allergy sufferers who consumed 2 grams of spirulina per day (about one serving or less of many spirulina powder products) for two months had less nasal runniness and congestion, a better sense of smell and improved quality of life compared to people who took a daily over-the-counter antihistamine, researchers from Mashhad University of Medical Sciences in Iran found. Spirulina eaters rated their sleep, work life and social activity higher than those who took allergy meds instead. That's because this blue-green algae might help your immune system produce less pro-inflammatory proteins while stimulating an anti-inflammatory protein called interleukin-10, the researchers say. Foroutan suggests stirring some spirulina powder into your smoothie or matcha latte. You can't go wrong with this Mermaid Smoothie Bowl. (It's blue, too!)

3. Get Your Vitamin D Levels Checked

Vitamin D deficiency is common. Correcting it could help your allergy medicine work better, according to research published in European Archives of Oto-Rhino-Laryngology. Vitamin D-deficient people who took weekly high-dose D supplements and daily antihistamine allergy medicine had more improvement in their allergy symptoms after eight weeks than people who stuck with allergy meds alone. "Vitamin D helps to balance, support and modulate the immune system," says Foroutan. That's helpful, since allergies are essentially an overreaction of the immune system.

It's hard to get all the vitamin D you need from your diet, says Foroutan, but you also don't want to take a higher dose of a supplement than necessary. For a personalized recommendation, ask your doctor to check your blood levels of vitamin D, ideally twice a year, she suggests. You'll find out whether you're falling short on vitamin D, and if you are, your doctor can recommend how much D to add to your diet via supplement. 

4. Practice Yoga

Hit the mat to help your nose. Allergy sufferers who practiced yoga three times per week for eight weeks had less nasal congestion, sneezing and runny nose than they did before and compared to a sedentary control group, found a 2022 study. Because yoga is a mind-body exercise that relaxes breathing muscles, it stimulates receptors in your lungs and airways to help you breathe easier. In addition, the common yogic practice of breathing through your nostrils is thought to improve airflow between your nose and sinuses. Plus, yoga has been shown to increase antioxidant activity in the body to bolster your defenses against inflammation.

5. Wear a Mask

People with allergies who masked up during the COVID-19 pandemic reported 16% less sneezing and 14% less nasal runniness than they did pre-pandemic, according to research in the American Journal of Otolaryngology. Plus, the percentage of people with moderate or severe allergy-related nasal or eye symptoms dropped by almost half when they wore face masks; symptoms got milder or disappeared for many. That's likely because surgical and N95 masks keep you from breathing in tree and grass pollen particles, common seasonal allergy triggers.

Bottom Line

Seasonal allergies are a struggle, but a few tweaks to your eating habits and exercise, as well as wearing a mask, can help you cope better with the sneezing, watery eyes and runny nose symptoms that are making you miserable. Here's to needing fewer tissues soon.