Seasonal allergies, also known as hay fever or allergic rhinitis, can be triggered by various substances like dust and pet hair. Pollen from ragweed, grass and other plants is also a common culprit. People tend to experience an uptick of allergy symptoms in the spring, summer and fall, when flowers and trees are in bloom.
When your body comes in contact with an allergen, your immune system reacts by releasing histamine, a molecule that’s involved in the body’s inflammatory response. This response can trigger seasonal allergy symptoms like sneezing, runny nose, itchy eyes and a scratchy throat. In some cases, allergies can trigger asthma or asthma-like symptoms such as chest tightness, wheezing and coughing.
The most common way to address hay fever symptoms is via antihistamines—drugs that prevent histamine from binding to certain receptors in the body, thus stopping your body’s inflammatory response.
However, if antihistamines don’t quite do the job, or you don’t enjoy the side effects that can come with them—like dry mouth, dizziness and drowsiness, there are a number of alternatives you can try, including cannabis.
Reducing your exposure to allergens might lessen your symptoms during hay fever season, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. If your reactions are triggered by pollen, it’s a good idea to keep track of daily pollen reports.
When the counts are high, try to limit your time outside, and wear eyewear to reduce eye exposure. If you go outside, take a shower afterwards to remove pollen that may have caught on your hair and clothes.
Pets can track pollen into the house, so if you’re out with the dog, brushing them off before going inside can help keep your home clean. You can also install an air filtration system in your house, or purchase a portable one to reduce airborne allergens. Additionally, keep the windows of your home closed, especially during times when the pollen count is high.
In general, it’s also a good idea to vacuum your home regularly to remove not only pollen, but other possible allergens like dust and pet dander. And if you need some motivation to clean your house, the right kind of cannabis can help.
Cannabis can help you clean your house of allergens, but it may also mediate your body’s immune response and thus ease allergy symptoms. While there’s no clinical evidence that points to marijuana helping with allergies, the endocannabinoid system (ECS)—the network of receptors in your body that cannabis works on—plays a role in how your body responds to allergens.
Research suggests that the ECS may dampen your body’s inflammatory reaction to allergens via a number of different mechanisms. The pathway that has relevant applications to hay fever has to do with the ECS and mast cells, white blood cells that release certain compounds—including histamine—as part of your body’s immune response.
Studies show that the components of the ECS have a role in mast cell function, and thus could be the key to controlling the body’s overreaction to certain substances during allergy season. For example, anandamide, a molecule that attaches to receptors in the ECS, can stop the release of inflammatory compounds that cause the symptoms of seasonal allergies. Anandamide is similar in structure and function to tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
THC and cannabidiol (CBD) are active compounds in cannabis that impart many of the plants benefits. They also have anti-inflammatory properties that could help manage the body’s allergic response. One study in guinea pigs found that THC reduced coughing and restriction of airways in the lungs. And another found that CBD could also help with lung constriction, a property that could make it useful in the treatment of asthma symptoms.
If you’re thinking of using cannabis to help you get through allergy season, avoid inhalable options like vape pens and joints, as they may exacerbate your symptoms.
Clinical trials suggest that acupuncture can treat seasonal allergies, but the mechanism on how it works is still unknown. In truth, while many studies suggest that acupuncture is an effective form of treatment for many conditions, we’re just beginning to understand how it works. That said, research indicates that the endocannabinoid system is involved.
A small study of 38 human subjects published in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine shed light on how acupuncture might affect the body’s immune response. The researchers measured blood levels of certain immune factors in subjects who received acupuncture and those who didn’t. They found that acupuncture both improved the subjects’ general well-being and altered these immune factors in a way that reduced the subjects’ asthma symptoms.
All clinical studies involving acupuncture and seasonal allergies have been small, causing some concern among scientists about their validity. Additionally, the technique can be hard to placebo, making the design of such studies difficult.
While acupuncture seemed to improve study subjects’ quality of life and help with hay fever symptoms, researchers point out that larger trials still need to be conducted. They also add that the technique should be studied against other forms of allergy treatment like the use of antihistamines and intranasal sprays.
Reishi mushrooms (Ganoderma lucidum) have been long-studied in China and Japan for their numerous medicinal properties—among them the ability to modulate different aspects of the immune system. Thus, it’s no surprise that many traditional Chinese remedies for allergies contain this fungus.
A study in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology compared the effects of prednisone, an anti-inflammatory steroid, and a blend of three Chinese herbs on asthma symptoms in 91 human subjects. The main ingredient of this blend was 20 grams of a raw Reishi mushroom extract.
At the end of the four-week study period, researchers found that the Chinese herbal blend was a safe and effective way to treat asthma. They measured the blood serum levels of several immune factors and found that the herbal blend changed them in a way that brought the immune system back into balance.
They also noted that the blend reduced lung inflammation and eased airways—results that could benefit asthma patients. Moreover, the herbal blend group had fewer adverse effects on their adrenal function than the prednisone group did.
Like most conditions, there’s no silver bullet for seasonal allergy symptoms. But by incorporating multiple methods and taking measures like cleaning your house and installing air filters, you can manage your symptoms so they have less of an impact on your day-to-day life.
Photo credit: Elijah Hail