Sinus congestion due to seasonal allergies can be a problem for many people, no matter the season. As we move from summer into fall and winter, other factors can contribute to sinus trouble. Learning how to minimize or eliminate the symptoms, by identifying the cause of sneezing, watery, itchy eyes, stuffiness, etc. will have a major positive impact on your health when you take steps to reduce your exposure to the allergens.
Another cause of seasonal allergy symptoms is environmental allergies. Some of the environmental causes for irritated sinuses are present year-round, such as pollution, chemicals found at home and in the work place, out-gases of carpet and furniture (at home and at work), and mold in air conditioning and forced air heating systems. With these kinds of allergens around all the time, it can be difficult to identify the source of what is truly the seasonal allergen.
Plus, around the change of seasons, fluctuating temperatures and humidity levels can put extra strain on your immune system. A change of wind direction will likely bring with it pollen, mold, or pollutants that are not normally in your area. This can even cause problems for someone who is actively treating their seasonal allergies.
As I have already mentioned, air pollution, chemicals found at work such as cleaning supplies, air fresheners, perfumes, new carpet and furniture that releases toxic chemicals (known as out-gassing), dirty or moldy air conditioning systems, or newly painted walls all have a negative effect on your body and immune system. Unfortunately, you have little control over those things. But there are things you can do to strengthen your immune system and remove the toxins that accumulate in your body when you are exposed to them.
At home, some of the same workplace chemicals may be found. If you just put new carpet or furniture in your house, and suddenly you feel tired and run down, have a stuffy or runny nose, or fever like symptoms, it is very likely that the out-gases of the carpet or furniture, called VOCs (volatile organic compounds) are what’s affecting you. The best you can do (without removing them altogether) is to air out your house every day, as much as possible. If you have the option of having stone or tile in your home instead of carpet and vinyl, you will not only eliminate the VOCs, but also dirt, dust and pet dander that accumulates in carpet.
If you have pets in the house, frequently bathing them will help reduce pet dander. Pet shampoos made with botanicals help keep their skin from drying out, becoming irritated, and producing more dander. Also, if you suspect that your house pet is part of your allergy problems, keep them out of your bedroom at night.
Artificial fragrances are in virtually every product in our home from our cleaning products to our deodorant. Artificial fragrances are merely air-borne chemicals, which not only irritate sensitive sinuses, but are also toxic and weaken your immune system. Hair care products and makeup contain artificial fragrances, along with just about everything else in the bathroom. Any of these things can cause irritation to your sinuses and respiratory system.
To help your body deal with allergens that appear seasonally, reduce the amount of potential allergens around your home, in your car, and as much as possible, around work. It can take some time to identify and remove them, but you will feel better, and avoid getting sick as often. Start with things like dishwashing soap and trash bags; choose unscented products. Switch to more natural cleaning products, and make sure the area you are using them is well ventilated. Stop using air fresheners and candles, unless they are all natural. Many contain petroleum byproducts, which simply become indoor pollution.
Keep your home and your car clean; and regularly change the air filters in both. Vehicles have cabin air filters which can harbor dust and pollen, mold, and bad odors. Change them periodically. In your home, replace the filter in your air conditioning system with a filter that has a high HEPA or allergen rating. You can also invest in an air filtration system to help clean the air you breathe. Use a small one at your desk at work, and a bigger one for your bedroom at night.
Dust mites are a hidden source of sinus irritation. To eliminate the risk of dust mites in your bed, replace your mattress every 5-7 years, and your pillows every 2 years. Consider using a dust mite cover for your new mattress. Latex is a material used in mattresses and pillows that dust mites don’t like; if you have an allergy or sensitivity to latex it can cause major problems for you, too. Wash bed linens every week in hot water.
If you are particularly bothered by what may have blown in on the wind, keep the windows in your house and vehicle closed. Use the air recirculating function in your vehicle to minimize allergens coming in from outside.
Making simple changes to your diet can also help minimize or eliminate allergy symptoms. Remove milk and other dairy products. These cause an excuse of mucus; most people have some form of intolerance to processed dairy products. During allergy season consuming dairy products can put you in a vicious cycle of sinus congestion that leads to a cold and sinus infection. Drink lots or water. Water thins mucus and helps your body to remove toxins and waste that place a burden on your immune system. Add fresh squeezed lemon juice to your water for an added detox. Reduce sugar intake. Sugar produces mucus and creates inflammation in your body; two things that you do not want in your sinuses. For severe allergy problems, give your immune system a break by removing fruit and other natural sugars, too. Avoid the temptation to substitute artificial sweeteners for natural sugars. Artificial sweeteners are known carcinogens, and place a tremendous burden on your immune system. If you have to have a sweetener, choose whole leaf stevia.
Many people are discovering the benefits of essential oils. Simply placing a sachet with eucalyptus and peppermint oils inside your pillowcase at night can help reduce sinus congestion and inflammation. Diffusers are another way of using essential oils around your home and in your bedroom. Besides eucalyptus and peppermint, you can use lavender, tea tree, and Roman chamomile. Just be sure you are using pure therapeutic grade (and organic, if possible) essential oils. Lower quality oils can contain contaminants and solvents that compromise their therapeutic benefit, and can actually be toxic.
Using a vaporizer in your bedroom at night can help ease dry sinuses, and reduce nose bleeds associated with overly dry nasal passages.
Make sure you are getting adequate amounts of vitamin D3. Vitamin D is necessary for a strong immune system and proper hormone response. As the days get shorter and cooler, you are less likely to get proper sun exposure; therefore taking a vitamin D3 supplement is recommended. To know whether your blood levels for vitamin D are good, you can ask your doctor for a blood test. If you opt for taking a vitamin D3 supplement without the blood test, 3000-5000 IU per day has been determined safe for most people since you cannot get enough from food alone.
By following the recommendations I have listed here, your sinus allergy symptoms should be greatly reduced. However, in some cases, doctor prescribed or over the counter medicines have to be taken just to get through the day. Never take more than you need, and only stay on the medication as long as it is necessary. While these medications work for the short term, they all have possible side effects that are bad for your health. And over time, the medications become less effective. It is far better to do what you can to strengthen your immune system and remove as many allergens from your environment as possible (especially where children are concerned).
Bennett, D. S. (2014). The 7-Day Allergy Makeover. New York: Penguin Group.
Higley, C. a. (2013). Reference Guide for Essential Oils. Spanish Fork: Abundant Health.