Following the cold, gray, bleak days of winter, we all look forward to the long summer days of endless sunshine that invite us to get outside, seek adventure, play in the water, and drive with the top down. Beautiful flowers and luscious green grass are irresistible and the epitome of vibrant energy for so many people.
For allergy sufferers, summertime often comes with more than sunburn and weird tan lines. Itchy, watery eyes, sinus congestion, headaches, sneezing and sore throats start in the spring and continue right into summer.
Pollen is mostly to blame, but molds and spores are also part of the cause for many people’s misery. Depending on where you live, air pollution could also be a factor. Warmer temperatures and higher humidity levels combined with little to no wind traps the ozone and chemical particles that make up pollution closer to the earth.
When the ozone and pollution levels are high enough it causes breathing problems, as well as allergy and cold-like symptoms, especially for those who already have respiratory issues. The number of people who suffer with allergies is on the rise, and so are the number of pharmaceutical products designed to alleviate the symptoms.
Whether you are affected by seasonal allergies (pollen, molds, and spores) or environmental allergies (dust, ozone, and pollution), histamines and other chemicals produced by your body are to blame for your misery.
It is actually your immune system that initiates the complicated process that ends with you feeling tired and worn out from sneezing, coughing, and struggling to breathe through your nose. You may be also be feeling lethargic and sleepy if it is keeping you from sleeping well.
Whenever the microscopic particles of dust, pollen, and mold, for example, enters your nose, eyes, and mouth, your body makes a determination if those particles are harmless or invaders; this is how your immune system functions. When your immune system reacts to those particles as if they are invaders, a complex process designed to keep you from succumbing to viruses and bacteria takes place.
Unfortunately, the process that is so effective against true invaders is ineffective against pollen, dust, mold, pet dander, indoor and outdoor pollution, etc. While the symptoms of a cold or flu may last 7 to 10 days, allergy symptoms may last weeks to months, interrupt sleep, and be physically and mentally exhausting.
If your allergy symptoms are mild, you may choose to suffer through them without taking medication. For others whose symptoms are too big to ignore, you may choose to treat your symptoms with medication either prescribed by your doctor or sold over the counter.
The problem with allergy medications is that they only treat the symptoms and have a long list of side effects that can be as frustrating as the allergy itself. Drowsiness, lethargy, and dry mouth are common side effects of decongestants, and not recommended for people with heart disease. Antihistamines have many of the same side effects although they target different symptoms.
Nasal corticosteroids, leukotriene receptor antagonists, and cromolyn sodium nasal sprays are typically more effective due to the fact that they are designed to block the immune systems response to the allergens. While these medications have relatively few side effects, some are severe, and some people tolerate them better than others. Plus, not all medications are recommended for children, or those women who are pregnant or nursing.
Essential oils can be helpful for reducing seasonal and environmental allergy symptoms. Essential oils are made from plants, and contain the plants’ natural chemical components for growth, repair, defense, and reproduction.
Each type of plant produces its own combination of chemical components based on its location and role in nature. Due to the extraction method, essential oils are highly concentrated and very strong; often, one drop is enough to provide the intended beneficial result.
The use of essential oils for therapeutic reasons is well documented and dates back thousands of years. Of course, modern extraction methods are more efficient, making essential oils accessible to more people. Testing methods such as gas chromatography (GC) and mass spectrometry (MS) identify the chemical make-up of the essential oil, and enables scientific testing to determine how those components affect us.
Many of the individual components have been found to be anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, anti-viral, anti-fungal, anti-microbial, effective at relieving congestion, pain relieving, calming, uplifting, relaxing, fever reducing, as well as many other useful qualities.
When it comes to helping with symptoms of allergies, many people find just inhaling certain essential oils is the quickest and most effective method. A room diffuser or a personal inhaler for direct inhalation work great. It can be a little bit of trial and error to see which combination of oils work best for your type of allergies, but it is well worth it.
The most commonly used essential oils are: Lavender, peppermint, eucalyptus, sandalwood, and lemon. Less commonly used oils, due to their strong aroma, are chamomile, tea tree, and basil.
Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) has a natural anti-histamine effect, reduces inflammation caused by an allergic reaction, and is relaxing. It is also great for headaches.
Peppermint (Mentha x piperita) can help open swollen nasal passages and ease nasal congestion; it is anti-inflammatory and helps reduce mucous production. Combined with lavender it is especially effective at relieving headaches.
Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus globulus) works similarly to peppermint oil for relieving allergy symptoms but is extremely effective when placed in a bowl of steaming water and inhaled that way; just remember to close your eyes before placing a towel over your head to concentrate the vapor.
Sandalwood (Santalum paniculatum) is especially effective against allergy symptoms associated with pet dander, dust, and year-round allergic rhinitis by strengthening the immune system and helping to inhibit allergic responses.
Lemon (Citrus limon) has an anti-inflammatory effect, is detoxifying, great for boosting your immune system and lifting your mood. Do not apply to your skin due to the fact that it increases your sensitivity to the sun.
Chamomile (Matricaria recutita) is soothing to a respiratory system that is irritated from sneezing, coughing, and dry or irritated mucous membranes. It is also calming and relaxing.
Tea tree (Melaleuca alternifolia) is anti-inflammatory and is a powerful anti-microbial; it is effective against bacteria, fungus, molds, and viruses both when inhaled directly and diffused in a room.
Basil (Ocimum basilicum ct linalool) is anti-inflammatory, detoxifying, and supports the adrenal glands (which are often stressed with long-term allergy symptoms). Basil is also anti-microbial, and relaxing.
Aromatherapy, using essential oils for personal benefit, has become exceedingly popular in the last decade. So much so, that one can find essential oils for sale just about anywhere. It is no longer necessary to find a certified aromatherapist to be able to benefit from using essential oils.
However, there are some very important things to know about purchasing and using essential oils. Since essential oils are not considered medicine, they are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. No one is allowed to claim that essential oils can heal or treat disease; it is the same with herbs.
The process used for extracting the oils from the plants, the purity, and levels of individual components of each oil are not regulated by any government agency. Therefore, it is the consumer’s responsibility to be educated and diligent about purchasing and using the oils. (This is where a certified aromatherapist is helpful.)
With so many choices of brands of essential oils, it can be challenging to find the best one to trust with your health and your money. The company should openly divulge the following information:
- 100% pure, therapeutic grade
- Organic, wildcrafted or conventionally grown and harvested
- Method of extraction (distilled, solvent)
- Date of production of the lot
- Country/place of origin
- Provide GC/MS data for each lot
Since essential oils are extremely concentrated, they can have a profound effect on your body, and you want to make sure that you are using high quality oils without adulteration (solvents or pesticide residue); organic or wildcrafted is best. You also need to make sure that the oil is not too old. Once an oil reaches its maximum shelf life it will begin to change chemically (by breaking down/oxidizing), will become less effective and may irritate rather than be therapeutic.
While the gas chromatography (GC) report may be difficult for you to interpret, I recommend obtaining the report for each oil you purchase so that you can compare it over time to different lots of the same oil. If you have any doubts about the purity of the oil, and experienced aromatherapist can tell by looking at the report. Another advantage of having the GC/MS report is that it will help you to keep track of how old your oil is so that you can replace it before it begins to break down.
It is not necessary to store essential oils in the refrigerator unless they are rarely used. Most oils will be fine stored in a cool place out of direct sunlight. Citrus oils such as lemon have the shortest shelf life, which is generally around one year, and may be best stored in the refrigerator.
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