The Real Cause of Seasonal Allergies (Hint: It’s Not Pollen)


More people consider spring their favorite season over any other. But for millions, the accompanying sneezing, coughing, itchy eyes, and brain fog of seasonal allergies make spring a time to be dreaded rather than enjoyed. And this spring is predicted to be worse than usual. The long, cold winter and higher-than-average snowfall mean some plants are primed to produce more pollen, according to allergy specialists. (1)

Besides the usual sneezing, coughing, and watery eyes, inhalant allergies can leave you with serious brain fog, inability to concentrate and focus, fatigue, irritability, and depression.

Typically, people with allergies seal up the house and try to stay indoors. Then they try one of the myriad over-the-counter antihistamines. Many are under their doctor’s care taking prescription medications or getting allergy shots. These can definitely take the joy out of this beautiful season.

But there are much better ways to cope with this annoying problem. 

The Real Cause of Seasonal Allergies

Most people blame pollen or mold spores for their seasonal allergies, but these aren’t the real cause at all!

Allergy symptoms are caused by an overactive immune system. Your immune system produces substances known as antibodies that protect you from unwanted invaders that could make you sick or cause an infection.

When you have allergies, your immune system is producing antibodies in response to exposure to things like pollen, dust, or pet dander that it perceives as harmful, even though they aren’t.

It’s not the exposure to allergens that are the root cause of your allergies, it’s your body’s overreaction causing the cascade of allergic symptoms. 

Allergy Relief Strategies

Here are five ways to tackle your seasonal allergies without drugs or medications. Take these steps to keep your allergies under control this season and prevent attacks in the future. You may even get permanent relief! 

1. Minimize Allergen Exposure

Minimizing exposure to allergens gives your immune system less to react to. Here are steps to take to reduce your contact with pollen:

  • Close your windows on high pollen count days to prevent it from blowing inside in home. Keep your car windows up and use the AC when driving. If you’re in your car a lot consider getting an automobile air purifier. (Not to be confused with a car air filter which has nothing to do with passengers’ air quality!)
  • Do outside activities like light gardening, walking, and other forms of outdoor exercise or chores when pollen levels are relatively low. Trees and weeds typically release pollen in the morning, while grasses release pollen both morning and night. Get someone else to do your heavy gardening chores like grass cutting, weed whacking, and leaf blowing. If you must do these activities, immediately take a shower, throw all clothes in the laundry, and wipe down your shoes when done.
  • Make your bedroom an allergen-free zone. Giving your body eight hours in a “pure” environment can definitely lighten your allergic load. Get an air purifier just for the bedroom. Keep your bedroom scrupulously clean. Having hard surfaces — like hardwood floors instead of carpet, and vinyl blinds instead of curtains — can make this job easier. Avoid sleeping with pets who bring in pollen and distribute their dander in your bed. Don’t use chemical air fresheners, and certainly don’t smoke or let anyone else smoke in the bedroom.

Closing up your house can cause other problems, however. The level of air pollutants in the average home is 10x’s the level of pollutants outside. Dust, pollen, mold spores, tobacco smoke, and pet dander accumulate if your house is sealed shut. This can contribute to developing allergies all year long! If you close up your house, clean up your inside air with a good air purifier.

A free and easy way to learn what kind of allergens are peaking is to sign up for pollen tracking updates from Enter your zip code to receive email alerts of high pollen counts in your area. I used this to help me figure out which general types of plants I was allergic to.

Having this heads-up can be a big help in knowing when it’s time to start taking precautions. In general, year-round allergens are dust mites, mold spores, and pet dander. Spring pollen mainly comes from trees, early summer pollen is mostly from grasses, and late summer pollen is predominately ragweed. 

2. Use a Saline Spray

One weird way to minimize allergic response is to keep the inside of your nose clean with a saline nasal spray. Over-the-counter saline nasal sprays can help relieve stuffiness and congestion and they won’t lead to the rebound congestion that can follow from the use of nasal decongestants.

When your nasal passages are dry, mild nasal crusting may occur, and bacterial infections can develop under these crusts. Saline sprays clean the nasal passages of crusts and mucus and also help the natural cleaning system of your nasal passages flushing away pollen in the process. (2)

Taking antihistamines contributes to this drying of your nasal passages. When the inside of your nose gets very dry, it can crack and develop microfissures, creating the perfect environment for infection and allowing pollen to directly enter your system. In extreme cases these fissures can lead to nosebleeds.

Saline nasal sprays may sting slightly. If you find it too uncomfortable, try a preservative-free version or one that’s designed for kids. 

3. Boost Your Immune System

Since allergies are fundamentally an immune system problem, for true and long-lasting relief you need to boost yours with the right foods and nutrients.

Omega-3 fatty acids are critical for preventing allergies. This highly anti-inflammatory compound is not reliably found in the modern diet except in grass-fed meat and wild-caught salmon, so for most people supplementation is a must.

I use a high-quality krill oil rather than the usual fish oil. It’s an excellent source of astaxanthin, one of the most potent antioxidant, anti-inflammatory nutrients known. Read labels before you buy. Not all brands of krill oil contain this.  

Vitamin D is another essential nutrient that has been found to reduce allergy symptoms and even asthma.   

Wheat sensitivity doesn’t manifest only as digestive problems, it contributes to oversensitivity to environmental factors as well. Wheat sensitivity can cause problems you might not expect like nasal congestion, asthma, sore throat, and itchy eyes. (3) The culprit in wheat is gluten, a protein that triggers an autoimmune response thus causing inflammation.

Cut back on all grains. Don’t forget that when you eat grains you are actually consuming grass seeds. Many people report a dramatic reduction in hay fever and allergy symptoms from cutting back on grains in general, not just wheat. 

Probiotics provide “friendly” bacteria that reduce allergic reaction to pollen as they heal your gut. 

4. Manage Symptoms Without Drugs

If you’re already experiencing allergy symptoms, you want relief fast. But taking antihistamines doesn’t cure allergies or change the allergic process — they merely block its expression.

Dr. William E. Berger, one of the nation’s foremost experts on allergies and asthma, reports that nearly one third of allergy patients don’t think their medications work. (4) Besides, pharmaceutical remedies frequently come with unwanted side effects, such as drowsiness, headaches, and nasal irritation.

Antihistamines are also one of the groups of drugs known for causing brain fog and temporary memory loss. The sedative effects of these drugs can leave you feeling drowsy and impair your judgment and ability to drive.

There are a ton of natural allergy remedy options — some are proven to work but most have anecdotal evidence only. The University of Maryland’s Center for Integrative Medicine (5) suggests the following natural allergy remedies that have been shown to work without undesirable side effects:

  • Nutrients: quercetin, spirulina, and vitamin C
  • Herbal remedies: butterbur, stinging nettle, and astragalus
  • Homeopathic remedies: Nux vomica, Arsenicum album, Allium cepa, and Euphrasia
  • Chinese medicine: Biminne, a mix of 7 traditional herbs

If you’d rather stick with honey, make sure it’s unprocessed, unfiltered, and unheated or it won’t be any help at all. 

5. Avoid Cross-Reactivity

Another way to minimize allergy symptoms is to be aware of cross-reactivity between plant proteins from pollen and commonly-eaten fruits or vegetables. The theory is that your immune system recognizes similarities between different allergens and will react against similar allergens.

These crosses are not at all obvious. For example if you’re allergic to ragweed, you should avoid bananas and if you’re bothered grasses you should avoid celery. Who’d think? The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia publishes a chart of cross-reactivity foods you can view here.

One last tip I learned the hard way. If you’ve ever considered moving to the desert to avoid allergies – don’t! There are over 2,800 species of native flowering plants in the desert southwest (more than in an Eastern US forest) plus innumerable non-native landscape plants. Many people (myself included) find their allergies get much worse!

Start applying this two-pronged approach — minimize allergen exposure while building your immune system — and your allergies will almost certainly begin to subside. But be patient. It may time some time. Your immune system didn’t get out of whack in a day so it may take a season or two to rebuild yours to the point where you experience significant improvement.


Deane Alban holds a bachelor’s degree in biology, has taught and written about natural health for over 20 years, and is the co-founder of The human brain is capable of staying sharp for a lifetime… yet few of ours will. Our modern lifestyle is harming our brains in more ways than most of us realize. Learn the best ways to stay mentally sharp for life in her new brand ecourse 21 Days to a Brighter Brain: Reboot Your Boomer Brain & Stay Mentally Sharp for Life.

Her favorite allergy relief product? Native Remedies Histamine Helper Combo Pack. It combines many of the nutrients, herbs, and homeopathic remedies recommended above by University of Maryland. Their new AllergyEase regional remedies address common allergens specific to different regions of the US. This works on the same concept as eating local honey only it’s standardized, potent, and sugar-free. Native Remedies has a crazy return policy – one year unconditional guarantee – so you’ve got plenty of time to see how it works for you. Hope it helps!

Deane Alban
Deane Alban is co-founder of and author of "Brain Gold: Brain Fitness Guide for Boomers" and "21 Days to a Brighter Brain."

Deane holds a bachelor's degree in biology from University of South Florida, where she also studied journalism. She has taught and written on a wide variety of natural health topics for over 20 years, including teaching healthy cooking classes.

As a baby boomer, Deane has turned her passion for healthy living to focus on a major problem people everywhere are facing – issues with mental decline right now and worries about Alzheimer's disease and dementia in the future. Deane brings the science down to earth in an entertaining and engaging way, giving her readers practical, easy-to-follow advice to keep their minds sharp for life.

Deane lives near Tucson, Arizona with her husband and business partner, Patrick, a retired chiropractor. She loves living in the desert where plenty of sunshine and outdoor activities help keep her mind young!

  • Hmm. Not sure what the itchy wrist picture has to do with seasonal allergies…

    • Thank you – that picture is much, much better!

    • Dawn Slike

      I do not have that picture on my screen anywhere. Maybe an ad for something else?

    • art

      My pic is of a lovely,lavender meddow,although an, "itchy wrist" is part of the "immune response" that they're talking about in the article,albeit a topical reaction not,seasonal allergies or hayfever,but still could be related.

      • Hi Art and Dawn, The image has been changed per my request. Thanks for noticing! 🙂

  • CiaoBella

    Ugh! I have year-around allergies. I'm allergic to dust, dust mites,pet dander, pollen, all grasses and trees in the state where I live (S.E. US). So pollen is just another annoyance. I alternate over the counter allergy meds and try to do 1 week w/o taking anything. I do the neti pot saline nasal rinse to avoid sinus infections and that's been a great help. For years I had to go on antibiotics 3 or 4 times/hr. But since I discovered my 'formula', it's been over 1 year since my last sinus infection and anti-bs. Another home remedy that helps me is mixing 2 tbs of honey with 1/4 cup of apple cider vinegar and 1/2 cup of water. I use a glass jam jar with a tight fitting lid- shake vigorously and take 2 tbs 2xday (in the morning and in the evening). Good way to manage my ever present allergies.

    • JP Rice

      organic honey, grown locally and apple cider vinegar is the best thing for seasonal allergies

    • cpmt

      probiotics (no from milk), omega3, vitam. B12, vitam D3, Vitam C and acupuncture. take anything that helps your immune system.
      I was like you… always sick … always with bronchitis etc… 1first i went to acupuncture, 2. I began to take herbal and plant spices remedies, i am much better now…. I don't have hardly any problems since… 5 years ago… only a few times compared with every single month sick. you must get out of the place it is making you sick AIR AND CLEAN WELL i also have a clean air machine -EPA filter- that runs in spring 27/7 … to clean the air of my house.
      you can buy a machine that can clean all your house. can be installed in your house. better than to be sick all the time… and soon or later you will get really sick.

      • cpmt

        I read an article written by scientist that said since MONSANTO AND GMO's were used, the allergies had increase to affect 89% of the population in USA and many other countries. Not only allergies but neurological, infertility and cancer had increase in alarming rates.

    • cpmt

      acupuncture also helps a lot. I had allergic asthma and I don't have it for the last few years (only when i am close to very bad dust – construction- or smoke -smoking restaurant or…- on the street or a place.

  • marlene

    I think this may add to information, but do not forget the mildew on Plane tree leaves in the fall or Autumn. What else is attaching itself to the plants at this feed time as the trees are winding down for winter. What are the natural scavengers at this time helping for recycling nutrients.?

  • Great tips- I never considered the connection between eating grains and reacting to grasses outside. I don't have any environmental allergies that I know about but I always interested in helping others with this problem.

  • Rich Brown

    All my allergies went away when I got off all dairy and meat 100% ten years ago and have not been back since. I was addicted to nasal spray which dried out my gut causing intestinal bleeding which lead to leaky gut which aggravates the immune system even more, Now off gluten and sugar too and feel like a million bucks at 57.

  • Sarah

    This whole post is the author confusing a proximate and ultimate cause. Hint: It's still the pollen that is causing the allergy, it is just the immune system that is the more proximate cause.

  • janet

    I have Candida when I first got it I didnt know that id got it from the food I was eating now after 4 years of tril and error I dont suffer anymore I couldnt believe that id got it from the food its a dangerous thing to eat these days but im now vegan and feeling 100% and glad I havent taken any medication just stooped eating crap diet is the best way to get rid of it now I no.

    • cpmt

      how do you get rid of CANDIDA? i think i have that to. (the doctor looked at me like i was saying something from out of the earth.

  • Guest

    A tip I read a long time ago on a site to do with asthma – it said to dry clothes in the clothes dryer instead of on a clothes line as the clothes pick up the pollen in the air

  • Ian

    Virtually all of the remedies listed in "4. Manage Symptoms Without Drugs" rely wholly on the placebo effect for their efficacy. There's no inherent medicinal property to be found in a capsule of water.

  • Aida

    I suffered from bad allergies all my life. Now I take Spirulina with vitamin D3 and C and this is my 2nd year
    completely allergies free. It really works.

  • cpmt

    I REALLY don't know why doctors do not advise some home remedies before advising strong and dangerous medications

    • Enuff

      "I REALLY don't know why doctors do not advise some home remedies before advising strong and dangerous medications"
      Because, they are "encouraged" to push this stuff on us by Pharma Reps.

  • Jhake Turner

    Molds are multi-cell (comprise of more than one cell) filamentous parasites generally having a fluffy or cottony delicate presence when they develop in territories in your homes. They may be white, dull or in any shade. They process spores normally agamically and in extensive numbers which implies they emerge and inherit from a solitary guardian. Agamic generation is the essential manifestation of propagation for single-celled living beings, for example, microorganisms and organisms. They are light, impervious to drying and can without much of a stretch spread through the air and pollute any territories.
    All the more regularly, a rotten odor could be the main intimation that there is a concealed mold development far from your house. Never disregard mold smells on the off chance that you can't see any mold or else this could be the principle reason of diseases inside your gang. You ought to completely investigate your home before any mold issues deteriorate. You can discover how to assess your house for mold at certified mold inspection

  • ronniekeeling

    All of us aware about the fact that we do spend most of the time inside our office and house and most allergies starts from there. Allergies from outside dust and smoke do tend to cause allergies but most of us discard the factors inside our house that might lead to allergies and respiratory problems. An indoor air quality testing can help us get an idea about various constituents that make up indoor air that we breathe in. While we use air conditioners and heaters inside our house and office it becomes mandatory for us to conduct an indoor air quality testing as this will help us take the necessary actions which can benefit our health. Get to know more about indoor air quality testing… from this link.

  • Michael

    I agree with the immune system being over taken.. But this article fails to point out the REAL cause of allergies. Its the high histamine foods the American diet consist of, and more importantly the parasites and bad bacteria that love all the bad stuff we eat. What they do is create a high histamine environment in our bodies that our immune system trys to fight. Then when allergy season comes around our body cant handle fighting the additional exposure. My whole family has suffered all our lives from this issue and 2 years ago I found a product called RIDSET, which is a parasite detox. Ever since taking that product I have ZERO allergy symptoms. Its completely changed my life. I recommend this product to anybody who is suffering from allergies and many other mis-diagnosed issues. Read up on it!