WASHINGTON (WUSA9) - This spring, tree pollen counts are among the highest they've been in the last eleven of fifteen years. And the DC Metro area is already considered an allergy 'hot-zone.'
"It is terrible, it has been debilitating for me," says Sharon Lyons Watts, a former WUSA9 news producer. Watts is now a stay-at- home mom with three young kids in Bethesda. She says her family has been hit especially hard by allergy symptoms this year, especially itchy, red eyes.
Watts stocked up on over-the-counter allergy medications and eye drops. They help block histamine, an inflammatory chemical the body releases in response to allergens. Experts say a diet of anti-inflammatory foods can also be beneficial to help control histamine response. But only if you eat these foods on a regular basis, not just once in a while.
Inova Fairfax allergy specialist Dr. Richard Rosenthal says apples are among the best choices, as a source of Vitamin C and another powerful compound linked to good lung function.
Dr. Rosenthal says, "Apples also contain something called quercitin, mostly in the skin of the apple. So if you peel them, you are not going to get as much."
Tomatoes and onions contain quercitin as well, and may be beneficial for allergy sufferers. But Dr. Rosenthal says other foods can have the opposite effect.
For example, he says, "Celery is a grass, celery cross-reacts with grass. So if someone is allergic to grass pollen, they may not tolerate celery."
Dr. Rosenthal says sufferers may experience something called oral-allergy syndrome, with lip tingling and itchiness on the roof of the mouth. This not a food allergy, but a sign that the food is similar to seasonal allergy triggers. In the fall, people with hayfever who are allergic to ragweed may have reactions when eating bell peppers, cucumbers, or bananas.
Other foods that may make allergy symptoms worse are those containing capsaicin, the ingredient which makes peppers, from cayenne to jalapeno, spicy. Dr. Rosenthal says hot spices can cause your nose to run and swell, exacerbating allergy symptoms.
And surprisingly, alcohol can have a similar effect in some people.
"Alcohol can do the same thing a pepper can. It's not an allergy, it's a chemical reaction to the alcohol," says Dr. Rosenthal.
As it turns out, the Mediterranean diet has another major quality to add to cardiovascular health.
Dr. Rosenthal says, "There's a study published in 2007, they were able to show that children who were on a Mediterranean diet, lots of fruits, lots of vegetables, whole wheat breads had fewer allergies. They had less asthma, they were less allergic in general than they would have been otherwise."
In fact, a recent study out of Sweden reveals diets rich in fish for children lead to a decrease in seasonal allergies. The likelihood of these children developing seasonal allergic conditions decreased by up to 75 percent.