If you are one of the 15-25% of people in New Zealand or Australia that suffer from hay fever, you’ll either be in the midst of itchy season or waiting apprehensively for the first drippy nose to begin.
Spring and Summer are typically the worst seasons for hay fever sufferers, although some people find the dampness and mould of Autumn to be a special trigger-time.
Hay fever is the common name for allergic rhinitis. The ‘rhinitis’ refers to the nose, as in rhino, which is what you might feel like if you’re all stuffed up. The ‘allergic’ refers to the fact that all your yucky symptoms are triggered by an allergic reaction to something.
The most common triggers for hay fever are:
- Pollens from grasses, trees, flowers
- Animal hair
- Moulds, fungal spores
- Dust mites
- Environmental irritants such as fumes, diesel, perfumes, chemicals
The common symptoms of hay fever are:
- Itch/irritation: eyes, throat, nose, skin, ears
- Congestion/increased secretions: nose, sinus, eyes, throat
- Some people can experience skin symptoms such as hives or rashes or worsening of existing conditions such as eczema
- Hay fever can sometimes cause irritability, fatigue and sleeping problems
- Asthmatics can also have a worsening of symptoms, especially if they also suffer from hay fever
These symptoms are caused when a trigger, e.g. a pollen, gets literally up your nose! Or in your eyes, or your throat and meets your amazing immune system which has decided it is a THREAT. Red Alert! Pollen! Our intelligent immune cells have got it a bit wrong, but once they’ve decided on eliminating their target they mobilise all their forces to do this. One of the key players here is histamine, please click to read here a whole article about histamine! Histamine is responsible for a lot of the itchiness and inflammation and running noses that we associate with hay fever, which is why antihistamines are the go-to pharmaceutical prescription for seasonal allergies. But is there a better way?
Natural medicine offers not only specific remedies to help reduce hay fever symptoms, but also holistic approaches that stop you getting the hay fever in the first place, or at least minimise it.
The great thing about natural therapies for the treatment of hay fever is that they aren’t simply suppressing the histamine that is causing the symptoms, they also can provide balancing and re-training for the immune system, supply nutrients that may be deficient and reduce overall inflammation that may be exacerbating the problem.
Many herbal medicines have anti-allergic, anti-histamine and anti-inflammatory properties. These include: Albizzia, Baical Skullcap, Nettles, Milk Thistle and Echinacea. Other herbs work by toning the inflamed membranes inside the nose/throat etc so that they are soothed and calmed and reduce their secretions. These include Eyebright and Ribwort.
Remember that herbal medicines work well when they are well grown, well manufactured and well-prescribed. They can be super powerful and effective when given in the right forms and doses. Don’t expect miracles from some cheap 1-a-day product you buy off the shelf at a supermarket.
Nutrients and Supplements
Vitamin C: acts as an antihistamine when given in the right doses
Bioflavonoids, especially Quercetin: have anti-inflammatory and anti-histamine properties
Omega 3 Fatty Acids: help to reduce allergy and inflammation
B Complex, especially B5 and B6: help to reduce histamine and calm the stress response
To put this all in context, some people really benefit from using a quercetin supplement to reduce hay fever symptoms, in other words quercetin can be an actual treatment for hay fever. Other nutrients such as zinc and omega 3 oils work better at prevention and are a more long-term solution.
Holistic Approaches to Allergy
Aside from addressing underlying nutrient deficiencies as outlined above, naturopathic approaches to allergy focus on 3 key areas.
1. Addressing your intolerances
Many people notice that when they get their diet right and stop eating foods which are reactive for them, they simply don’t get hay fever anymore, or it’s a bit of a non-event. I’ve seen plenty of people over the years who are so surprised that the hay fever they’ve had all their life seems to have disappeared, coinciding with a few months off their reactive foods. This is because eating reactive foods increases inflammation in your body and may have a direct effect on increasing histamine also. To find out your reactivities click here.
2. Liver Detoxification:
The liver filters all our blood, all the time. If it has been overloaded with a lifetime of alcohol and environmental pollutants and not enough fibre it may need a bit of extra support. When the liver is sluggish it can’t filter out potentially reactive/allergenic particles and this may be why people often develop more allergies as they age. Talk to your natural health practitioner about a suitable liver detoxification for you, or read here for more information on how to love your liver a little better.
3. Immune modulation- gut and beyond:
We all know about how important our digestive system is for our health, especially our immune health. If you haven’t read about your awesome microbiome then please click here for more amazement about the roles of our resident bacteria. So getting our gut in balance is key for good immune function.
Natural remedies are also utilised for their ability to reduce the reactivity of the immune system. Medicinal mushrooms, Echinacea and Rehmannia are just a few beneficial fungal/botanical extracts that can be handy here. Often people who have been on consistent natural immune support over winter report a better outcome in spring when the pollen starts to fly around. This is because herbal medicines often don’t just stimulate the immune system, they also help to balance it, calming down a tendency to reactivity.
And don’t forget…
Another hot tip is to put a little natural balm, such as a Calendula ointment, at the insides of your nostrils when you go out to literally ‘catch’ the pollens to reduce how much goes in! Your nasal hairs have this job but often aren’t up to the task sadly!
So please understand that your health is in your hands. You may have inherited a vulnerability to hay fever but even then you have the power to turn it around with a bit of support and attention. With the right natural approach, you can be less grumpy rhino and more bouncy spring lamb again, frolicking through the summer meadows, without them making you sneeze!