What is hay fever?
Also known as seasonal allergic rhinitis, hayfever is the body’s allergic response to pollens (and sometimes fungal spores) that are in the air at certain times of year. These may include pollens from trees, often in flower in late winter and grasses, which tend to hit later into spring.
Symptoms include sneezing, runny nose, irritated eyes and itchy ears or mouth. As the body mounts a massive immune response to the pollen, which it sees as an invader, most people feel exhausted as well.
General airborne allergies, such as to dust or dander, can strike at any time of year and bring on the same symptoms. This is referred to as perennial allergic rhinitis. A person can have year round allergies as well as seasonal ones.
Late winter and into spring I often have clients who tell me they’ve had a cold for weeks which comes and goes. Frequently this turns out to be hay fever, which can mimic the feeling of a head cold at its height but not follow the usual peaks and troughs that the common cold has, or travel down to the chest. People can be surprised at just how bad they feel when having an attack.
Different weather conditions like the hot, dusty northerly wind in Melbourne, high humidity and the aftermath of thunderstorms may also stir up allergens.
Who gets hayfever?
While technically anyone can develop hay fever it tends to run in families with other atopic allergies such as asthma, hives (urticaria) and eczema. An attack of hay fever is also a trigger for asthma and hives.
People with no previous history of hayfever may find they develop it after living for a few years in a high allergy zone like Melbourne. But naturopathically speaking, stress levels, food allergies and how hard the liver has to work to break down excess chemicals can also believed to be a predictor.
What are some naturopathic treatments for hayfever?
Ideally we like to start treating a person a good six months before allergy season starts by working with the liver (detoxification and support) and removing any potential food allergens.
For acute treatment of allergic rhinitis (seasonal and perennial) consider the following:
Big doses of Vitamin C – (500-1,000 mg for adults), as required. Combinations with the bioflavonoid quercetin may be even more effective. This acts as a natural antihistamine. I find powders or chewable tablets best as they get into the system faster, so avoid the slow release tablets for acute treatment. Repeat when symptoms start to return. Caffeine reduces the bioavailability of this nutrient so avoid 2 hours to before, to 2 hours after taking the vitamin. It is impossible to get these medicinal amounts of Vitamin C for food.
Elderflower tea (Sambuccus nigra). This is particularly effective for nasal symptoms. Choose organic, loose leaf tea and brew up a large pot to drink through out thee day.
Fresh nettle tea – this is a popular remedy in the USA but not used very widely in Australia. If you have some stinging nettles in the garden (it is a common weed in Melbourne and easy to identify due to the sting) they tend to conveniently come into season at the same time as Hayfever (late winter to spring). Put on some gloves and snip off a large handful to make tea in the usual way. There is no sting when you drink it and it has a refreshing mild, ‘green’ taste. Otherwise look for freeze-dried nettle capsules.
Horseradish and garlic: This is a popular remedy that works well for some people.
Reduce common allergens from your diet during the hay fever season by avoiding flour (bread, pasta, cakes, pastries, biscuits etc), dairy and food additives (especially sulphur that may be in dried fruit and wine).
Wine, sadly can be high in histamines. While red wine may be naturally high in histamines, white wines that have been sitting in oak barrels (such as some chardonnays) cab be just as allergy provoking.
Stress, as always, can interfere with your immune response.
Other ways to reduce allergy exposure
Keep your home as dust-free as possible. If you can’t rip out carpet and get rid of curtains at least get them cleaned before the season hits. Change the filter in your vacuum cleaner and remember to give the mattress, curtains, floors and other soft furnishings a good clean at least twice a week.
For hard floors sweepers with disposable electrostatic cloths are more effective than ordinary brooms for getting rid of allergens.
Use a wet cloth to dust. Dry dusters just stir the allergens up without removing them.
Wash your face with water to remove dust and pollens when you come inside. Don’t forget your eyelashes and eyebrows.
Use a plain saline spray or neti pot at least twice a day.
Keep the windows shut at home and in the car.
Don’t hang washing on the line on days when the pollen count is high.