How annoying is hay fever? Just when you’re basking in the warm weather, and frolicking in the beautiful flowers, BAM! It goes and spoils everything. Also called “Allergic rhinitis” or the “rose cold”, hay fever is basically, your hysterical immune system mounting full retaliation against a benign passerby- usually pollen, dust or animal dander. When it happens seasonally (usually the spring) you can safely bet that some one, some where, is pollinating and it’s getting up your nose. Symptoms can include sneezing, watery eyes, swelling and inflammation of the nasal passages, increased mucous production and hives. It can disrupt your sleep and make you look and feel awful. Aside from all these delightful symptoms, allergy sufferers can also have unpleasant mental and emotional symptoms. In the past, it was believed that allergy exacerbated underlying mental conditions, and yes- this is true. But we are now beginning to understand there’s also more to it than that. A growing body of research which seeks to understand how the allergic response affects the body’s nervous system, is finding that allergies can be the CAUSE of many emotional symptoms, including panic attacks, compulsive behaviour, depression, irritability, mental fog and anxiety. So, if you’re a hay fever sufferer, and you are in the depths of feeling both physically and or emotionally unwell- time to get on top of it!
Many people depend on antihistamines throughout the allergy season to get by. They can provide that instant acute relief that is so desperately desired. But they can come with some negative side effects like: sedation, impaired motor function, dizziness, dry mouth, blurred vision, urinary retention and constipation. But even if you aren’t someone who experiences side effects, you might want to reduce your use of pharmaceuticals, especially if your allergy season is longer than a few days. Luckily there are many natural things that can help- without negative side effects and by addressing the cause.
The best time to treat hay fever is when you don’t have it It’s a lot harder to treat your immune system when it’s having an acute flare up. The best time to modulate it’s activity, is when you’re not being triggered. This is why knowing WHEN you experience your hay fever is helpful. For example if you’re an early spring type hay fever person, best start your treatment end of winter, a good 6-8 weeks before you would normally begin experiencing symptoms. Natural treatments aimed at the immune response (the cause) will have a greater success at preventing the earlier you start. This is especially true for people who suffer badly (though natural treatments can still help once the season is on). If your hay fever is a mild annoyance and comes and goes, you’ll likely have great results even treating during the acute phase.
Saline nasal sprays, gels and Neti pots– Also called “nasal irrigation” These are especially good for people who are chronic suffers of sinusitis and congestion. Used daily they can help tonify the mucous membranes, expel mucous, and reduce inflammation. Many people find them invaluable in managing their symptoms, and using the Neti pot in the shower once a day is the easiest way to incorporate it in to your routine. You can find Neti pots at most pharmacies these days with full instructions on their use. Saline nasal sprays work similarly, the gels rubbed in to the inside of the nostril can even help by trapping allergens as they enter.
Exercise– Research has shown that exercising a half an hour 4-5X per week reduces hay fever symptoms. Of course, try to exercise in the morning when pollen is lowest or opt for indoor exercise or swimming. (Best yet, an ocean swim and you can forgo the Neti pot!)
Bee products– Eating bee pollen and raw local honey may also help prime the immune system so that it copes better with environmental pollens. This is one of those treatments that is best started well in advance of the hay fever season. Bee pollen is also an excellent source of nutrients and can be put in your smoothie, muesli, yogurt or just eat it off the spoon- about 1 tsp per day is recommended. NOTE do not take bee pollen if you are allergic to bees.
Medicinal Foods- Foods that when consumed regularly can help reduce hay fever symptoms include: Onions/garlic, Horseradish, Kiwi fruit, Pineapple, Ginger, and Tumeric. Onions in particular are high in a bioflavonid called Quercetin- which in high doses can be extremely helpful in treating hay fever. Red onions are the highest source, and I love to make a medicinal onion/garlic syrup using red onion and garlic to treat hay fever but also coughs/colds. Stay tuned for my recipe in a follow up post. You can also take Quercetin in a supplement form if you prefer.
When using red onions as a source of bioflavonoids- we want to chose the darkest coloured ones and use the outer darker rings of the onion (not the dry skin) – as they have the highest concentration of these beneficial nutrients.
Probiotics- The role of the gut in the immune response can not be understated and often in cases of allergy there is a gut component, even if the person is unaware. There are some strains of probiotics available that have been proven with clinical trials to reduce the severity of hay fever symptoms. If you are someone who expects to be having hay fever regularly throughout the season, gut health is your first line of defence. If you know you have gut issues and you also suffer hay fever, best get in touch with your naturopath and treat your whole body to get the best benefit.
Avoiding certain foods- Our mucous membranes can operate a lot like a light switch. Mucous gets turned on in one place, it gets tuned on everywhere. This is why it is so important to avoid foods that trigger mucous production if you are suffering from sinus symptoms. These are: ANY FOODS YOU KNOW YOU ARE SENSITIVE TO, sugar, alcohol, dairy, and wheat. Some people may also include the inflammation promoting nightshade family (potatoes, tomatoes, capsicums and eggplants) and also things like bananas to the list. Oh- and while it’s not a food- it goes without saying that smoking is terrible for hay fever.
Herbs- There are so many wonderful herbs out there that have their own unique qualities in the treatment of allergy, both on the immune level and on the respiratory system level. This is just a very short list of my favourites which I use regularly in practice- and also ones you’ll see often in most commercial formulations.
Albizia (Albizia lebbeck) – This is one of the herbs you’ll get in some of the better “Hayfever” formulations either over the counter or by prescription from your naturopath. It works by quieting and reducing the severity of your immune system hysteria.
Baical skullcap (Scutellaria baicalensis)- This herb will often be found in combination with Albizia, and it is also considered an antiallergic, by working on the immune system directly. However, it has added bonuses of being an excellent anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial and also a bitter tonic. Bitter herbs help to stimulate digestion and liver function- also addressing some of the potential underlying causes of allergy.
Perilla seed (Perilla frutescens)- The seed extract is has been found in clinical trials to reduce leukotriene synthesis. Leukotrienes are chemicals associated with allergic and inflammatory disorders, including hay fever, asthma and inflammatory bowel disorders. So less of them is a good thing if you are suffering from allergies!
Golden Rod (Solidago virgaurea)- One of my absolute favourites to use in acute hayfever or sinusitis, this herb helps to relieve mucous production, is anti-inflammatory and antiseptic. Perfect for those who tend to infections of their sinuses when allergies flare.
Eyebright (Euphrasia officinalis)- This herb is also used acutely, and helps to astringe and tonify mucous membranes of the sinus.
Elder (Sambuccus nigar)- Always included in a sinus mix, this is a herb par excellence for congestion, and deafness associated with congestion of the sinus. Use it equally in the common cold as in hayfever and allergy.
Golden Seal- (Hydrastis canadensis)- One of those herbs that really covers all your bases. It’s a powerful anti-microbial, helping to stave of infections, it’s a top notch tonic for the mucous membranes, and at the same time a potent bitter digestive stimulant and support for the liver. Perfect in any sinus mix.
Horseradish- (Armoracia rusticate)- Funnily enough, I don’t use horseradish as often as the herbs above in my mixes- though with the marketing of the “Garlic, horseradish and vitamin C” formulations that most vitamin companies do a version of- it’s impossible to leave out. And it really shouldn’t be left out, as anyone who’s ever eaten wasabi will attest. This is a powerful herb to clear the sinus and help relieve pressure.
Nettle leaf (Urtica dioica)- This one isn’t as commonly prescribed treatments for hayfever, and really is more of the “long game” approach- though very effective, cheap and with overlapping benefits. Nettle tea, drunk everyday as your regular cuppa- (mix with peppermint or other if you want to jazz it up)- can offer many long term and powerful benefits. In this case I think of waves washing against a rock face for many years, eventually making a deep impression in it’s surface. It’s not the power of the individual lap that does the work, it’s the cumulative effect over time. Much of what we can achieve in natural therapies is this kind of gentle power. Nettle leaf is highly nutritive- full of minerals and blood purifying chemicals that make it a gentle nourishing detoxifier. It calms and cools the over heated and irate system. I have personally seen the profound effect 1-2 cups of nettle tea per day can have on a persons health. So much so, I’m inspired to get the kettle on RIGHT NOW.
Homeopathics– I use homeopathics all the time for hay fever. It’s especially great for the acute flare ups and for those who suffer hay fever only mildly or sporadically and don’t wish to take a daily tonic for a few months because the symptoms come and go. In these cases, knowing your personal “repertoire” of symptoms (most of us have a particular way we usually experience hay fever) and trying the most appropriate remedies, will give you some go-to treatments when you get hit with a bout of seasonal allergy. However, if the commonly prescribed acute remedies don’t seem to do the trick, or stop working after a time, it may be best to get to your homeopath for a more specific prescription. Some cases are easy to treat and others a bit more tenacious. To have more permanent long lasting results- an individual or “constitutional” remedy prescribed by a homeopath is necessary. Here is just the tiniest sample of a long list of potential supports:
Allium cepa- This is homeopathic onion. What happens when you cut an onion? Burning stinging watery eyes, nose runs clear water discharge. This is the kind of hayfever we use Allium cepa for. The watery discharge can be quite burn-y as well, and may make the skin of the nose and upper lip red and raw. There is much sneezing and headache. A very common hayfever picture and a particularly fantastic remedy if this sounds like you.
Sabadilla- I personally use this remedy during allergy season. It’s key symptoms are: crazy sneezing fits, and that itchy feeling right in the spot where your ears nose and throat meet- that spot you can never reach which makes you pull on your ears and rub the roof of your mouth with your tongue. So annoying! There can be watery discharge from the nose and also congestion. You may also have burning eyes.
Natrum muriaticum- This is hay fever worse from being outside and the wind. The nose is running, both clear and also thick like egg white, sinuses can be congested. There’s a lot of sneezing in this remedy and cracked lips or splits in the corners of the mouth. In hay fever, it’s often found in a tissue salt form, and sometimes in combination with other minerals that are helpful in hay fever. I find them very effective.
Euphrasia- This is the homeopathic medicine of Eyebright. As the name suggests, eye symptoms are predominant- inflammed, irritated, red and burning. There can be crusts around the eyes in the morning and may also be indicated if there is conjunctivitis, especially associated with allergy. Lots of clear runny mucous from the nose and sneezing.
Pulsatilla- We use this remedy when there are itchy irritated eyes, which are better for cold applications. Nasal mucous can be clear to green, and sinus can be infected. The person is always better for fresh air- though in the case of hay fever this may be air-conditioning or a fan- as the pollens out side may irritate. Do you relate to one or more of these remedies and can’t chose? It might mean you need more than one of them at more than one occasion- or one not mentioned here. Make an appointment with your friendly local homeopath to set up a treatment strategy. Even though we are now entering hay fever season in the southern hemisphere- it’s not too late to get on top of things, and maybe we’re even more motivate to increase our awareness and understanding hay fever so that next year we can be more on to it. For those in the northern hemisphere, you have a couple of months before you have to start preparing seriously- but you can still get in to a routine of nettle tea and bee pollen daily- which can do so much for your wellbeing all year round.