27 Oct Understanding Hayfever and Natural Solutions
As the weather is warming up and we step into spring it is very fitting that we talk about seasonal hayfever.
It is estimated that 1 in 5 Australians suffer from hayfever, with 70% of cases occurring before the age of 30. Funnily enough, hayfever is not caused by hay and doesn’t result in a fever. The correct medical term is allergic rhinitis.
Hayfever is an IgE-mediated immune reaction to airborne allergens, usually pollen, but can also include dust mites, mould and animal hair. When these tiny particles come into contact with the cells that line your mouth, nose, eyes and throat, they irritate them and trigger an allergic reaction.
But why does this happen? Well, your body is overreacting to something it perceives as a threat. Your immune system is hypersensitive and is responding as if it were being attacked by a virus.
As a result it releases a number of chemicals designed to prevent the spread of what it wrongly perceives as an infection. These chemicals cause the symptoms of an allergic reaction, such as nasal congestion, watering, itchy eyes, and a runny nose. Histamine is one of the chemicals responsible for the above mentioned symptoms.
It’s unclear what causes the immune system to react in this way, but there are several factors that can increase your risk of developing hayfever. They include:
- having asthma or another allergic condition, such as eczema or a food allergy (this is what’s known as atopy, or the genetic tendency to develop allergic conditions)
- having a family history of allergies – you have a 50% chance of developing an allergy if one parent is allergic, and a 75% chance if both parents are allergic
- being exposed to tobacco smoke and diesel exhaust particles during early childhood OR
- smoking or prolonged exposure to second-hand smoke
So what are the top causes of hayfever?
I mentioned pollen earlier. The majority of plants pollinate in spring, which is why the warmer months are so challenging for hayfever sufferers.
Other allergens that can be responsible for hayfever symptoms include plant phenolics and terpenes. These are naturally occurring compounds that help determine a plant’s taste, colour and smell. However, an adverse reaction to some airborne phenolics and plant terpenes may also contribute to the symptoms of hayfever and even asthma or some skin conditions.
If you experience year-round allergies you may be reacting to these substances as well as dust mites, mould spores and animal hair.
What is surprising though is that you may also develop allergy symptoms to certain foods. This is known as cross reactivity and it happens when the immune system reacts to the proteins found in one substance because they are structurally similar to the proteins found in another. As a result, the immune system sees them as identical and reacts to them in the same way. So, for example, if you’re allergic to pollen, you may find that eating certain fruits or vegetables also sparks your allergy symptoms.
Now going back to hayfever what are some things we can do to help manage it?
As with most allergies, the best way to control hay fever is to avoid the triggers.
But it is difficult to always avoid pollen, particularly during springtime.
Antihistamines are the usual medical treatment for hayfever symptoms, as they block the release of histamine. But, over time, your body can build up a tolerance and these drugs lose their effectiveness. They can also cause undesirable side effects such as a dry mouth, fatigue, nausea and headaches. Steroid nasal sprays are also used for a stuffy nose but long term use can damage the lining of the sinuses.
What I recommend to my clients is Vitamin C. Vitamin C has a natural anti-histamine action and helps to reduce the severity of hayfever symptoms. In terms of the dose I recommend 500mg every 2 hours in an acute allergic response. In these instances most convenient form would be in a chewable tablet form. As a maintenance, 500mg twice to three times a day is beneficial in supporting long term immunity.
Another supplement which is beneficial for hay fever is quercetin. Quercetin is a naturally occurring antioxidant found in certain fruits and vegetables. As a dietary supplement, quercetin inhibits inflammatory processes by down regulating the production of allergic cytokines, inflammatory leukotrienes and prostaglandins (inflammatory mediators), and stabilising mast cells. And like Vitamin C it, also inhibits antigen-stimulated histamine release.
I also recommend using herbs such as baical skullcap, albizzia and perilla for their anti-allergic and anti-inflammatory properties.
For hayfever sufferers, it is also important to reduce how much you drink because alcohol worsens hay fever symptoms. Beer, wine and spirits contain histamine, that very same chemical that sets off allergy symptoms in your body. As well as making you more sensitive to pollen, alcohol also dehydrates you, making your symptoms seem worse.
Also eating foods rich in omega 3 and 6 essential fats is very beneficial. These fats can be found in oily fish, nuts, seeds, and their oils. They contain anti-inflammatory properties, and may help reduce the severity of hayfever symptoms over time.
Tips to reduce exposure to airborne allergens
- Keep windows shut at night and first thing in the morning
- Stay indoors when the pollen count is high (between 50 and 150) and avoid hanging sheets/clothes outdoors as this can bring pollen spores indoors
- Wear wraparound sunglasses
- Put some pawpaw ointment or another nasal blocker just inside your nostrils to help trap some of the pollen
- Wash your hands and face regularly
- Avoid sitting in fields or large areas of grass
- Avoid exposure to other allergens, such as pet fur, or environmental irritants, such as insect sprays or tobacco smoke
- Cover pillows and mattresses with plastic/allergy covers
- Use synthetic materials (foam mattresses, acrylics) instead of animal products (wool, horsehair)
- Minimise dust-collecting household items (i.e., carpets, curtains)
- Use of an air purifier/dust filter may help or a pollen filter for air vents
If there’s anything that you’ve found to be effective for treating hayfever, I’d love to hear it. So please comment below.