It may still seem like the middle of winter on some days, but it's April and that means the Hayfever Season is officially here! Every year, I seem to see increasing numbers of people come to my clinic with the classic signs of hayfever: itchy and watery eyes; sneezing; runny nose; sore throats; swollen glands; headaches. Many of these people have never had an allergy in their lives and so it comes as a very unwelcome surprise. I have several theories on why this is happening and it boils down to our immune systems becoming overloaded. Everything from our diet to the chemicals in our home, all challenge our immune system and, when an already challenged immune system is faced by further hurdles, such as a high pollen count, there can be a breakdown and allergy symptoms develop.
Traditionally, the main culprits are the pollens from grasses, flowers and trees, but recently, pollution levels, especially in the city, are making the problem worse. As all hayfever sufferers know there is no actual ‘cure’ for their problems, but there are many steps that can be taken to relieve symptoms and reduce susceptibility. If you know that you get hayfever every year the best way to deal with it is to start the treatment before the hayfever season properly begins – so the time to act is right now!
The most effective treatments include cutting dairy products out of your diet. Any upper respiratory tract problems that involve catarrh and mucus are made worse by dairy products. Foods rich in Vitamin C and bioflavonoids can help to reduce sensitivity and recent attention has been focused towards the flavonoid ‘Quercetin’, a supplement which is available from many health food stores and seems to help reduce sensitivity to allergens such as pollen. It can be particularly helpful when taken in conjunction with herbal remedies. Particularly beneficial foods include fresh berries such as cranberries, blackberries and raspberries, although most fruits are recommended, as are leafy green vegetables and plenty of fresh seasonal salads for general wellbeing. Carrots, high in Beta Carotene, are ideal as this vitamin helps to protect the mucus membranes from pollution and toxins. Finally, some people find that reducing their intake of grains, which are, after all, grasses, can be helpful.
Herbs and Supplements
Herbal remedies can sometimes reduce the allergic response and many people turn to a natural approach in managing their symptoms. Nettle and Chamomile act like natural anti-histamines and used in combination with anti-catarrhal remedies such as Eyebright and Elderflower can bring much relief to sufferers. We produce several natural remedies for the relief of Hayfever symptoms including ‘Nettle Blend’, a formula I use with my patients, which is also available online here. We also stock a large range of proprietary Herbal formulas and homeopathic remedies in our shop, D. Atkinson Herbalist.
Long before we had access to the doctor’s prescription pad, people were treating hayfever with herbs. Chamomile tea or Nettle tea sipped throughout the day soothes the irritated mucus membranes in the nasal passages and helps to cut down the body's allergic response, acting as a natural anti-histamine.
An easy to use remedy is a herbal tea blend called Summertime Tea. It contains Chamomile, Nettle, Elderflower and Liquorice herb that can be taken by children as well as adults.
In clinic, if a patient has chronic allergy symptoms, I use stronger liquid (tincture) formulas, often using traditional herbs such as Nettle leaf, Elderflower, Eyebright and Golden Rod. Bathing sore and irritated eyes with cold Chamomile tea (or a cold chamomile teabag used as an eye compress) helps to calm them down, and a herbal sinus cream, used regularly, will help ease congested sinuses.
The real benefit of using Herbal Medicine is that there are few side effects. All too often with hayfever medication the patient finds themselves feeling drowsy and unable to drive or operate machinery. I also recently blogged about new findings from the USA that suggest a link between over the counter hayfever medication and the development of Dementia.
Over the last few years I have developed a three part allergy/hayfever battle plan that can reduce, if not stop your symptoms:
Start a few weeks before your symptoms usually develop.
Plan to cut dairy products out of your diet.
Dairy can make any allergy you suffer worse and will cause mucus production, making runny noses and blocked sinuses worse. Try and be very strict, cutting out all cow’s milk products and using goat’s and sheep’s cheese, soya milk and dairy free spreads instead. Remember that milk chocolate is a dairy product, and dark chocolate is dairy free! We stock a range of dairy free chocolate in our store.
Start taking a teaspoon of local honey each day.
Honey, which is made from pollen, almost acts homoeopathically by helping your body to build up a resistance to pollens and grasses. Local honey will be specific to the pollens and grasses in your area.
Simple herbal remedies, as discussed above, can be used to ease allergy symptoms. Nettle has anti-histamine like action and will cut down the body’s response to allergy, chamomile will soothe mucus membranes and a sinus rub can ease sinus pain and congestion. These herbs are available pre- blended or you can buy the dried herbs and make up your own herbal tea.
Napiers Summertime Herbal Tea Blend is rich in the herbs traditionally used for their soothing and anti-allergy properties and contains eyebright, chamomile, liquorice, elderflowers and nettle. Drunk regularly as a food supplement, these teas will help to prevent and control symptoms.
Echinacea and elderflower can also help relieve symptoms. This traditional mixture containing anti-catarrhal and expectorant herbs has a stimulant effect on the immune system. For those sufferers who don’t like liquids, I recommend homeopathic remedies and tissue salts.
All of these remedies are available online and in our shop at 18 Bristo Place, Edinburgh.