Hay fever help for spring – herbally
Most of us look forward spring. Flowers blooming, new growth everywhere. The sun makes a welcome return as do beautiful blue skies.
But for a lot of people Spring brings with it annoying if not debilitating allergies. Sneezing, watering eyes, itchiness, constantly blocked sinuses and stuffy noses. The secondary symptoms are snoring, dark circles under the eyes (allergic shiners, we call them), hearing loss and headaches. Yes, spring is great but it’s companion can be hay fever and these symptoms can be really exhausting.
Is it Hay fever or just a cold?
To be sure you are treating the right condition it’s important to differentiate between the two. I see a lot of clients towards the end of spring who think they’ve had a 3 month cold. But instead of a virus or bacteria being to blame we often find out that it’s spring pollens. If your symptoms include watery or itchy eyes, lots of sneezing, and last more than 2 weeks, it’s more likely to be allergies than a cold.
What’s the cause?
Finding out exactly what you are allergic to can be difficult. Your G.P will usually put it down to pollens and prescribe some form of antihistamine and a nasal spray. An allergy specialist will be able to do skin prick testing to determine whether pollens, dustmites, mould or animal dander etc is to blame. If your symptoms are seasonal it’s more likely to be air borne pollens though.
Pharmaceutical remedies include antihistamines which work by inhibiting histamine and it’s effects. Histamine is the chemical responsible for many of the allergy symptoms you experience when exposed to something the immune system has become sensitised to. When histamine is released, it binds to receptor sites on cells in your nose and throat, causing them to swell and leak fluid into the surrounding area. This is your body’s way of ‘protecting’ the tissue from the ‘invader’.
Another common prescription is nasal spray. These deliver a dose of steroid to the mucous membranes in order to constrict the blood vessels in the area. This is how they help with congestion and a runny nose. That can have almost immediate effect but unfortunately overuse will thin the tissue in the nasal passage and cause damage. Although it’s clearly written on the package not to use for more than 3 days many people do. I can’t blame them! I see lots of people suffering with ‘rebound congestion’ caused but damaged nasal mucosa. Blood noses, headaches and constant congestion (worse than the original) are common.
Armoracia rusticana – Horseradish
You’ve had it on your sushi and if like me, you once mistook it for avocado you may already know about it’s nasal clearing properties! Wasabli is the Japanese variety but in western herbal medicine we use a slightly different plant.
This herb is used for
A strategy worth trying is to include local honey in your diet. If the hives are local to your area the honey will contain trace amounts of the pollens you’re reacting to. This exposes your immune system to the pollens and can desensitise it in a similar way to allergy immunotherapy (injections of minute amounts of the substance you are allergic to). A tablespoon a day for a couple of months before hay fever season can really help some people.
Vitamin C and biofavenoids – not actually herbal but I can’t talk about hayfever and not mention these two nutrients. In high enough doses vitamin C actually has antihistamine effects.
An onion a day……
Having an onion a day can help keep your hay fever at bay. Onions are packed with the flavanoid quercetin, a powerful antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and natural anti-histamine.
Eat red onions raw and tossed through salads, or on sandwiches or in cooked dishes. Quercetin is also found in apples, kale, red grapes, berries, cherries and parsley.