Hay Fever

Spring is here. But while most of us embrace the season, there are others who dread it. They are the 10 to 15 percent of Canadians who suffer from hay fever (allergic rhinitis). If your hay fever develops in the spring, the culprit is usually tree pollen, while summer hay fever is aggravated by grass and weed pollens. Symptoms include a watery and runny nose, sneezing, itching, stuffiness and headaches.

We don’t really know what causes hay fever although we know it is directly related to the allergenic load in the body. Various conditions such as food allergies, a toxic liver and stress can raise that load.

The immune system normally protects your body against bacteria and viruses. If you have hay fever, your immune system is mistakenly reacting or overreacting to harmless substances like pollens and producing an overabundance of histamines. That is why the conventional treatment consists of antihistamines.

I have discovered that hay fever responds well to lowering food allergens and boosting the immune system. Start by reducing foods you are sensitive or intolerant to. The Vega method of food allergy testing is helpful. The most common food allergens that come up are dairy, wheat, eggs, citrus fruits, peanuts and food additives.

A high meat and dairy diet has been shown to increase inflammatory products in the blood thereby increasing allergic symptoms. In one study, 92 percent of patients improved dramatically when all animal products were eliminated from their diet. Clearly, a diet high in vegetables adds the anti-oxidants you need to decrease both symptoms and inflammatory products.

Try to decrease your exposure to airborne substances such as pollen, animal dander and dust mites. Perhaps the most effective measure is to make your bedroom allergy-free and off limits to pets. Vacuum up dander and hair. If you have forced-air heating, cover the ducts and use an electric source of heat. If you have a dust allergy, remove the carpets. Put all your comforters and pillows through a hot dryer for 30 minutes once per month to remove the dust mites and cover your pillows with non-allergic slips.

Use a Hepa filter, a high efficiency particulate filter that removes pollen and dust from the air and check your house for molds and dry out damp areas. Chronic yeast infections can be a major factor in depleting the immune system and may therefore increase your hay fever symptoms.

Add flax oil to your diet. Studies have shown that flax oil improves the airway’s response to allergens. Buffered Vitamin C has been called the natural anti-histamine because it prevents the secretion of histamine by the white blood cells. Histamine is one of the products in the body that causes allergic symptoms. Grape seed extract and quercetin also enhance the anti-histamine response. A B-complex supplement decreases the histamine response and supports the anti-inflammatory adrenal hormones. Zinc inhibits the mast cell degranulation, which is responsible for the release of histamine.

Homeopathy also has a lot to offer the allergy sufferer: sabidilla for watery nasal discharge and sneezing, allium cepa (onion) for burning nasal discharge and runny eyes, and wyethia for itching on the roof of the mouth, dry throat and watery nose. Other herbs that help include nettles to dramatically decrease hay fever’s symptoms and licorice to reduce the inflammatory response.

The aerobic effect of exercise increases the constriction of the blood vessels of the nasal passages and so improves symptoms. I recommend an excellent book that explains how allergies and hay fever can be reduced in the body, Allergies: Disease in Disguise by Carolyn Bateson-Koch.

Dr. Paulette Roscoe is a naturopathic physician who practices in Nanaimo.