Hay fever is an allergy in which the immune system is overreacting to breathing in the normally harmless substance, pollen.

What is Hay Fever?

When someone has an allergy, the immune system is unable to distinguish between harmless substances (such as pollen, dust, pet hair, or certain foods) from dangerous ones such as viruses and bacteria. The immune system will therefore react in a similar way as it does when you are exposed to a virus. Hay fever causes cold-like symptoms such as a blocked, runny nose, sneezing and itchy eyes. Pollen is released by plants from early Spring to Autumn, with late Spring and early Summer being the worst time for a ‘high pollen count’.

Unfortunately there is no one cure for hay fever, but there are several treatments and remedies that can help to relieve the symptoms.

 

HAY FEVER RELIEF

To soothe red, itchy, swollen eyes, simply dampen a face washer with cool water and place it over your eyes as often as you wish. Always use a clean face washer each time to avoid the possibility of introducing infection into your eyes.

Saline nasal sprays have long been used to clear nasal mucus and can also help keep your nasal passages moisturised. But a recent study has shown that overuse of some nasal sprays can actually damage the cells of your sinuses, so it may be safer to make your own. Dissolve half a teaspoon of salt in 250ml of warm water. Fill a bulb syringe, lean over the sink and gently squirt the saline into your nose.

A quick and easy way to relieve pain and encourage drainage of mucus is by applying a hot compress to your sinuses. Eucalyptus, tea-tree and peppermint essential oils all help to clear congestion and have antiseptic and antiviral properties into the bargain. Add 2-5 drops of the essential oil of your choice into a bowl of steaming hot water, tent your head with a towel and inhale the vapour.

 

NATURAL ANTIHISTAMINE TREATMENTS

Nettle contains a substance that works as a natural antihistamine. Capsules of the freeze-dried leaf are available from most health food shops and some supermarkets. Take the capsules according to manufacturer's instructions.

Ginkgo biloba has become renowned for its memory-boosting properties, but it can also be an effective allergy fighter. Ginkgo contains substances called ginkgolides, which can halt the activity of certain allergy-triggering chemicals (platelet activating factor, or PAF). Choose a supplement that is standardised for content of ginkgo flavones (the active ingredient) and take according to manufacturer's instructions.

Quercetin, the pigment that gives grapes their purple hue and puts the green in green tea, also inhibits the release of histamine. Take according to the manufacturer's instructions. (Caution: Do not take this if you are already taking nettle capsules, as nettle contains quercetin.)

Eyebright is an astringent herb that helps to strengthen mucous membranes and relieve irritability and inflammation, and plantain is rich in a soothing substance called mucilage, which helps soothe sore, dry eyes and relieve sneezing. They can be taken together as a tea or a qualified herbalist can make up a tincture of them for you.

Vitamin C, readily available from supermarkets and pharmacies, is known to have a natural antihistamine effect in the body and there is some evidence to suggest that it can help control unpleasant hay fever symptoms. Take up to 500mg a day in tablet or capsule form while symptoms persist, or more if professionally prescribed.

Hay Fever Freedom

 

HOW TO AVOID HAY FEVER

Shelter indoors before a thunderstorm–and for up to 3 hours afterwards. Storms are preceded by high humidity, which makes pollen grains swell, burst and release their irritating starch, triggering a hay-fever attack.

Protect your eyes from pollen when you're outdoors.

If you don't mind how you look, wear a face mask when you know you might be exposed to pollen. Hardware shops sell small air-filter masks for people in dusty environments.

Keep the car windows closed and use the ‘recirculate’ air conditioner setting so as not to draw pollinated air into the car. Enquire whether your car can be fitted with a pollen filter.

Wash your hair before going to bed so you don't transfer a headful of dust and pollen to your pillow.

Air purifiers are said to filter out molecules that trigger hay fever and other allergies. Certain studies have shown that modern air filters–especially HEPA filters–can capture allergens. But ask what type of allergens they can trap before you buy, and use other allergen-control methods too, as allergens often attach themselves to soft furnishings and carpets.

If you enjoy gardening, you might consider creating a hay fever-friendly environment for yourself. Grow bird-pollinated plants such as grevilleas and bottlebrushes. Consider replacing the lawn with attractive paving, as mowing the grass creates clouds of pollen and spores. Do away with compost heaps, which produce mould spores.

 

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