What is hayfever, why must it ruin our lives in the spring and summer and how can we fix it? Our experts sniff out some answers
According to Allergy UK, up to 30 per cent of adults suffer with hayfever and as many as 40 per cent of children get the dreaded seasonal sniffles - and aside from the awful symptoms, it's robbing us of sleep and focus too. Here’s how to put the pollen in its place.
What is hayfever?
In short, a pain. It’s an allergic reaction to pollen released by plants, weeds or grass. The most common allergy is to grass pollen, but if you’re incredibly unlucky you could be averse to all three. What joy.
Who gets it?
An estimated 10 million of us, according to the NHS. Symptoms normally appear in childhood or during the teenage years, with boys more prone to the dreaded pollen fever than girls. This evens out by adulthood, and many people report that their symptoms improve as they get older (for a fortunate 10%-20% they disappear completely). Hormonal changes in pregnancy can trigger hayfever symptoms, and if you have a family history of allergies your chances of being affected by the condition are increased.
When do you get it?
Tree pollen is released in early spring (February to May), grass pollen is at its peak from late May to early August and weed pollen is released in late summer. Some years are worse than others, as pollen count is higher when weather is warm and dry. It’s also predicted that climate change could double the number of sufferers, as the hayfever season will be longer and pollen levels could rocket. Pollution can make the allergy worse too. We’ll be leaving the car at home, then...
What are the symptoms?
Those that suffer can show and tell - itchy, streaming eyes, a stuffy nose, sore throat, headaches and constant sneezing. Also last summer, I got hives. Just saying.
Tips to beat it
Over the counter antihistamine tablets, steroid nasal sprays and eye drops can all relieve the incessant itching. Immunotherapy is another option if you suffer from chronic hayfever. It involves gradual exposure to pollen and monitoring symptoms in order to build up resistance, but it’s not a quick fix as it can take years to build up a tolerance.
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As with every aspect of health, good nutrition is key. Naturopathic Doctor Nigma Talib thinks that tweaking your diet is one of the most effective ways to lessen the pollen-induced pain:
“My long term solution would be to put your diet to the test as your immune system starts in the gut - you can’t control the environment but you can control the foods you eat.”
Dr Nigma recommends testing for food intolerances (gluten, dairy and yeast are the most common), as sensitivity to certain foods ‘can alter your immune system and not allow optimum function’. Dr Nigma also advises giving diary the heave ho. “This food group causes excess mucus production and can inflame the sinus cavity over time.”
Nutritionist Eve Kalinik advocates boosting your vitamin take-up. "To help reduce hayfever symptoms, up your vitamin C intake, since this helps to clear excess histamine which is released in an allergic response. Foods rich in vitamin C include pepper, chilli, broccoli, kale and spinach so make sure to add plenty of these. Quercetin, a flavonoid antioxidant substance, acts in a similar way but moreover has been shown to potentiate the effects of vitamin C, so increase foods such as capers, dill, onion, fennel and apples.”
Espa Life naturopath Louise Westra thinks that following the principles of a ‘generally alkaline diet’ can ease symptoms. For more information on eating alkaline, along with delicious recipes (not to mention drool-worthy photography), check out the Honestly Healthy book series authored by Vicki Edgson and Natasha Corrett.
Don’t ditch tea either, as the right brew can clear congestion or even have a natural antihistamine effect, as Eve explains: “Green tea in particular blocks the production of histamine and helps to support the immune system. Likewise fresh ginger and raw honey tea can help, and chamomile tea works in a similar way.”
For the ultimate anti-hayfever blend, astringent Content Hayfever Tea, £8, can’t be beaten. It’s anti-inflammatory and will free up your airways; proof that a cuppa really does solve everything.
Find out more about beating allergies with food and diet here.
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Homeopath, pharmacist and founder of The Organic Pharmacy Margo Marrone believes that ‘nature has an arsenal of anti-inflammatory herbs that are very effective antihistamines’. If you’re averse to medication or find that it’s not hitting the spot, herbal tinctures or supplements could help. The Organic Pharmacy Hayfever Relief kit, £45, packs a punch against pollen with pills and formulas infused with anticatarrhal elderflower, soothing chamomile and histamine packed nettles. Eve also recommends adding bee pollen granules to smoothies and salads as it’s packed with Quercetin. Prebiotics could ease symptoms too as they support the immune system - Dr Nigma is positive about their therapeutic properties:
“I have noticed that patients do clinically better when they improve their beneficial gut bacteria.”
These range from the blindingly obvious to the genius. Staying indoors when pollen counts are high may or may not be possible, but shutting windows and drying clothes indoors will all limit pollen exposure. Wearing wraparound sunglasses can prevent itchy eyes (very 90s chic), and dotting some Vaseline or Vicks inside the nostrils can trap pollen before it gets a chance to travel up your schnozz.
Dr Nigma also recommends investing in a quality air purifier and water filtration system. Also, employ a minion to mow the grass. This has to be at the top of the torturous activity list for hayfever sufferers.
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