Seasonal Allergies

We all have suffered or know someone who suffers from hay fever in the Spring and or Summer. Just when the weather is starting to improve and you want to get outside you start with symptoms of runny and/or blocked nose, sneezing, itchy nose, scratchy throat, itchy and watery eyes. For some it can also trigger a wheezy chest. You find to ease symptoms you have to stay inside with the windows closed!

Hay fever is more of a problem in countries like the UK where we have relatively high humidity which holds the pollen particles in the air from where we inhale them. Inhalant allergy symptoms are generally less severe in drier countries like the Mediterranean, by the sea and high in the mountains (where there are few flowering plants).

You are probably aware what time of year you experience your hay fever symptoms. In Spring it is usually tree pollen, followed by grass pollen through summer and then weed pollen late summer and autumn. You may of course be sensitive to more than one pollen. Testing can be done if you want to know which pollen you are sensitive to.

The trick is to start a supplement protocol and/or antihistamines about 1 month before your symptoms usually appear. This is because the symptoms are caused by the release of histamine from cells in the immune system called mast cells. When the mast cells are triggered they release a number of pro inflammatory chemicals including histamine (hence the use of anti-histamines). Starting supplements early will help to stabilise the mast cells before they are primed by the arrival of the pollen which triggers them.

It can be helpful to avoid certain foods during your pollen season which cross react with the pollens you are sensitive to. Cross reactivity means that proteins in the cross reactive food can be mistaken for proteins in the pollen as they appear the same or similar to the immune system. For example, people who are allergic to grass pollen may find that eliminating tomatoes, melon and watermelon in the pollen season reduces their symptoms. There is also recognised cross reactivity between silver birch pollen and apples, peaches, cherries, carrots, celery and most nuts.

Try to eat an anti-inflammatory diet during your allergy season including healthy fats like oily fish, olive oil, avoid pro-inflammatory processed and fried foods and too much sugar. Drink plenty fluids, 8-10 glasses per day of filtered water. Our bodies function much better if we are well hydrated.

Supplements to reduce hay fever symptoms include:

  • Vitamin C. This is a natural anti-histamine as well as an anti-oxidant. It is found in many foods and is very safe and cost effective to take in a supplement form
  • Quercetin is a flavonoid found in the skins of apples, yellow peppers and onions but it can also be taken in a supplement form. Quercetin acts to stabilise the mast cells, preventing the release of histamine and other inflammatory chemicals. It also has an anti-inflammatory action and is an anti-oxidant
  • Bromelain is derived from pineapple and has anti-inflammatory actions, it enhances the absorption of flavonoids such as quercetin. It is often used in combination allergy products rather than on its own
  • Stinging nettles help by reducing the release of mast cell mediators. Again it is often used as an ingredient in a combination allergy product.

From a functional medicine perspective allergy is one factor that drives inflammation in our bodies causing dis-ease. If we address the drivers of inflammation i.e nutritional deficiencies, toxic load, infections, stress, gut health as well as allergies we can reduce our total body load and therefore become less reactive in time.