Why hay fever remedies are not to be sneezed at

You can’t avoid the outdoors all summer, but you can limit pollen’s access to you and you can also limit the reaction response by using antihistamines. Picture: iStock

May, June and July are peak pollen months and Fiann Ó Nualláin has some timely advice

HAY FEVER, aka seasonal allergic rhinitis, is the most commonly reported allergy in Ireland. It is estimated that 20% of the Irish population suffer from pollen sensitivity regularly and many more get the odd reaction if the pollen levels are particularly high or if they are having other histamine issues through diet or health status. With May, June and July being peak pollen period, this weekend makes for a timely intervention on limiting those allergic reactions.

Is it just a sneezy minute or is it a hay-fever attack? Some people may have a spontaneous reaction to a high level of pollen on a particular day because the pollen has gotten into their eye or nasal passage and their natural defences kick in with sneezing and tearing up in order to rid the body of the pollen grains and they may not have another incidence all summer — but then those in the 20% of the population with sensitivity will have this reaction on a regular if not daily basis during summer months, affecting daily activities, work performance, sleep patterns and general quality of life. The good news is, there is help.

First tip is limit contact: There are more than 30 types of pollen and approximately 20 types of spores which can trigger allergic reactions but grass and tree pollen are the most prevalent allergens in Ireland. If you have been having attacks all spring then your allergenic trigger is tree pollen — all those lovely lemon catkins on hazel and willows and birch are not doing you good. Don’t plant them in your garden. Skip those park visits and riverbank walks. But if it’s only hitting you now then know that its grass pollen that is the enemy. Later on in the season, the plant pollen may hit you too but often that’s secure on a bee’s back legs and not wafting in the air. You can’t avoid outdoors all summer, but you can limit pollen’s access to you; sunglasses, a peaked hat, a surgical mask or light scarf when out and about or even a touch of Vaseline just inside the nostrils will all capture pollen grains before they get to trigger anything.

Second tip is to limit the reaction response by using antihistamines. Histamines are micro-chemicals that as part of the immune response trigger the clearing sneezing or the watery eyes or the runny nose. The issue with allergic rhinitis is the histamines do too eager a job and the response is too prolonged. The otherwise temporary runny nose tap is turned on to flood the invader out but stays on all week or all summer.

There are over-the-counter remedies and prescription antihistamines but we can also limit this hyper-reaction by using foods and herbs that naturally limit how much histamine we produce. Quercetin switches off histamine production, it is available in supplement but also is abundant in cruciferous vegetables (cabbage, broccoli, spinach, kale and cauliflower) as well as in garlic, onions, shallots, citrus fruits and green tea.

The benefit of including more leafy greens in the diet for the next few months is the enzymes they contain that assist our natural detoxification processes also help reduce inflammation. The pollen is the trigger for the inflammation but it’s so difficult to not encounter pollen (councils and local authorities please note what trees you are planting in public spaces) so tackling the inflammation is the key.

I am a fan of natural remedies and with hayfever I favour Lotus roots (Nelumbo Nucifera).

They exhibit a potent immune-modulating effect and can potentially inhibit histamines release by up to 70% — nice in a stirfry, soup or tissane. When it comes to a herbal tea solution, chamomile, thyme and fennel are amongst the best at all-round stabilisation. Peppermint is particularly effective when it comes to allergic rhinitis while echinacea has an affinity for upper respiratory tract reactions. Ginger works brilliantly on limiting hives and rashes.

If you suffer quite severely and have had hay fever for a long time then you could always ask your GP about sublingual immunotherapy — that’s generally a three-year plan of a daily tablet under the tongue containing small doses of the allergen to boost tolerance and reduce symptoms. After the three years of treatment you may be allergy-free or have seriously reduced symptoms.

If you are lawn-free and still get the sensitivity then it’s more than likely garden plant pollen is your nemesis. An easy way of employing a mild immunotherapy is to have locally produced honey in your diet; local bees will have encountered and sampled the full diversity of pollen-producing plant-life in your region. I do mean local, that Australian or British bee was not in Enniscorthy this week or Ballincollig last week. Get honey from your county or nearest. Maybe even get a hive for yourself.

Heaven forbid you are a gardener with hay fever or a pollen allergy; it just makes life that bit more difficult. But you can garden on; the trick is to garden at low pollen-count times of the day and year and to plant low pollen-releasing plants and increase your collection of those doubles which are sterile flowers and so produce no pollen at all.

Other tips

  • Avoid wind-pollinated plants which disperse copious amounts of pollen into the air.
  • Choose plants pollinated by bees, the pollen is heavier and sticky and therefore stays on the bees rather than floating around the garden.
  • Choose female plants, as they produce no pollen. Some hybrids are sterile male plants and those doubles are pollen-free too. Enquire at your local garden centre.
  • Grass is a major pollen producer when it flowers so mow your lawn regularly, before it flowers or replace it with gravel or paving.
  • Avoid ornamental grasses.

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