Every year as winter turns to spring, many people rejoice at the promise of warmer days to come. Flowers show their coloured faces and warm breezes greet you as you step outside. But for some people, those breezes are a headache waiting to happen. Hay fever is a serious spring-killer for some, so how do we avoid it?
But if you suffer from hay fever, you may look upon this time with a little less fondness.
The dirt on hay fever
What is hay fever and why does it make your head feel heavy?
Hay fever is an acute inflammation of the nasal passages which usually occurs seasonally. It's often caused by pollens or other airborne allergens such as dust mites.
Signs and symptoms, which generally occur soon after exposure to pollens, can include:
- Runny nose
- Nasal congestion
- Itchy eyes, nose or roof of mouth
- Sinus pressure and facial pain
What’s behind hay fever?
Why do some people suffer from hay fever while others don’t?
Those that suffer from hay fever have, at some point, had their immune system mistakenly identify a harmless airborne substance (like pollen) to be harmful. This is a process called sensitisation.
After sensitisation, when the body is exposed to an allergen, it produces chemicals such as histamine. These chemicals are produced to fight off the allergen, and cause cold and flu-like symptoms.
Does a runny nose always equal hay fever?
Hay fever can sometimes be confused with other conditions that can cause a runny nose, such as the common cold or flu virus.
Colds develop five to seven days after being exposed to a cold virus, and symptoms can include a runny nose with watery or thick yellow discharge and fever. Get more information on the difference between colds and allergies here.
Allergies, on the other hand, have no associated fever and generally occur soon after exposure to pollen.
If you believe you have allergies, it is best to see your healthcare provider to get allergy tests. This will help you to avoid allergens when possible. For those allergic to dust mites, vacuuming and washing curtains, bedding, rugs, etc, in hot water will help kill off the little critters. If you are allergic to pollen, then you have a good excuse not to mow the lawn!
Natural relief for hay fever symptoms
Instead of simply avoiding pollen or dust – which is quite difficult! – here are some natural remedies you can try:
Studies suggest that vitamin C supplementation has an antihistamine effect. Vitamin C also plays a role in supporting the immune system. Oranges and red capsicum are an excellent source of vitamin C. Add them to lunchboxes and have some fresh capsicum with dinner.
Horseradish and garlic
This is a traditional combination of herbs which is used to ease congestion. Horseradish is traditionally known as a decongestant and may help to provide relief from a blocked up nose. Garlic has anti-inflammatory properties which may be useful for inflamed nasal passages. It also has an immune enhancing effect.
Vitamin A is useful in maintaining the health of mucous membranes. This can be particularly beneficial in hay fever if there is constant inflammation of the mucous membranes. Snacking on carrots and adding sweet potato to salads will give you extra vitamin A throughout the day.
Lifestyle factors that can help with hay fever:
- Be sure to eat a healthy whole food diet with lots of fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains. A good diet can ensure you are armed with all the vitamins and minerals which may be helpful in hay fever symptom relief.
- Reduce or cut out dairy foods. They are considered to be mucus producers and may increase the amount of mucus produced during hay fever bouts.
- Minimise your exposure to pollens and moulds where possible.
- Avoid going outside on windy days, especially during spring when the pollen count is high.
- Use essential oil inhalations. Combine essential oils such as tea tree, eucalyptus or lemon myrtle with boiling water in a bowl.
- Place your head over the bowl and inhale the steam. This can help to loosen up the mucus and get you breathing easier.
References available on request