Spring time, for many, is a time of change. A time to purchase a new wardrobe, plan a vacation, plant a garden or just get out of the house to enjoy the magnificent weather. Most of us love spring and summer. The sweet scents and sights of colorful blossoms, the sounds of chirping birds and the aroma of fresh-mown grass are refreshing and welcome after a long winter. For others, though, it is not so pleasant a time; the beginning of spring signals the start of seasonal allergies.
Seasonal allergies, typically known as hay fever, usually occur in spring and fall. It is most commonly caused by pollen. Pollen is fine powdery grains, produced by flowering plants that travel by wind or insects through the air. It can enter the body through the eyes, nose or mouth to cause an allergic reaction.
An allergic reaction is the body's physical response or heightened sensitivity toward substances that are not harmful to most individuals. Pollen has little or no effect on the majority of people, but for some it will cause serious cold or flu-like symptoms. So while nearly everyone else takes pleasure in the much-longed-for spring sunshine; hay fever sufferers have to contend with an immune system gone crazy, unleashing its big guns toward a perceived but harmless enemy. Hay fever is the most common of allergies, affecting about 50 million North Americans.
The symptoms of hay fever, also called allergic rhinitis, may include:
Clearly, the classic hay fever symptoms are similar to a cold. (The runny nose, watery eyes and repeated sneezing.) As with all allergies, the symptoms are a result of your immune system overreacting to a normally harmless substance, in this case, pollen. When the cells that line your nose, mouth and eyes come into contact with pollen, they release a chemical called histamine that triggers the symptoms of an allergic reaction. Symptoms of allergic reactions might go beyond a runny nose, itchy eyes or sneezing. Some allergic reactions create symptoms that imitate many other conditions such as indigestion, abdominal pain, kidney and bladder infections. This means that many ailments may simply turn out to be undiagnosed allergies.
What Causes Hay Fever?
Hay fever is caused by breathing in airborne pollen particles as well as by pollen getting into the eyes. You can get hay fever at any time from early spring to autumn, depending on which pollen or pollens you're allergic to. Exactly when these symptoms appear will also depend on which pollens you are allergic to. During the spring, from April to May, pollens from trees are the most frequent cause of this health problem. From May to August grass and flowers produce pollen, making them, during this period, the most common cause of hay fever. The most abundantly pollinating grasses are timothy, rye, cocksfoot, meadow and fescue. Some people do get hay fever in the late summer and autumn months; however, this is rare and is usually caused by late flowering plants, weeds and mold spores.
Spores, which are the seeds of fungi or molds can cause even more harm than pollen (since they are smaller and can get deep into the lungs). These nasty little particles can possibly trigger asthma which is a chronic inflammatory disease of the airways. We know this because severe allergic symptoms can lead to asthma. According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, 38% of those with hay fever may also have asthma. Asthma kills more than five thousand North Americans a year and sends another million to the hospital for treatment.
If there is a history of allergies in your family, you are more likely to get hay fever, particularly if there is a history of asthma or eczema. These symptoms typically begin to show up in the early teens and peak when you're in your twenties. Research shows that many affected people become less susceptible to pollen as they age and, by the time they reach their mid-forties, hay fever may no longer be a problem.
In some cases, people with hay fever who are allergic to certain tree pollens will develop oral allergy syndrome. This is an allergic reaction in the mouth and throat to certain raw vegetables, fruits, spices, nuts and seeds. It occurs while eating the raw food and causes itchy, tingly mouth, throat and lips. As well, there may be watery itchy eyes, runny nose, sneezing and swelling of the lips, tongue and throat. Simply touching the raw fruit or vegetable may cause a rash, itching or swelling of the skin. Occasionally, more severe reactions may occur such as vomiting or diarrhea, and on rare occasions, life threatening reactions with the swelling of the throat and trouble breathing.
Hay Fever Relief
We must keep in mind that hay fever sufferers are more susceptible to other allergic respiratory diseases such as asthma. As well, they are more apt to suffer from sleeping problems that can lead to chronic fatigue. Conventional treatments of most allergies are usually aimed at blocking the immune response with drugs or, in more severe cases, suppressing the entire immune function with steroids. This does nothing to address the underlying cause of the problem. It only provides symptomatic relief. People simply become dependent on their medication. They endure numerous side effects that only worsen their overall health by constantly beating up on their immune system.
The most common drugs used for hay fever are:
- Antihistamines. They are drugs used to reduce the sneezing, runny nose and itching of allergies. Some antihistamines are used as eye drops and nasal sprays.
- Non-sedating antihistamines. They are also used to reduce the sneezing, runny nose and itching of allergies.
- Decongestants. These help relieve the stuffy nose of allergies. They come as pills, nose sprays and nose drops. The sprays work by coating your nasal passages and shielding them from pollens. However, they must be taken well before any allergy symptoms begin.
- Inhaled steroids. They reduce the reaction of the nasal tissues to pollens. This may help to relieve swelling in the nose.
Every new over-the-counter drug promises fast relief. Unfortunately, all of these treatments have side effects. The antihistamines cause tiredness and/or dry mouth. Decongestants will produce dependency. This causes you to feel even more congested when you try to give up using them (more so than when started). Therefore it is best not to use nose drops or sprays for more than a few days. Decongestants also raise your blood pressure, so it's a good idea to talk to a doctor before using them. In many cases the problems become compounded because many of these medicines combine both antihistamines and decongestants. It's best to avoid drugs that combine other drugs.
For most, relief means a trip to the drugstore to buy one or more of the above mentioned drugs to help them get through the allergy season. However, for an increasing number of allergy sufferers the road to relief starts with a variety of natural treatments that studies show do help, without many of the disturbing side effects ascribed to conventional care.
“Using nature-based products can be a very useful way to handle mild allergies and a useful adjunct for more significant allergies, and there are many types of treatments you can safely try,” says Mary Hardy, MD, director of integrative medicine at Cedars Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.
The natural way to lessen the symptoms of allergens is to get your immune system to work properly, not to simply suppress it with drugs. Natural remedies can change the way your body reacts to allergens instead of suppressing its normal responses. Depending on the symptoms, there are numerous natural remedies that can help.
As well, there are many general, simple and natural ways to immediately avoid allergens, relieve symptoms and boost your immune system. For instance:
- You might want to try cooking up some allergy relief in the form of hot, spicy foods. The spicier the dish, the more likely it is to thin mucous secretions, which in turn can clear nasal passages. The most frequently recommended spice for this purpose is cayenne pepper.
- Eat plenty of foods that include Omega-3 Fatty Acids. They reduce the production of inflammatory chemicals in the body and are associated with a decreased risk of hay fever.
- Look closely at your diet and cut out any foods that seem to provoke even a mild reaction, such as occasional itchiness or even an upset stomach. Food intolerance may be far more intimately entwined with seasonal allergies than we realize. Doing so will ease the burden on your immune system, which in turn may help reduce the impact of seasonal allergic reactions.
- According to New York University Allergist Clifford Bassett, MD, if you suffer from ragweed or other weed pollen allergies, "you should avoid eating melon, banana, cucumber, sunflower seeds, chamomile, and any herbal supplements containing echinacea, all of which can make symptoms much worse," he says.
- Reduce congestion by staying away from milk and dairy products.
- Close your windows and doors to keep pollen out.
- In hot weather, spend more time indoors where there is an air conditioner.
- Avoid being outside when pollen counts are highest.
- If you've been outside at a time of high pollen counts, when you come indoors take a shower to wash the pollen offf your skin and out of your hair, then change into new clothes.
- Bathe or shower before bedtime to wash off any pollen that may have collected on your skin or in your hair.
- Indoors... Use a good air purifier.
- Reduce the amount of mold in your home by often cleaning your bathroom and other damp areas. Don't carpet bathrooms or other damp rooms and use mold-proof paint instead of wallpaper. Throw away sources of mold such as old books and shoes.
- Pet dander and dust… You may need to keep your pets outdoors, because they bring in pollen as well as animal dander. This collects with the dust which also includes dust mites. You can reduce dust by getting rid of carpets, drapes and feather pillows and by dusting often with a damp cloth.
- Replace carpets with linoleum or wood. Keep your home as allergy-free as possible.
- If you need to get out of the house when it's windy or pollen counts are high, go to locations with air conditioning.
- Clean or change your furnace's air filter often.
- Vacuum curtains, couches and chairs, as well as floors. Use a machine that has a high-efficiency particulate air filter (HEPA).
- Wash all bedding in very hot water. Change your pillowcases and sheets often.
- When driving, keep the windows closed and use the air conditioner.
- If you're working around the yard, wear a filter mask.
Again, rather than just treating symptoms or completely avoiding the allergen, the very best method is to strengthen your immune system. In general, anything that will boost your immune system will help. This means:
- Proper hydration. Your immune system simply works better when your body is properly hydrated with clean healthy water. All health programs become more powerful, more efficient and work faster. All experts agree, that next to the air we breathe, water is the most essential thing we will ever put in our bodies. Therefore, health-wise, water will either be the best or the nastiest thing that you consume.
- Proper supplementation and herbal remedies. There are many natural supplements that will boost your immune system.
- Far-infrared saunas and pads. They can help eliminate toxins and improve the cardiovascular system, (which helps breathing) as well as improve your immune system.
- Cleansing. There are many well designed and natural cleansing programs that will boost your immune system.
- Lifestyle change. A program designed for you with some of the above combined with common sense adjustments such as eating regular healthy meals and regular exercise.
There is no need to dread the coming of spring. You too can take pleasure in the sweet scents and sights of colourful blossoms and the sounds of chirping birds, or enjoy the simple pleasure of planting a flower garden. If you need assistance, the Wolfe Clinic will guide you to make the right choices. Your questions or concerns are promptly answered via email or phone. We are always there for you. The Wolfe Clinic will simplify and take the mystery out of your situation.
Wishing you the best in health,
The Wolfe Clinic