We explore some natural remedies for hay fever that could give you welcome relief from this summer’s flurry of pollen.
Itchy eyes, persistent sneezing and a blocked nose – there’s nothing fun about hay fever. Especially if you love spending time outdoors. Can diet changes reduce the severity of hay fever symptoms? Do natural remedies for hay fever actually work? What immune system-boosting supplements could help your body cope better with allergies? We’ll explore how natural remedies for hay fever could work alongside your usual antihistamine to relieve seasonal sniffles.
“Avoiding pollen and taking away the trigger of your allergy is the most obvious way to reduce hay fever symptoms. But if you enjoy the outdoors this may seem too big a compromise,” says Emily Rollason, Holland & Barrett nutritionist. “Hay fever medicines, nasal sprays and eye drops can be effective in treating allergy symptoms. But there are sources of natural hay fever relief that could also help you to lessen your symptoms.”
For example, what we eat can exacerbate the inflammation triggered by an allergy or increase the amount of histamine in our system. There are also a wide range of herbal hay fever tablets and supplements that can offer allergy-fighting benefits.
“The jury’s out on whether natural remedies for hay fever actually make a difference. A lot of evidence is anecdotal rather than scientifically proven,” Emily adds. “For example, a daily spoonful of local honey is something many hay fever sufferers swear by. But there’s no robust clinical evidence to support its use as an allergy treatment.”
Exploring natural remedies for hay fever
Sporadic sneezing fits. Watery eyes. An annoying tickle in your throat. Sound familiar? Then you’re probably preparing to cope with the seasonal inconvenience of hay fever symptoms. As well as herbal hay fever tablets, there are also some dietary changes and allergy-friendly habits you can adopt. These can help to reduce and stabilize the uncomfortable side effects of an allergy to pollen.
Are you ready to give a few natural remedies for hay fever a try? First, let’s understand a bit more about what’s behind your symptoms and what causes hay fever to flare up when the weather gets warmer.
What causes hay fever?
Hay fever is a common allergy to pollen that affects around 13 million people in the UK. It’s sometimes called seasonal allergic rhinitis, and it’s caused by the immune system overreacting to pollen floating in the air. When hay fever sufferers breathe in pollen from grass, plants and trees, it registers as harmful. As a result, the body kickstarts the immune system and treats pollen in a similar way to bacteria or a virus attacking your body.
One of the biggest things that happens is the release of a chemical called histamine. This triggers a self-defence process that causes your nasal passage to inflame. As a sufferer, you’ll notice a range of unpleasant side effects – a runny nose, sore and teary eyes, and sneezing. This is your body’s well-meaning effort to eject the allergen from your body and prevent further pollen particles from getting in.
What is histamine?
You’re probably familiar with the word antihistamine due to its infamous role in calming allergic reactions. But what exactly is histamine? In simple terms, it’s a chemical produced by your immune system to fight off something that’s harmful. Your body normally releases histamine when it detects the arrival of something damaging into your system. For example, at the site of an injury. The production of histamine causes inflammation to fight infection and helps to promote healing of the injury.
With allergies like hay fever, the body overreacts. It mistakes pollen for something harmful. This triggers the cogs of the body’s defence mechanism, including the release of histamine. What we see on the surface are the symptoms that characterise the allergic reaction.
Symptoms of hay fever
The symptoms of hay fever separate into two groups:
- Congestion symptoms including a blocked or running nose, watery eyes and excessive mucus.
- Irritation symptoms such as red eyes, inflamed nose, itchy eyes, and headaches.
Some allergy sufferers are more prone to one group of symptoms than another. In addition, if you suffer from asthma, your symptoms can be more severe. For example, you may also experience coughing and wheezing.
What’s the best way to treat hay fever symptoms?
You’re probably looking for a treatment for hay fever. Maybe the best nasal spray? Or some super strong hay fever tablets that guarantee all symptoms disappear with a single dose? Unfortunately, there’s no easy cure for this particular allergy. And however hard you try, you’re unlikely to completely prevent it. But there are lots of ways you can manage and reduce the discomfort of symptoms with natural remedies for hay fever.
You can tackle hay fever in three main ways:
- Avoiding pollen
As with any allergy, the most obvious treatment for hay fever is to avoid contact with the allergen, in this case pollen.
“The more contact you have with pollen, the more histamine is released by your body,” says Emily. “Therefore, limiting contact with pollen can help to reduce the severity and duration of symptoms. For example, if you know the pollen count is going to be high next week, start using your treatments or home remedies for hay fever early. This builds up your resistance to the rise in pollen in the air.”
A few hay fever friendly habits that can reduce your exposure to pollen include:
- Keep an eye on the pollen forecast1. When it’s high avoid spending long periods on green and grassy areas that may aggravate your symptoms.
- Understand your personal pollen trigger.This can help you to predict when your symptoms are most likely to hit. Tree pollen is typically high in March and April. Grass pollen reaches its peak in May to July. Weed pollen comes later in June to August.
- Don’t let settled pollen linger. Change and wash your clothes after a day outdoors to reduce the amount of pollen you bring back into your home. A shower or bath before going to bed can also help to remove pollen.
- Keep windows shut during the day. Particularly in your bedroom. This limits your exposure to pollen when inside and minimises symptoms disrupting your sleep.
- Wear protective clothing. Sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat create a physical barrier. This keeps airborne pollen away from sensitive eyes.
- Dotting a barrier balm around the nose can trap pollen before it gets into the nasal passage. There are some great natural balms that are suitable for this purpose
The first line of defence for many hay fever sufferers is a group of conventional medicines called antihistamines. They work by blocking the action of histamine. If you take these medications before contact with pollen, they can stop the release of histamine. If you take them afterwards, they can reduce the impact of histamine. This can lessen the severity of your symptoms.
“There are also compounds found in certain foods that have potential anti-histamine properties that may ease hay fever symptoms,” says Emily. “So, if you’re unable or prefer not to take conventional hay fever medication for any reason, it’s worth looking into whether an alternative remedy for hay fever could work for you.”
Help tackle hay fever symptoms with herbal hay fever tablets and a range of nutritional supplements.
What you eat can make a difference to the intensity of your hay fever symptoms. It’s believed that some foods can exacerbate allergic reactions. Others can help relieve your discomfort. For example, consuming food and drinks that contain high levels of histamine, such as some dairy products and alcohol, could intensify your symptoms.
“Take time to identify any foods that could be irritating your immune system and increasing histamine levels and congestion,” says Emily. “But remember, although nutrition can play a role in managing the severity of hay fever symptoms, the results won’t be immediate. If you can, it pays to be prepared and to start introducing allergy-fighting ingredients into your diet before the pollen count starts to rise.”
Hay fever-friendly diet tips
Eating some of these foods could be the secret to you surviving this hay fever season.
Many fresh fruits, vegetables and other healthy foods are natural antihistamines. This means they contain chemicals that can interrupt or obstruct the histamine receptors in your immune system. By lowering histamine levels these foods can lessen allergic reactions and symptoms. For example, in the case of hay fever, congestion and eye irritation.
Foods that are rich in flavonoids could also help. Apples, citrus fruits and berries are good natural food sources.
Supplements that could aid hay fever relief
There’s a lot of speculation and anecdotal advice on supplements that could provide natural remedies for hay fever. But scientific evidence is generally lacking or inconclusive. So, here we focus on two ingredients where research connecting them to hay fever is established or growing.
Quercetin is a natural antihistamine and contains powerful anti-inflammatory properties. It’s got some great nutritional credentials when it comes to fighting off hay fever symptoms. It’s commonly found in green leafy vegetables, citrus fruits, red grapes and berries. But for the highest concentrations, look to onions and apples. Quercetin also comes as a food supplement
The bone health and immune system supporting effects of vitamin D are well known. But what’s less widely recognised is that vitamin D deficiency is also related to allergic rhinitis. Both experimental and clinical studies show some links between vitamin D and hay fever. Although, there are slight discrepancies in the results of studies, there’s some recognition that a vitamin D deficiency may increase the severity of hay fever symptoms.
Four allergy-fighting super ingredients
Here are four foods that are particularly rich in a variety of allergy-fighting compounds.
- Garlic is a plentiful source of quercetin and as a good source of vitamin C. It can also help to boost the immune system.
- Onions are another source of quercetin. They are also rich in vitamin C, giving them impressive allergy-fighting credentials.
- Pineapples are the only fruit to contain bromelain. This compound can be helpful for relieving symptoms of nasal and sinus inflammation. Bromelain could contribute to stabilizing congestion caused by hay fever.
- Turmeric contains curcumin, making the spice a great anti-inflammatory ingredient. It can help reduce swelling and irritation caused by hay fever. Combining it with ginger can increase its anti-inflammatory powers.
Foods to avoid
If you’re looking to make food choices that will help regulate your allergy symptoms, there are two food types to consider limiting or avoiding.
Firstly, dairy products are popularly cited to spur on the production of mucus. This is bad news if your hay fever is causing congestion and a runny nose. There’s anecdotal evidence to suggest switching to dairy-free alternatives, such as almond milk, can have a positive influence on some hay fever symptoms.
Secondly, reducing alcohol intake is widely advised to reduce hay fever symptoms. This is because alcoholic drinks usually contain histamine. Yes, the very substance you’re looking to reduce to keep your hay fever in check.
Summary: Are you ready to give natural remedies for hay fever a try?
If just the thought of a freshly mown lawn makes your nose start to twitch, these natural remedies for hay fever could be worth trying. This post provides a few home remedies for hay fever that could work alongside conventional medication to reduce symptoms and allow you to enjoy the warm weather this summer. But if you’re hay fever symptoms are severe, or if they are worsening other conditions, such as asthma, it’s advisable to talk to your GP about hay fever treatments too.
Emily Rollason is a qualified Nutritional Therapist, achieving a Diploma from the Institute for Optimum Nutrition.
Working with Holland & Barrett for six years, Emily has valuable experience working on a one-to-one basis with clients with a variety of health concerns such as endometriosis, adenomyosis and aiding those looking to support certain dietary requirements, such as a vegan or vegetarian diet. Emily has a long history of working with customers to guide them on what products are best suited to help them with their ailments. Her particular interests in nutrition and wellness focus around digestive health, female health and allergies/ intolerances.
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Last updated: 3 June 2020