Hay! Fever, why are you bothering me?

Sound familiar? Yep, I know. You may well be feeling, ‘why me, again! Aaaaah!’ Hay fever, I hate it. I hear ya, I get it, because I get it too!

If you’ve got the sniffles, are constantly sneezing, have mascara running down your face – there’s a clue. And if have a constant tickle in your upper mouth or throat, it’s not a surprise, because it’s that time of year again! Hay fever is here.

But, why is it that only some people get hay fever and others don’t? We’ll get to that. We’ll also look at ‘what you can do to stop it’. Firstly, I  want to give you a bit of background and context.

What is hay fever?

Hay fever is an allergy. It’s one of a number of allergies that anyone can get. If you were being diagnostically tested, we’d say that hay fever is as an IgE instigator. IgE or immunoglobin E, is a type of antibody or protein which detects certain types of allergens (or foreign bodies) that get in to our system. Hay fever is in fact, one of the largest of these allergens. Allergy UK  suggest that 10 – 30% of adults in the UK and 40% of children (with the numbers rising) have hay fever (or Allergic Rhinitis). It’s very very common.

So, what causes hay fever and why did I get it?

We may associate hay fever with grass, hay bales and wheat fields, but it’s not only pollen that’s the problem. Animal hair, house dust and dust mites can also cause similar symptoms. Pollen are minute spores which form in flowers, grass, plants and trees. They then release at certain times of the year to fertilize others of the same species.

Allergies occur when the body’s immune system responds to something which it recognises as being foreign or potentially harmful. There may be times when you’ve been out walking and have noticed fur-like leaves flying about, but most times, you won’t be aware. You simply start having symptoms. These usually occur when the minute particles irritate your nasal cavity, eyes and skin.

The reaction can be awful  as the body tries to eliminate the harmful element. And I know it seems weird because we don’t necessarily think of grass as harmful, but if you have antibodies which identify grass as such, a heightened immune response will start an action against them.

So, what’s the antibody link?

An antibody is basically a protective protein which is matched to an allergenic element. Each time that allergenic element (ie, grass pollen) presents itself in the body, the antibody is alerted. It’s a bit like a traffic warden placing a sticker on an offending antigenic car to flag that it’s got a match that needs to be taken to the compound. That’s in effect what the immune system warden does in the body.

What happens in the body?

After the allergen has been flagged, the immune system starts to do all it can to remove the offender. Sneezing, watery eyes and a runny nose are actually the body’s way of helping the offender on its way. The problem with pollen is that it isn’t one item. It can be hundreds of thousands of tiny particles which we’re exposed to day in and day out and each one can cause a reaction.

So, what’s histamine?

Histamine is a substance which occurs naturally in the body. It’s actually really helpful in opening our vessels to allow inflammatory white blood cells to reach the allergen quickly so that it can be removed.

A few problems can occur with the mechanism though. A) When histamine builds up it can mimic the allergic process and cause symptoms such as headaches and itching. B) Another problem can be that the enzymes that are supposed to break down and eliminate excess histamine may be poorly functioning. This can again lead to histamine building up and creating more of an allergenic response.

So how do we start dealing with it?

As you would have gathered, there’s quite a bit to this! But there are things that can be done.

1) Reduce inflammation.

Many health scientists now consider inflammation as a major contributor to the development of numerous health conditions. But, it’s important to understand that inflammation has a dual role. It can accumulate up around any form of damaged tissue in the body and is therefore, a necessary protective mechanism. However, excessive inflammation can exacerbate the inflammatory response and cause pain in tissues and vessels. So, get on with it –  how do we deal with it?

2) Lessen the occurrence of damage to internal tissue.

Much of our immune function is present in our gut. When our gut health is poor, generally other areas in our body suffer. Food particles and harmful substances that should be eliminated, may bypass the gut barrier and get into the blood stream, creating an allergic reaction. One way of supporting and cleansing our gut can be to incorporate gentle foods such as chia, linseeds or even psyllium. These create a lovely jelly like substance to soothe the colon, remove waste and start the healing process. And of course, eating gentle fibrous vegetables such as cucumber, celery, salad leaves, green leafy vegetables, kohlrabi, leaks, spinach and runner beans may also help.

3) Eating foods which lessen stress to the body.

If our body is healthy, then enzymes and bacteria have no problem in breaking down foods. But if we have an accumulation of foods which irritate the gastro-intestinal tract or are too acidic or simply challenge digestion, it can cause us a lot of problems. We may often know what these foods are, but choose to have them anyway. For some it may be bread, cereals, grains or wheat products, for others it may be sugars (even from alcohol or from fruits). It be dairy products, apples, pears or some even, celery. One of the easiest ways to start investigating this is to maintain a food diary for 6 weeks and if necessary also have an allergy test.

4) Maintain a healthy immune system response.

So, we’ve seen that histamine is a naturally occurring substance in our body. However, there are a number of foods which are considered to be high in histamine and which may contribute to higher than normal levels. Remember our hay fever symptoms may be made worse if the body struggles to eliminate pollens properly.

HIT or Histamine Intolerance Awareness, have a list of foods such as; aubergines, sauerkraut and chickpeas which you may want to consider eliminating if you think that this may be an issue for you. Again, along with this, it’s important to maintain a food diary to assess if certain foods are aggravating or exasperating your symptoms.

5) Incorporate some things which may help

There are a number of foods that have been linked to having anti-histamine properties. Papain is an enzyme from the fruit papaya which helps to digest proteins and may ease digestion. This is particularly important when considering prevention of irritation or damage to gut and intestinal tissue.

Green Tea may be beneficial. In a 2014 article in Allergology International by Masuda et al1, they showed that Benifuuki, a particular constituent of green tea lessened the allergic symptoms associated with hay fever. This was a small study of 51, but it did indicate that the properties of benifuuki lessened the reaction of mast cells, and in particular histamine.

6) Protect yourself against inflammatory particles

It may not be possible to eliminate the amount of pollen that you come into contact with. But you can find out when the counts are high. Asthma UK, have a pollen calendar which highlights ‘tree, grass and weed’ pollen dependent on the month. But you can also check the local weather reports from May – September which will also show levels.

Obviously cutting and rolling around in the grass may be out for a while. But something simple that the NHS suggest is to put a thin layer of Vaseline in the nasal passages. Vaseline may act as a barrier dampening down the nasal follicles that can so easily become irritated.

Changing your bed sheets regularly and drying them indoors rather than on the line outdoors may also help.

Whilst these are simple suggestions that may help you, as always, if your symptoms are continually worsening, then do speak to your GP.

So what specific foods can help?

Vitamin C rich foods are beneficial for their anti-histamine properties, but also in lowering inflammation and supporting a healthy immune system. Foods such as broccoli, cauliflower, red and chilli peppers, kale have a higher content than fruit sources. However, strawberries, lemon and orange juice are also beneficial.

Zinc protects our cells against a number of harmful substances from bacteria to toxic substances and even metals. It’s quite surprising to find how many may not only be in our environment but also sometimes in our foods.

Zinc is also important for the healthy formation of our cells and our internal repair process. It’s found in: Oysters (although they may not be the easiest to get hold of or even your choice)! so choose, nuts and seeds, lentils, beans and peas, ginger and wheat germ.

Selenium is a mineral which is vital to the process of eliminating toxins from the body and preventing them from causing critical damage. It also functions in keeping our cell structures strong. Thirdly, it supports the development of IgG antibodies which detect harmful bacteria and viruses. It’s found in: Oily fish (herring and sardines), Brazil nuts, oats, brown rice and garlic.

Bromelain is highly involved in the digestive process, but also in dampening down inflammation. It can be particularly helpful for that stubborn mucus and phlegm that you may have in your nasal passages, throat or chest. It’s readily found in pineapples.

Omega 3 essential fatty acids, which are largely found in oily fish, but can also be obtained in part from flaxseed or if necessary good quality supplements are a critical component of immune support. It supports the cell so that the cell can be receptive to beneficial nutrients, but resistant to harmful substances. They also ensure that our vessel walls remain clean and strong, preventing damage which could attract inflammation.

Turmeric’s curcumin component supports dampening down the inflammatory process and lessening the build-up of inflammation.

These are all different things that you can try and which may help. But if you feel that you need more support, then call for an initial free 30 Minute Free Consultation to talk things through.

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  1. Masuda, S; Yamamato-Maeda, U; Usui, S and Fujisawa, T (2014) ‘Benifuuki’ Green Tea Containing O-Methylated Catechin Reduces Symptoms of Japanese Cedar Pollinosis: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Trial. [online] Allergology International. [Accessed 8th April 2021]. Available from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1323893015300344

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