Spring is here and while it’s great that the sun is finally out, if you suffer from hay fever then the spring isn’t always something to look forward to.
What is hay fever?
Hay fever is also known as SAR, no I’ve never heard of the abbreviation either, but its short for seasonal allergic rhinitis. It is an allergic reaction to pollen, when these tiny particles come into contact with the cells that line your mouth, nose, eyes and throat; they irritate them and trigger an allergic reaction.
Most people with hay fever are allergic to grass pollen, released during the end of spring and beginning of summer but it can also be caused by tree pollen, released during spring and weed pollen, released late autumn.
Symptoms include: sneezing, a runny nose and itchy eyes.
So what can you do?
Well, most people rush to the pharmacy and stock up on hay fever drugs (antihistamines). Antihistamines work by blocking histamine, a substance which is released by the immune system cells, which then attaches to the receptors in blood vessels, causing them to enlarge. While they do work they also have side effects such as drowsiness.
These is a lot of advice on what you can do to minimise pollen intake, Allergen UK recommends these:
Monitor pollen forecasts daily and stay indoors wherever possible when the count is high
Use a saline nasal wash to remove pollens and allergens
Apply an effective allergen barrier balm, around the edge of each nostril to trap or block pollens, Vaseline works.
Keep windows closed when indoors. Keep car windows closed when driving.
Avoid mowing lawns or raking leaves yourself.
Wear wraparound sunglasses when outdoors to keep pollen allergens out of your eyes
A hat with a peak or large brim can help keep pollens from your eyes and face
Avoid drying washing on a clothes-line outside when pollen counts are high
Don't let pets get close to your face as they can carry pollen in their fur.
Exercise more, the UK-based National Pollen Aerobiology Research Unit has found that regular exercise can improve your hay fever.
Some of those are fairly obvious, if you have hay fever you pretty much know what you shouldn’t do, but what can you do to try and prevent it?
How about food?
It surprises me that neither the NHS nor Allergen UK talks about food as a preventative for hay fever. So I thought I’d let you into what I’ve found out about more natural ways to try and prevent your symptoms.
Local honey - Does it work?
Local honey is often touted as a preventative for hay fever. So, a couple of years ago, as we are always on the lookout for natural ways to look after ourselves we tried it. Well, actually Ric who suffers quite badly from hay fever tried it and nothing, it didn’t work.
So we looked for the research behind it and it was birch pollen honey for birch pollen allergy and not any local honey. So unless your hay fever is specifically from birch pollen and you have birch pollen honey then is probably best to leave that remedy alone.
Quercetin - A natural anti-histamine
According to other research quercetin has been proven to ‘possess many biological activities including anti-allergic activity. It inhibits histamine’
Quercetin is a flavonoid, and certain classes of flavonoid can ‘reduce airway hyper responsiveness, which is accompanied by lowered inflammatory mediators such as histamine and cytokines, and cell infiltration’
So we thought we’d put this to the test as well. Last year Ric, looked up the best foods for quercetin and started eating more of these. He reported that he didn’t need to resort to hay fever tablets at all. While I only suffer from mild hay fever Ric is normally almost incapacitated by it, usually he’d be continually sneezing and have incredibly itchy eyes. So this was quite miraculous.
Nettle has been used for hundreds of years to treat a variety of disorders from hay fever to hypertension. The hairs on the leaves that cause the stings contain histamine. Clinical evidence shows that freeze-dried extracts of nettle reduce allergy symptoms. Check out the research here. Nettles also have high amounts of flavonoids.
We haven’t tried this yet, if you have we’d love to hear about it.
Probiotics are 'good' bacteria that live in the gut and a healthy gut is an important part of keeping you healthy.
Researchers from the University School of Medicine in Nashville carried out a review of 23 trials investigating the effect of probiotics on allergic rhinitis. 17 studies showed benefits from the use of probiotics in at least one outcome measure, 6 found no benefit.
This was their conclusion:
‘Probiotics may be beneficial in improving symptoms and quality of life in patients with allergic rhinitis: however current evidence remains limited. Additional studies are needed to establish appropriate recommendations’. See the study here
As gut health is incredibly important for your overall health the use of probiotics for hay fever can’t hurt and may be beneficial as 17 of the studies found.
Probiotic food is fermented creating live bacteria and yeasts that promote good gut health. The most popular probiotic foods are yogurt especially kefir and sauerkraut both of which contain many strains of good bacteria.
Vitamin C - Is it worth it?
Vitamin C is often said to be a natural antihistamine but I searched for evidence of research to back this up. All of the research concludes that you would need to take massive doses for it to work. By massive doses they mean the amount that almost causes diarrhoea. Doses of 500mg would be needed a day, to achieve tissue saturation, that’s over 5 times the RDA (recommended daily amount) Check it out here.
Other research from 1992 found that a massive 2g of vitamin supplementation was needed to depress histamine levels.
Now I don’t know about you but I don’t want to be having so much vitamin C that I almost have diarrhoea!
So what’s the conclusion?
Well, after all of this research the solution seems to be to eat quercetin rich foods, backed up with food that is probiotic and a cup of nettle tea!
How do you know if you are getting enough?
To find out how to get enough of the foods to keep your hay fever at bay, start keeping a food diary. It’s simple with CheckYourFoods, food diary, you can use it for free, just click the link below.
I’d love to know if you’ve found this useful or if you have a hay fever food that works for you. If you know anyone else who would love this please share
Co-founder, production manager
I'm our communications and marketing person, dealing with social media and copywriting. I also work with Matt and Ric overseeing the design and strategic management of the site.
I'm also the author of the Eva the Hungry Amoeba children's book series (only one so far). You can find it on Amazon.
My favourite foods, shepherds pie and smoked haddock!