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Suffering badly from hay fever this year? You’re not alone. As many as 1 in 10 people are believed to have hay fever. You can include me in the count. I was first diagnosed with hay fever and allergies in my teens. The medical diagnosis is allergic rhinitis, which is sinus drainage due to an allergic response.
For many people, it’s during the summer months that hay fever symptoms are at their worst. This is when the pollen count is at its highest, often not dropping until September. Others like my nephew have trouble every fall when ragweed is everywhere.
There’s currently no cure for hay fever, however there are ways in which you can make it easier to cope with this allergy by temporarily alleviating symptoms. Below is a guide on how you can beat hay fever.
What exactly is hay fever?
Hay fever is an allergic reaction to pollen. In order to stop pollen entering our sinuses, the body produces allergic antibodies that release histamines. These histamines may cause our nose to get runny and may cause us to sneeze as a way of expelling the pollen from our bodies. Other symptoms may include itchy and teary eyes (as a way of getting pollen out of the eyes) or even wheezing and coughing (as a way of getting pollen out of the throat). Some people even get itchy ears and itchy skin. That’s why most over-the-counter allergy medicines are antihistamines. Antihistamines are designed to reduce the histamine swelling and other reactions. We’ll talk about that more a little later.
The reason as to why we produce allergies is still unknown. For whatever reason, the body sees pollen as a threat and reacts by doing whatever it can to prevent it accessing the body. There are suggestions that a healthy lifestyle can reduce the risk and reduce symptoms. As research develops, it is hoped that scientists will be able to unlock the cause of allergies and possibly find a way of reversing allergies permanently – until then temporary measures can be taken.
Understanding pollen types and pollen count
Hay fever comes in various forms and can affect people differently. Understanding the type of hay fever you have could help when taking measures to alleviate it.
Most hay fever sufferers are allergic to grass pollen. The pollen count for this type of pollen is highest between May and July – if this is the period in which you suffer the most symptoms, grass pollen is likely to be the culprit.
Others may be allergic to tree pollen. Symptoms for this type of hay fever may start much earlier in the year – the tree pollen count can start to rise in February and doesn’t start to go down until June. In college I felt ill every January and February. I was told I was allergic to tree pollen. There are no leaves on deciduous trees in Tennessee in February, but the trees pollinate. I found that interesting but didn’t like the effect on my body. Different types of trees release different types of pollen and an allergy to one single type of tree pollen (such as oak or birch) can be possible.
Those that suffer from hay fever later in the year may be allergic to weed pollen. The weed pollen count doesn’t rise until June and subsides in September. Think goldenrod and ragweed.
The pollen count can vary from day to day depending on the weather and temperature. Plants tend to only release their pollen when it is hot and sunny – a long cloudy period may cause pollen to build up on a plant which is then released when the sun comes out. As a result, the first sunny day in a while may have a particularly high pollen count. Pollen levels may not be as high if it has been raining or it is humid. I love how fresh the air smells after the rain; I feel like the rain “washes away” the pollen.
Nowadays, there are pollen forecasts that you can follow online to get an idea of the pollen count in your area. This could be useful when making outdoor plans or when deciding whether to take medication on a particular day.
How to beat hay fever
There are lots of ways to alleviate the symptoms of hay fever. Below are just some of the common ways to beat this seasonal allergy.
1. Take antihistamines
Most sufferers rely on antihistamines. This is medication that can temporarily prevent the body developing histamines (the compounds that cause us to have a reaction). Antihistamines are commonly available as over-the-counter pills. Taking one of the pills a day can usually alleviate symptoms for several hours. Since my problems tend to be year round, I take a 24-hour pill every morning. There are several formulas and I alternate which type I use every month. Sometimes taking the same pill everyday long term reduces the effectiveness. 24-hour pills include:
- Levocetirizine (Xyzal)
- Loratadine (Claritin)
- Desloratadine (Clarinex)
- Cetirizine (Zyrtec)
- Fexofenadine (Allegra)
There are also nasal sprays containing antihistamines that you can use for an itchy and running nose. Antihistamine creams also exist for those that develop rashes. If your allergic response is itchy skin, Diphenhydramine tablets 25mg, brand name Bendadryl, is the over the counter medication you need. I keep the generic tablets and cream in my first aid supplies for skin irritations. Please note that this medication can make you sleepy. I usually take it when I’m not driving or in the evening.
2. Consider a hay fever injection
If you suffer badly from hay fever and find that over-the-counter medication isn’t always effective, you could try looking into an annual hay fever injection. These can provide relief from allergies for an entire season. For those of us who suffer from allergies year round, I suggest you discuss allergy shots with your primary physician. He can refer you to a specialist. An allergist can test you to determine exactly what you are allergic to. Allergy shots can be effective in reducing allergic response. My sister gets a shot weekly and feels much better.
3. Try herbal remedies
If you prefer organic medicine or simply want a break from antihistamines, it could be worth trying a few herbal remedies to help relieve hay fever.
Butterbur is one such herbal remedy that has been the focus of many studies. One study in The British Medical Journal of 125 people with hay fever found that the butterbur worked just as well as cetirizine, which is marketed as Zytrec. The researchers also concluded that butterbur is a smart choice for anyone looking to improve their allergy symptoms without getting drowsy. This can be taken in the form of tablets or even as a tea. Raw unprocessed butterbur should not be used as it can be toxic.
Raw garlic is also an important part of any wellness regimen. Garlic is a potent anti-inflammatory and immune enhancer that contains histamine-lowering quercetin. When it comes to fighting spring allergies naturally, quercitin is at the top of the list of natural compounds that have been proven to improve symptoms. That’s because when you’re experiencing spring allergies, your histamine levels increase as the body tries to combat the allergens. Studies have shown that garlic improves immune function, and its quercetin also acts as a natural antihistamine. Research has demonstrated why plant-derived quercetin has quickly become a key ingredient in many allergy-fighting supplements and drugs.
Stinging nettle has been used medicinally since the days of early Greece. It has been shown to have excellent anti-inflammatory abilities; in fact, studies have shown that the bioactive components of stinging nettle can actually inhibit multiple inflammatory events.
Research has shed a light on rosemary’s ability to help fight allergy symptoms and provide relief to asthma sufferers. According to a study published in the Journal of Restorative Medicine, this popular herb contains rosmarinic acid, which has both anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects. The study also reveals that rosmarinic acid is a free radical scavenger that can suppress the inflammatory responses of certain white blood cells, as well as allergic antibodies.
This post at Hello Magazine, 9 Natural Remedies For Hay Fever, lists a few more examples of herbal remedies for hay fever that could be worth looking into.
4. Close the windows
Pollen sources are likely to be found outside – so one way of preventing allergy symptoms is to stay indoors and keep windows closed. I personally buy HEPA filters for my air conditioner. It filters the air while it circulates cool air.
Even if you do decide to go outdoors (which you probably will want to on a hot day), closing windows can prevent pollen from entering the home and building up in the air, which could cause symptoms in the evenings. Several decades ago my sister bought filters for the windows in her son’s room. In the fall the temperatures are mild and her husband liked to open windows for breezes. Their son had trouble with hay fever every fall so they found filters that fit between the bottom of the window and the sill. Now their son had fresh, filtered air every September.
5. Use an air purifier in the home
An air purifier could help to reduce pollen levels in your home. These appliances work by sucking in air and passing it through a filter, removing all kinds of contaminants in the air such as pollen, mold, dust and – in some cases – even bacteria.
There are many companies out there such as Molekule that specialize in air purification systems. You can learn more about Molekule and other air purifier brands online. Some HVAC systems may already have in-built purification systems. Over the years I’ve had several air purifiers and have found them very helpful. When I replace my air conditioner next year, I want one with an air purification system built in.
6. Try eating local honey
There’s some research to suggest that eating local honey at the beginning of the hay fever season can build up an immunity to local pollen. This makes sense given that bees use pollen to make honey. For those that suffer badly from hay fever, it could be worth a shot. I’ve mentioned before that I make a lemon ginger honey tea each morning to sooth my throat, cleanse my mouth, and support my immune system. Look for local honey for best results as it contains the local pollen that bothers you.
7. Drink less alcohol
Alcoholic drinks can worsen hay fever symptoms such as sneezing, coughing and itchy eyes. This isn’t generally due to the alcohol itself – beer, wine and liquor contains added histamines (the compounds that trigger allergic reactions) as a result of the fermentation process. Consequently, you may want to drink less beer and wine if you’re already fighting symptoms.
8. Don’t smoke
Smoking makes the lining of the nasal passages more sensitive and as a result can make hay fever symptoms such as an itchy nose and sneezing worse. Consequently, if you smoke, you may want to consider cutting down during hay fever season (or use it as another reason to give up completely).
Second hand smoke can also have the same effect so steer clear of smoky areas if you don’t want to make hay fever worse.
9. Rinse it off
Pollen is likely to stick to clothes and skin while outdoors. You could end up bringing this indoors and triggering your allergy in the evening. Putting clothes in the wash and having a shower when you get in will get rid of all the pollen. My first allergist told me to wash my hair at night not in the morning. Otherwise, while I sleep I would be inhaling the pollen in my hair.
It’s also possible to rinse out your nose if you’re feeling particularly sniffly and itchy. Warm water and salt is one of the best ways to clear out your nose of pollen. Salt water sprays are available over the counter.
9. Dry clothes indoors
I know how wonderful clean clothes smell after hanging on the line. If you hang your clothes outdoors to dry, you may also want to reconsider this. While hanging outdoors, your clothes are likely to get covered in pollen, which could bring out symptoms when wearing them. Using a tumble dryer could be a better option when the pollen count is high.
10. Consider wearing a mask
A mask is likely to stop you breathing in pollen during the summer and could actually be the perfect solution when going outdoors if you don’t want to take any form of medication. In the midst of the ongoing pandemic, more people have been wearing masks and seeing reduced hay fever symptoms. Obviously, the better quality the mask, the more likely it is to filter pollen out. I was surprised how much wearing a mask helped my breathing.
I hope these ideas are helpful if you and someone you love is fighting hay fever. Stay well and be happy!
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