If 3 sneezes in a row is a sign of good luck, 10 sneezes is more likely to mean your luck has run out – and you probably have hayfever. Also known as allergic rhinitis, hayfever occurs when an allergen gets up your nose, in your eyes or even in your food and your immune system overreacts in a fit of sneezing and itchiness.
- Itchy eyes, nose, upper palate, throat, face.
- Runny nose.
- Teary eyes.
- Puffiness under the eyes.
- Dark circles under the eyes, especially towards the nose.
- Loss of smell.
What causes it
- Hayfever is part of the allergic group of atopic conditions that include asthma, sinusitis and eczema. The atopic group are largely inherited. Sift through your family tree and you’ll find a relative with one or more of these conditions. If not, take a close look at the milkman.
- Common allergens include dust, pollen, mould, animal dander (fur etc), food additives and preservatives, detergents, the ubiquitous dust mite and cockroach droppings.
- Seasonal hayfever, as the name suggests, is an allergy to seasonal allergens. It flares up when those plants are in flower and pollen becomes airborne.
- Several foods can provoke a hayfever response including dairy, wheat, eggs, citrus, corn, peanuts, wine, nuts and shellfish.
What to do
- If you sneeze and splutter at grasses, pollens and dust (airborne allergens), the chances are high (about 80 per cent) that you may have a food sensitivity as well. If you avoid eating the foods that you are sensitive to, you will decrease the load on your immune system and the hayfever symptoms should abate. The first foods to investigate are wheat and dairy. If you know you are sensitive to grasses, think about choosing wheat as your first food sensitivity simply because it too is a grass.
- Drink at least 2 litres of clear fluid a day to allow the mucus to drain. Hayfever increases your risk of infected sinuses, so keep those fluids up.
- Avoid alcohol as it swells the mucous linings, which are already inflamed. You may also be sensitive to the histamines in red wine.
- Increase foods containing vitamin C, a natural antihistamine, such as citrus, papaya, kiwifruit, strawberries, pineapple, guava, rockmelon, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and capsicum.
- Garlic and onions have mucus-clearing and antibiotic properties.
- Raw honeycomb is a curious and delicious remedy. The theory behind it is that if you are allergic to pollens, then the tiny amount of bee-preserved pollen in the honeycomb will act as a kind of vaccine. Take a teaspoon of honeycomb each day. Try honeycomb from local bees as it will more likely contain the pollen you are sensitive to. Raw local honey will also contain some natural anti-allergy substances.
- Avoid dairy products if they tend to increase mucus production.
- There may be a link between a high-salt diet and hayfever as there is with asthma and sinusitis. Reduce added salt in your diet and packaged food that often contains high levels of salt.
- If your hayfever is a seasonal thing, start using a few of these remedies 6 weeks prior to as well as during the sneezing season, which is often the change of season from winter to spring. If you suffer all year around, take the remedies for as long as you need.
- Herbs that help reduce hayfever symptoms include eyebright, albizzia, horseradish, goldenrod and goldenseal.
- Quercetin, the bioflavonoid, acts like an antihistamine, and can work well when taken in conjunction with Vitamin C.
- Vitamin C on its own is an excellent natural antihistamine. Take 2 g during the hayfever season 3 times a day.(adjust for childrens dose)
- Evening primrose oil taken throughout the year can decrease your allergic response. The itching and redness of the mucous membranes that line the throat and nose caused by hayfever is due to the release of inflammatory substances such as histamine that are released in response to an allergen. If the mucous membrane cells themselves are less likely to react, then hayfever symptoms can also get less and less. The essential fatty acid DHGLA, found in evening primrose oil, is particularly anti-inflammatory. Initially you will need to take 8–9 evening primrose capsules (or the equivalent of 8–10 ml of evening primrose oil) to ensure that all cell membranes incorporate DHGLA. Once benefits are noticed, possibly after a couple of months, dosage can retreat to 2–3 capsules a day. Halve dose for children
- Propolis and bee pollen products work similarly to the honeycomb described above, acting as a kind of vaccine.
- God’s gift to sinus and hayfever sufferers is the neti pot.
Nasal irrigation, intra-nasal douche, or nose bidet – using a neti pot is never going to sound elegant. Looking like the lovechild between a teapot and Aladdin’s magical lamp without the genie, the neti pot is the gadget used to practice jala neti, an ancient yogic purification and cleansing technique. A godsend for sinus sufferers, the neti pot flushes warm salty water through the nasal passages, allowing mucus to drain out of the body and with it, unwanted bacteria, viruses, dust and pollen. Salt has the additional effect of reducing any swelling of the lining of the sinuses, preventing further mucous production, killing some bacteria and preventing sinus pain.
Traditionally made from silver or copper, neti pots are now available in a variety of materials. Ceramic (looks pretty but can break), glass (if breaks could be dangerous) and plastic pots (light and won’t break, but are high on the yuk factor). Stainless steel pots are popular as they are easily cleaned, non-toxic and unbreakable.
Using a neti pot
Into the neti pot, mix 500 ml of warm water with 1 teaspoon of non-iodised sea salt. Tradition says that the mixture should be as warm as your blood and as salty as your tears. Stand over the sink or in the shower, holding your head to the left side, tilted slightly down. Slowly pour half the water up your right nostril. Within a couple of moments, your left nostril should drip, then flow. Give a gentle snort to clear out the remaining water and repeat on the other side. With practice, the process will actually feel pleasant. Counterintuitively, if the water stings, the reason may be insufficient salt.
Using a neti pot has scientific street cred, proving in studies to be as effective for sinus as corticosteroids, a commonly used medication for sinusitis. Using a neti pot regularly may be effective for long-term (chronic) sinusitis and hayfever as well as for those exposed to nasal irritants in their work. Avoid using a neti pot if there is serious congestion and infection, allowing the condition to ease before recommencing.
- Buteyko breathing also works brilliantly for hayfever. Sneezing and spluttering are considered forms of ‘over-breathing’ – a big no-no as far as the Buteyko technique is concerned. To stop a hayfever attack, this technique can work a treat. Firstly, close your mouth. Then take a small breath in, followed by a small breath out. Block your nose with your thumb and forefinger. Hold for as long as possible, shaking your head slowly from side to side. When you feel like you are about to burst, release the nose, but keep the mouth closed. Yes, of course you look like a loony. But as long as it works, right? Repeat a couple of times. If you are a mouth breather, try to breathe through your nose at all times.
- Where possible, avoid or reduce known allergens such as chemicals, mould and dust in your home and work environment.
- Allergy desensitisation is a long-term commitment, but is very effective. Firstly, an allergy specialist will determine the exact nature of your allergens by pricking the skin of the forearms with tiny amounts of the offending substances. Depending on the extent of your allergy, a welt of varying size will appear. Depending on the ilk of your practitioner, either vaccine or homoeopathic dosages of the allergen may be dispensed, either as drops or via regular injection.
Allergic children are born to allergic parents. The allergic shiner, or a darkish purple patch in the corner of the eyes is a giveaway that your child may be allergic. If you are the allergic parent, and have figured out your own allergies, the chances are high that the same ones will also affect your child. So avoid them if and where possible. An allergy test, as mentioned above, and a course of desensitising drops, which is less psychologically scarring than injections, is an excellent option for children.
Honey, propolis or honeycomb made by local bees is a delicious natural vaccine. Cod-liver oil, zinc and vitamin C taken 6 weeks prior to hayfever season can also work well. Homoeopathic remedies are also gentle and effective for children.
From as early as possible, discourage your child from mouth breathing. Mouth breathing makes hayfever, sinus and asthma much worse. After the age of 7, your child can learn retention breathing techniques that can work marvels.
At a glance
- If you are allergic to grasses, you may also be reacting to wheat in your diet, as wheat is another grass. Try eliminating it from your diet for a month and see if your hayfever symptoms improve.
- Increase foods high in Vitamin C, which has natural antihistamine properties.
- Drink at least 2 litres of clear fluid a day to allow the mucus to drain.
- Alcohol causes the mucous membranes lining the airways to swell. With hayfever, they are already swollen, so drink less alcohol.
- Local raw honey and honeycomb contains small amounts of the pollen that you may be allergic to. Homeopathically, eating some of the honey product will build up your resistance and reduce your symptoms in a similar way to a vaccine does. Yes, worthwhile
- Vitamin C and the bioflavonoid quercetin have natural anti-inflammatory and antihistamine properties. Perfect for hayfever.
- Herbs that can help reduce hayfever symptoms include eyebright, albizzia, horseradish, goldenrod and goldenseal.
- A course of evening primrose oil will reduce the sensitivity of cells lining the airways and their reaction to allergens. This effect can take months, but is well worth the effort.
- Use a neti pot every morning as a preventative. The saline from the neti pot drains the sinuses and astringes the mucous membranes.
- Buteyko breathing is an effective treatment for hayfever.
- Allergy desensitisation, whereby minute amounts of the allergen are injected or taken under your tongue is another effective long-term strategy for treating hayfever.