Spring! A word that conjures up new life – birds nesting, lambs being born, shoots coming through the cold winter earth, buds opening. But for some, it can signify misery. Itchy eyes, wheezing, sneezing and a constant running nose. Take heart – there are some easy steps you can take to prepare yourself for the hay fever season.

Hay fever, also known as allergic rhinitis, is due to the season spread of pollen in the air. Pollen is normally harmless, but in some it can be mistakenly identified by the body’s immune system as dangerous, and this leads to an inappropriate immune reaction. This causes antibodies to respond, and our mast cells which form part of our immune system, release histamine which inflame and irritate the mucous membranes. This results in the itchy, sneezing, congestion and sore eyes so typical of hay fever.

Pollen is not the only culprit that can exacerbate these symptoms. Other common culprits are house dust, animal dander, dust mites, cockroaches, mould spores and feathers.

The following steps can help prepare you for the allergy season:

Eat well …

Some foods encourage inflammation (such as trans fatty acids and sugar) which puts your immune system under stress. By improving your diet you can help reduce the inflammatory burden on your body. Avoid processed and junk foods, and eat more fruit and vegetables that are full of antioxidants such as Vitamin C and Flavonoids. Fish is a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, which are anti-inflammatory, so increase fish consumption or take fish oil supplements. Avoid dairy products that can increase mucus production. Cut back on alcohol and coffee as these deplete essential nutrients needed by the immune system. Remember as well to drink at least two litres of water a day (this can include herbal teas) as it is important to stay hydrated.

Avoid exposure …

Sounds simple? This can be a toughie, but try and eliminate the offending antigen from your environment. If allergic to dander, avoid cats or dogs. If you have pets, brush and wash them regularly. Use special allergy vacuum cleaners around the house. Remove carpets and feather bedding in the bedroom to remove dust mites, and airing your bedding daily in sunlight also helps. Washing clothing at about 58oC helps kill mites. On windy days, keep doors and windows shut and stay indoors if possible.

Strengthen your immune system …

Several herbs are well-recognised for having immune-building properties, whereas others can help reduce congestion and restore mucus membranes function. See a natural health practitioner to see which ones are more suited for you. Other supplements that can help boost your immune system are Vitamin C, Bromelain, Garlic, Quercetin and Zinc. Vitamin C and Quercetin also act as anti-histamines, and Bromelain and Garlic can help breakdown excess mucus.

Stress …

Excessive stress in our lives can release high levels of hormones such as cortisone that over a long period of time can deplete our immune system. Make time for activities you enjoy to help counteract stress, and consider yoga, pilates or meditation as excellent stress reducers. As sleep is our body’s time for repair and recovery, make sure you get enough sleep each night to help strengthen your immunity, at least 8 hours.

Anything else …?

A humidifier in the bedroom can help reduce mould spores. Also avoid cigarette smoke and diesel fumes as these can sensitise the nose.

As hay fever is an immune problem, it is important that the underlying cause is identified. If symptoms persist, a natural medicine practitioner can work with you to treat the underlying conditions and help get you back on the path to wellness.

Cassi Cowlam, Naturopath, The Medical Sanctuary

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