While some of us are basking in the summer sun, others are locking their doors and windows, hiding away from an almighty army of tiny soldiers looking for a fight.
Yes, oh dear, it’s that time of the year again when instead of a healthy tan we sport swollen eyes, itchy noses and an endless stream of sniffles and sneezes. Hay fever is the dreaded threat that clouds a blue summer sky and takes the fun out of picnics and barbecues.
Should you be one of those unlucky souls, you are far from alone. Approximately 40% of the world population suffers from one allergy or another. The UK has one of the highest incidences of hay fever at 20-28% in adults, rising to 38% in teenagers. Currently, there is no cure and many find that pharmaceutical agents are only partly effective, with very unpleasant side effects such as drowsiness and nausea. Managing the condition effectively is half the battle but to win the war, we have to start right at the beginning, literally!
Hay fever is a so-called Type 1 hypersensitivity with an instant immune response to the protein found in pollen and grass. An immediate release of histamine causes increased mucous production, and inflammation of eyes, nose and throat set in as soon as a stray particle enters the airways. But it is not the trees or plants that are at fault, it is your own immune system.
Pollen and other hay fever culprits do not present a danger (like the flu virus, for example) to your body, and should not alert your defence mechanisms. They should give your immune system a friendly nod and continue their journey to fertilise the grass across the pond.
In order for your natural defences to differentiate between friend and foe, some basic training is required and this happens with the help of friendly gut bacteria on the day that we are born. These helpful organisms constantly poke your immune cells, making sure they are awake and keeping their eyes open for possible invaders. They also make sure that only dangerous particles are attacked and harmless agents, such as pollen, are left in peace. But the quality of this education largely depends on the skills of these ‘teachers’. A healthy, plentiful gut flora will provide a first class education to your immune system but an imbalanced micro flora will barely cover the basics. If your immune system didn’t pay attention at school or just lazes around on a street corner, it will randomly attack anything that comes in its way.
The first colonisation of gut bacteria happens during birth through the birth canal. The second wave of organisms enters the body through breast milk and anything that a baby sticks into its mouth. Missing out on those two crucial steps can increase the risk of allergies later in life dramatically and so can early antibiotic treatment. **Should you be worried about your child developing allergies later in life, supplement their diet with a high quality probiotic from birth on.** This is your most powerful weapon in the fight against not only pollen but also other common conditions such as asthma and eczema.
It is never too late to show your immune system how to do the job properly. The therapeutic dose for adults starts at 10 billion bacteria per day and has shown impressive results in the reduction of all symptoms associated with hay fever. In some cases, the dreaded sniffles even disappeared for good.
Your next seasonal ‘must have’ is a high potency fish oil. Inflamed noses and eyes are in desperate need of soothing and nothing does a better job than EPA. No need to pour the oil into your peepers though, or even sniff it up your nose! When taken internally your body will produce natural anti-inflammatory compounds that are much more effective than steroids. Fish oils will take a while to unleash their full potential so start taking around 1 gram a day 3 months before the dreaded pollen count features in the news. Another fantastic anti-inflammatory and anti-allergy remedy is bromelain. A natural compound occurring in pineapple combats inflammation on the front line and can help to reduce sneezing and sniffling. It also helps to digest protein so it can make short work out of excess mucous!
A constant release of histamine is responsible for the constant itchiness that can drive you up the wall and out of the garden into the darkest corners of the house. Over-the-counter hay fever medication contains nothing more than an anti-histamine to stop the allergic reaction, but why battle your way to the chemist when you could find the answer in your fridge? Red onions and berries are fantastic anti-histamine foods. I am not suggesting you make an onion and berry salad (unless you’re seriously adventurous in the kitchen) but help yourself to plenty throughout the day! If you are brave enough, you can even stick some raw onion up your nose to combat histamine locally! **It is also excellent to rub onto a bee or wasp sting to prevent swelling and inflammation**. A more convenient form of counteracting all these symptoms induced by histamine is taking a combination of bromelain and vitamin C. At one to two grams a day, this combination could well have you back strolling in the fields in no time.
It’s great to have some remedies in your cupboard to ease your symptoms when hay fever gets the better of you but, as with all allergies, it is more about playing the long game. Your immune system needs constant attention and nourishment. Taking a probiotic, a fish oil supplement and a combination of Vitamin C, D, E, A, zinc and selenium for at least 6 months is an investment your whole family will thank you for, even if it is just not to hear you blow your nose again!