I’m sitting here with beautiful warm sun on my back ... Spring is here! What’s not to love? Well, for around 1 in 5 of New Zealanders, hayfever. Symptoms include sneezing, runny or itchy nose, watery or itchy eyes and fatigue. Hayfever sufferers at some point had their immune system mistakenly identify a harmless substance (like pollen) to be harmful, sensitising them to it. Each time they are exposed to the allergen, the body activates mast cells which release substances including histamine, causing the symptoms.
The good news is there are a variety of treatments available to help address those annoying symptoms. Here are our 10 top tips on reducing your symptoms...
Find out what you are allergic to and avoid it
Easier said than done sometimes, but this is a very effective way of reducing your symptoms. It may be helpful to keep a diary of allergy reactions and possible allergens each day.
Try an antihistamine and rotate them when necessary
Antihistamine medicines come in either tablet or liquid form and prevent the release of histamine. Many are non-drowsy and last up to 24 hours. You may find rotating antihistamines can increase their effectiveness. It also helps to start the treatment before you are exposed to the allergens, either at the start of the season or at night so it is in the body for the morning. Decongestant tablets or nasal sprays can help clear the nose short term, while eye drops can be used for watery and itchy eyes.
Try a saline rinse
Normal saline nasal rinses aim to wash pollen out of the sinus passages. Rinses can be bought from a pharmacy and are used daily for maximum benefit. They are especially useful to clear the sinuses before using a steroid nasal spray.
Steroid nasal sprays can help as a preventative as they work on all the substances responsible for hayfever, although they can take up to a week to take effect.
Eat a varied, balanced diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables
There is a lot of discussion about why allergy rates have increased exponentially over time. One factor is our modern, processed diet. A diet rich in fruits and vegetables boosts our vitamin C and flavonoid intake with their anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and immune boosting benefits.
Try herbs and vitamins to reduce symptoms
Horseradish and garlic may be used to clear the sinuses and boost the immune system. You may have experienced the effect of horseradish on your sinuses if you’ve eaten a little too much wasabi. Garlic also has anti-inflammatory properties, as does baical skullcap and bromelain (from pineapple). Bromelain has been shown in studies to reduce the inflammation of the nasal passages and may activate a healthy immune system. Quercetin (from apples or onions) and vitamin C (oranges and red capsicum) have shown anti-histamine effects in studies so can be useful to manage allergies naturally. Go Healthy Allergy Support is a good source of these herbs.
Check your gut
In an uncompromised state, the cells lining the gut sit tight next to each other to form a barrier. When food is fully broken down, nutrients are absorbed into the bloodstream and the body is protected from foreign particles. Unfortunately, the cell lining is only one cell thick and can be easily damaged, leading to what many researchers call “leaky gut”. As more and more gaps form in the lining, partially digested proteins, carbohydrates and fats are thought to cross into the blood. The immune system sees these foreign particles and attacks them, creating inflammation, a symptom of which may be seasonal allergies. A good probiotic can assist in maintenance of a healthy gut and digestive function, as well as maintaining a healthy immune system.
Beer, wine and other spirits contain histamine, the chemical that sets off allergy symptoms in your body. As well as making you more sensitive to pollen, alcohol also dehydrates you, making your symptoms seem worse.
Have a good night sleep
People with hayfever who get a good night’s sleep tend to have the mildest symptoms. Just 13% of people who had at least seven hours sleep a night reported severe symptoms, compared with 21% who regularly had five hours sleep or less a night.
Reduce exposure to dust mites
People allergic to dust mites will suffer more in the morning but may also show symptoms of poor sleep, fatigue, dry mouth and lips on waking. Always use a damp cloth to wipe over surfaces when dusting. Choose 400+ thread count linen and wash in a hot wash. Choose a vacuum cleaner with a hepa filter and vacuum often. Remove woollen underlays from the bed and embrace a minimalist look in bedrooms.
Other lifestyle tips
A recent report, based on a survey of more than 2,000 hayfever sufferers, found that lifestyle factors, such as stress and exercise, can have a major impact on symptoms.
Most pollen is in the air early in the morning so try to minimize your activity between 5:00-10:00am, and if you are out and about wear close-fitting sunglasses. Keeping the windows shut in your house and car may reduce the number of allergens in the environment. When gardening, select low pollen-producing plants (usually native species) and wear a mask and sunglasses when mowing the lawn – it really does make a difference!