Our immune system, or ‘defence’, is behaving as if attacked, by pollen. The response, our defence, is an inflammatory one, utilised to inactivate the ‘invader’, in this instance, pollen.
There are in essence, 3 ways in which this inappropriate allergic response can be managed.
- Reduce exposure to pollen
- Reduce immune response
- Balance the person's reaction to pollen
Reducing the exposure to pollen
Physical barriers such as sunglasses or indeed regular glasses will impede the physical exposure of your eyes to pollen. Larger glasses are obviously better for this, but functionality and fashion may clash here, use your discretion!
To reduce pollen exposure in your nose, you can coat the inside of your nostrils with Vaseline (white petroleum jelly) or an unscented vegetable-oil / beeswax based lip balm. This has the effect of catching pollen in the external part of your nostrils.
Pollen is most prevalent where there are flowering plants. As well as flowers, this can be tree blossom, grasses and reeds. You may have a reaction to all of the above, or more likely, some of them. Please see this chart from The Met Office that shows when the pollen is at its peak. - More information about The Pollen Count from The Met Office (where you find the chart below a lot bigger!)
My personal feeling is that the ‘pollen count’ can be misleading since it is thetotal pollen. You may still be experiencing significant symptoms in a low pollen count if the majority of that count contains the one you’re most allergic to. Nevertheless, the chart is useful.
The University of Worcester that is home to the National Pollen and Aerobiology Research Unit gives a more accurate breakdown of the airborne pollen.
Current Pollen Forecast - from University of Worcester
Some people report keeping doors and windows shut whilst indoors improves their symptoms. Most modern cars with air-conditioning also have a pollen filter. It’s important that this is clean and isn’t harbouring mould-spores since this may add to your symptoms! Paradoxically, I also know clients that will insist that going outdoors improves their symptoms, finding indoors ‘stuffy’.
As night draws in, pollen tends to drop and settle, so dusk can be a particularly prevalent hay fever time.
Pollen will adhere to your clothes, skin and hair. So, drying your clothes on a washing line at dusk, may not be ideal…
Pollen will actually irritate more when the pollen spores are broken. Blowing your nose hard, and rubbing your eyes will encourage the pollen spores to rupture, and will exacerbate your reaction to it. It is prudent to be gentle when dealing with your symptoms, despite how irritating hay fever can be.
Also bear in mind that air-borne pollutants, such as exhaust fumes, that may not normally irritate you, may now exacerbate your hay fever symptoms due to already sensitised mucus membranes from prior inflammation.
Reducing the immune response.
Anti-histamines, as the name suggests, reduce the release of histamine in your body. Histamine is released by our bodies as part of our defence mechanism and is associated with inflammation. Although it may be hard to comprehend, this is a protective response, but in the instance of hay fever, it is somewhat misaligned!
NHS overview of antihistamines
Antihistamines are nearly always the first line of conventional therapy for dealing with hay fever. They can be very effective when used in conjunction with some of the ‘pollen avoiding’ protocols, above.
Some people have such severe symptoms as to be prescribed steroid-based medications in addition to antihistamines. These aren’t the same sort of ‘steroids’ that a body-builder may abuse, but are a particular type of steroid called ‘corticosteroids’. These reduce the immune response in a more generalised manner than antihistamines, but will take a few days to reach their peak effect.
NHS - Hay Fever, your options
Sadly, homeopathy isn't listed as an NHS option in the link despite it being available on the NHS (at the point of writing this!) and their being evidence to support its efficacy, but that rant's for another blog...
Antihistamines and steroid-based medications don’t suit everyone. Anti-histamines, especially, the first generation ones such as Piriton (chlorphenamine maleate) are associated with drowsiness, more modern ones are less associated with this. Some people may report that they are drowsy whilst taking modern antihistamines too. This may indeed be their anithistamines, or perhaps even the hay fever itself is persisting in producing drowsiness.
You may find that as the years go by, your symptoms improve, may be having good and bad years. If your symptoms are increasing with every year, you may wish to either supplement your medications with other approaches (complementary) or seek a different (alternative) approach to managing your hay fever.
This may be your first year of hay fever and you would like to try an alternative to conventional medications as your first resort.
Some conventional medications for hay fever are not recommended if you are pregnant, or trying to conceive, and some may interact with other medications you may already be taking. Do consult with the person who’s prescribed your medications before taking additional ones, whether conventional, or otherwise. Furthermore, some medications, whether conventional or herbally derived are banned by The International Olympic Committee (IOC), so alternatives may need to be sought.
Comprehensive list of banned substances in sport from WADA - updated 01/01/2022
UK Anti-Doping website
Balance the person
Fundamentally, there’s two ways you can overcome symptoms, work against them with medications such as anti-histamines (and indeed anti-biotics, anti-hypertensives, anti-emetics, anti-convulsants and so on…) or strengthen the person.
On a basic level, if you suffer with hay fever, your immune system believes that pollen is attacking you! Pollen is a protein-based structure that in hay fever sufferers, actives an immune, or defence response. For some people, it’s dog hair or horse hair or dust or peanuts or mushrooms or latex… For most people, they’re likely to be allergic to more than one thing. So, do you suppress it, or balance it, or perhaps a bit of both?
The health-promoting programmes I feel may help include
4. NLP (Neuro-linguistic programming)
5. Nutrition including dietary programmes
Homeopathy is very much a person, rather than complaint-driven treatment – So, if you choose a homeopathic approach, the ‘individuality’ of your symptoms will play a major role. For instance, if you feel your hay fever symptoms are better outdoors, as discussed earlier, you are more likely to benefit from Pulsatilla than Allium cepa. There are some great books and websites that help you differentiate between homeopathic medicines to help you with your hay fever symptoms, however, to get the best from homeopathy you’d be wise to seek a homeopath. Homeopathy can work wonders if self-prescribed but some find that self-prescribed medications don’t work as well as those prescribed after a professional consultation. If you’re already taking medications, I’d pretty much insist on it! Personally, I’d find it pretty difficult to self-prescribe with a streaming nose, red eyes and sneezing my head of…
Homeopathy is safe during pregnancy, fine with the IOC (International Olympic Committee), The Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF) and WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency), safe for children (tastes nice too!) and non-drowsy.
I buy in my homeopathic medicines from either Helios Homeopathic Pharmacy or Ainsworths Homeopathic Pharmacy
Did you know that only a pharmacist is legally allowed to manufacture homeopathic medicines?
Herbalism – somewhat more ‘material’ and tangible compared to homeopathy and just as effective. Being more ‘material’ is has a greater ability to interact with other medications. Some herbs may be contraindicated in pregnancy, some herbs taste pretty grim and can be a palaver to prepare. That aside, there’s some great individual, and mixed blends of herbs, again, best focussed on your symptoms rather than just ‘hay fever’ in general. For instance, you may be ‘bunged up’ or ‘itchy’, or have a ‘runny nose’ or be ‘perpetually sneezing’. Your symptoms will, to a large extent, dictate what’s most appropriate for you to try. I’m a fan of ‘tinctures’. These are herbs that have been prepared in alcohol solutions. They are relatively easy to carry around and prepare, with a pretty good ‘shelf-life’ – not far off being an ‘instant’ herb tea. I nearly always get my herbal tinctures from Neal’s Yard Remedies. They have great reference books my particular favourites are:
Bartram's Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine
David Hoffman's Holistic Herbal
Neal's Yard Remedies - Store Finder UK
I would also consider looking at Aromatherapy, in the sense that there are essential oils, plant-based distillates, that when diluted can be inhaled to relieve the symptoms of hay fever.
I know some great herbalists if you’d like to consult with one.
Acupuncture - Now, I don’t profess to know much about acupuncture, although I know a few acupuncturists! I do know hay fever sufferers that have been relieved with the help of acupuncture. They may also offer you Chinese herbs depending on their training. When considering an acupuncturist, and all other complementary therapists, for that matter, do check their qualifications and credentials.
NLP - yes, NLP! Neuro-linguistic programming. My first experience with NLP was when I was suffering rather badly with hay fever myself – rather embarrassing for a homeopath, I know, but I’m human too, luckily I’ve pretty much overcome it now (the hay fever, not the being human!) In my session, in a café in Covent Garden, my practitioner asked me to imagine someone walking out of the lift, covered in pollen and wafting it everywhere as they walked by… I sneezed. Amazing what the mind can do isn’t it? So, we then explored a pollen-free arena within the depths of my mind and I felt somewhat better. It helped for quite a while too.
Nutrition - Foods (and other potential allergens) that we may not normally have a reaction to, become apparent when we have hay fever. It’s like a threshold of tolerance has been broken. Foods that may not normally aggravate, but may during the hay fever season include wheat (including beer – boo!) dairy products (including milk chocolate – double boo!)
You may wish to experiment with avoiding these foods, or at least reducing them to see if your hay fever is affected. I feel this is best carried out under the supervision and direction of a nutritionist.
Depending on where you live, I can put you in touch with some good ones.
Supplements… There’s a myriad of supplements out there, some people find one thing beneficial, and someone else, another. I have personally found local honey and quercetin beneficial. This is not the case for everyone.
I use Cytoplan products since they manufacture their products in a manner that makes them ‘bio-available’ in a ‘food-state’ form and therefore nearer to nature, so your body absorbs most, if not all of the product. They are also very reasonably priced!
- Safe - It’s vital that what you choose to do regarding your hay fever management is safe. – The safest way of doing this is to seek the advice of a professional. If you’re already taking prescribed medication, and that includes the contraceptive pill, I would seek the advice of the professional that prescribed it. There is a mistaken belief that ‘natural’ = ‘safe’… but natural can certainly be effective…
- Effective – There’s no point spending a significant amount of money aiming to allay your symptoms only to find it doesn’t work. The hay fever solutions, especially when being used for its acute phase, whether conventional or otherwise need to lead to significant improvement quickly. What may work for your friend, or the lady in the newspaper, may not suit you. I would also encourage you to try and stick to one or two therapies at a time. More than that can create confusion both for your body, and your practitioners!
- Permanent – My feeling is that it’s important that what we do to deal with our symptoms makes a lasting difference. My belief is that using products such as antihistamines, although they have their place, and can precipitate rapid relief, do not address the deeper issue of why our immune system is over-reactive, with the potential that if we suppress our immune system long-term, its likely result are deeper symptoms and disorders.
I’d like to leave you with this…
I was having a chat with a friend of mine about his hay fever, it wasn’t a formal consultation as such, but it was very apparent that he was suffering. I explained to him my viewpoint of the over-active immune system and he pondered… and he pondered… and he pondered. He then said, or words to this effect… “That’s it, you’re right! …I over-react to everything. I come from a family of ‘over-reactors’, I don’t just sneeze, I ‘very’ sneeze. I don’t just get cross, I get ‘very’ cross. My immune system is just reflecting this isn’t it?!”
Now this guy is a salesman, not a fluffy hippee. He decided there and then, to stop over-reacting (ironic in some respects since that, in itself, seemed like an over-reaction!) and his hay fever stopped. Yes, stopped! It has never returned.
Amazing what the mind can do isn’t it?