Did you know that two out of every 10 people in southern Africa suffer with allergies such as hay fever? Fight hay fever with these simple measures to help you breathe easily.

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What is hay fever?

When an allergen such as pollen enters the body, the immune system starts a reaction to prevent an invasion. For most people, this is not a problem, but others have an overactive immune system that identifies normally harmless particles as dangerous, producing an excessive reaction that actually causes inflammation. This is known as allergy.

Hay fever – or more correctly allergic rhinitis – is caused when allergen-sensitive people are exposed to outdoor (grasses, pollen and mould spores) or indoor (dust mites, pet dander, mould, cigarette smoke, chemicals) allergens. People are allergic to only certain substances. Hay fever tends to run in families and the reactions can occur year round.

What are the long-term effects of hay fever?

The effects of hay fever and other allergies to external factors are more serious than you may think. According to Professor Eugene Weinberg of the Allergy Clinic at the Red Cross Children’s Hospital in Cape Town, South Africa, hay fever can increase your chances of developing asthma, rhinitis (inflammation of the mucous lining in the nose), sinusitis, sleep disorders such as snoring and sleep apnoea, nasal polyps and ear infections. Your nasal allergy can leave you tired, miserable or irritable, and it can even interfere with your performance at work or school.

The symptoms of hay fever

Common symptoms include:

  • Runny nose or nasal congestion
  • Frequent sneezing
  • Itchy, watery eyes
  • Itching in nose, throat or roof of mouth

 

Want to fight hay fever?

Apart from avoiding exposure to allergy triggers, people with hay fever can take precautions to control their environment – washing animals weekly, using vacuum cleaners and air conditioners with high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters, laundering bedding and curtains regularly, reducing humidity in the house and removing sources of mould.

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Did you know

Breastfeeding your baby for the first four months of its life can help prevent or delay wheezing and atopic dermatitis in high-risk infants.[/message]

Hay fever treatment

There are numerous over-the-counter and prescription drugs to treat hay fever, but many have side effects such as drowsiness. We’ve researched some dietary and lifestyle tips that may help you conquer the sneezes.

Eat to fight hay fever

According to naturopath Roger Newman Turner of the UK’s Research Council for Complementary Medicine, ‘In nearly 40 years of practice I have found that diet plays a very important role in the management of hay fever. Most of my hay fever patients have been able to reduce the severity of their symptoms and, in some cases, eradicate the condition.’

Foods that may help to fight hay fever

  • Choose good quality organic food where possible.
  • Eat foods rich in calcium, magnesium, methionine (an amino acid) and flavonoids (anti-oxidants): go for nuts, sunflower seeds, onions, cabbage, blackberries and apples, including their skin.
  • Vitamin C builds immunity and is a natural antihistamine. Fresh fruit (lemons are good) and vegetables will ensure your supply.
  • Honey may help build up immunity to grass pollen. Take a teaspoon of locally produced honey a day.
  • Garlic has a natural antihistamine effect and is thought to boost your immune system. Eat two raw cloves of garlic a day or, if your friends are avoiding you or you’re breathing over your colleagues, add garlic to casseroles, soups and stir-fries or take a garlic supplement.
  • Beta carotene helps fight hay fever symptoms. Eat red and orange fruits and vegetables, which are rich in beta carotene, a compound high in vitamin C and bioflavonoids. Try red apples, watermelon, and orange and yellow peppers. (Avoid tomatoes and oranges though, which contain a histamine. As does red wine, sadly, which certainly seems to give me the sneezes.)
  • Dark green vegetables, also high in beta carotene, help to cleanse the bowel. Try watercress, rocket, spinach, broccoli, green beans, kale and seaweed.
  • Horseradish helps fight a stuffy nose by stimulating the drainage of the nasal mucous membranes.
  • Turmeric, with its strong anti-inflammatory properties, may prevent or alleviate allergic reactions.
  • Up your vitamin E intake. Try spinach, wheatgerm, almonds, sunflower seeds.
  • A study published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology indicated that people with high levels of folate in their blood are less likely to suffer from allergies. Folate-rich foods include turkey, chicken, lentils, courgettes (zucchini), chickpeas and spinach.
  • Quercetin, a yellow pigment found in plants, appears to inhibit the release of histamine from cells and to stabilise cell membranes so that they have a lower reaction to allergens such as pollen. You’ll find quercetin in red onions, red-skinned apples and green and black tea.
  • Yoghurt has a mild antihistamine effect. If you are dairy-intolerant, don’t have it. But if you’re able to tolerate dairy products, choose plain, unflavoured, organic yoghurt.
  • Replace coffee and caffeinated beverages with water and herbal teas such as rooibos, green, lemon or chamomile, which help you relax. (Stress can cause increased allergic reactions to allergens.) Nettle tea is a powerful natural antihistamine, rosemary tea relieves throat and nasal congestion, eucalyptus and rosehip tea are decongestants. Liquorice tea helps to clear nasal congestion and has anti-viral properties (not the sweets, unfortunately); dandelion tea is loaded with immune-boosting vitamin C.
  • Fish is high in omega-3 fatty acids, which have an anti-inflammatory effect.

Avoid these foods

  • Dairy, refined foods, alcohol, processed and ready-made foods and caffeine, all of which stimulate mucus build-up.
  • Meat, which may contribute to allergic and inflammatory reactions.
  • Wheat and wheat products such as pasta, bread and noodles. Wheat allergy symptoms include asthma and itchiness of the throat, scalp and skin. In fact, all refined grains are a no-no.
  • Tomatoes and oranges.

 

Lifestyle tips to fight hay fever:

  • Avoid areas with tall grasses.
  • Close house and car windows during peak pollen hours.
  • Wear sunglasses.
  • Try not to go outdoors in the late morning and late afternoon.
  • Don’t smoke; stay away from smokers (passive smoking aggravates allergies).
  • If you’re going on holiday, try to plan a coastal destination as sea breezes blow pollen away.
  • Smear petroleum jelly on the inside of your lower nostrils to keep pollen out.

And if you were looking for an excuse not to mow the lawn, this is it. The pollen and dust raised by grass can trigger or worsen an attack of hay fever. Persuade someone else to do it for you (you may have to wash dishes for a week, though!).

Additional tips

  1. NOTE: Always speak to your medical practitioner before embarking on any change in eating plan.
  2. You can help your body to fight hay fever with these Flora Force products:
    1. AllerGo™ capsules
    2. Hayfever Relief Formula
    3. Sinus Relief™ Formula
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Acknowledgements & Photo credits

The author thanks the UK Daily Mail newspaper and the University of Maryland Medical Center (http://umm.edu/health/medical/reports/articles/allergic-rhinitis) for their useful articles on the effect of diet and lifestyle on hay fever/allergic rhinitis, which were used as references for this piece.
1. Photo of hay fever by mcfarlandmo [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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