What is Hay Fever?
Hay fever or allergic rhinitis, is an allergy to pollen or other irritants like pet dander that causes inflammation in the nasal airways and in some people can cause inflammation of the lungs, and water itchy eyes. If your allergies occur in the Spring it is likely caused by pollinating trees like White Pine here in the northeast. Allergies in the Fall are typically from ragweed. Individuals with allergic rhinitis may also exhibit signs of atopic syndrome which is predisposition of sorts to acquiring hay fever, asthma and digestive issues. These individuals may also be sensitive to many other irritants in the environment, food sensitivities, and from time to time experience rashes and hives with a propensity for anaphylaxes from certain foods.
The Body’s Response
The allergens are typically the protein from a plant like the pollen in ragweed. Plants that most affect people are those that are pollinated by wind as opposed to insects. The wind can carry these irritants further thus affecting more people to a greater degree. Dander is the shedding of an animals skin cells, but in the case of cats, it is a glycoprotein found in the sebaceous glands of the cat’s hair roots and in their salivary glands and urine (males). The process that occurs in the body is instigated by the irritant and with those with a sensitized immune system this triggers the antibody immunoglobulin E or IgE which binds to mast cells and basophils (WBC), both of which contain histamine and heparin and prompt this response in the body which leads to inflammation.
Many doctors will test an individual for allergies if typical symptoms occur. This is usually done by a skin test. This entails your skin being exposed to a specific allergen or several allergens to test your body’s response. If a negative reaction occurs due to the allergen, it is assumed you are allergic to this allergen. If no reaction occurs, then it is assumed you are not allergic to this specific allergen.
Treatments given or recommended by your doctor are typically those that stop the histamine response called antihistamines. The problem with antihistamines is that they are not only very hard on the liver, they do not support the body or get to the source of the issue, which is the immune response. Herbal remedies do both.
True Allergies vs. Sensitivities
Allergic reactions to pollen and cat dander are thought of as a true allergy. A true allergy to something that can cause anaphylaxes eventually or at least an acute reaction in the body whereas a sensitivity causes slight discomfort and many times not for a few days later. Anaphylaxes is a sudden response to a certain substance that causes a whole-body reaction typically accompanied by acute swelling of the airways, lips, & eyes. Anaphylaxes or an acute reaction may not occur from the first-time exposure to an allergen, but after repeated exposure symptoms worsen. If you are exposed to too much, this can cause a lot of discomfort. I have not heard of someone getting anaphylaxes to ragweed pollen, but I imagine it can happen if the exposure is high enough in concentration.
The best examples of sensitivities are in regards to food. Many people have food sensitivities where the irritant does not cause any acute reaction, but hours to days later causes discomfort by way of intestinal bloating and gas out of what is considered ‘normal’ or a stuffy nose, nasal inflammation and glandular inflammation. Many people are sensitive to dairy. this can cause anything from asthma attacks to eczema, swollen tonsils or post nasal drip, or headaches.
Herbs and Food
When dealing with immune disfunction in regards to allergies, it is important to know your options.
This can be an integrated approach by using immune boosting foods & herbs to support immune function, healing and supporting the micro biome of the gut and addressing with symptomatology as well.
• Immune Supporting
• Pau d’ arco
• mushrooms: reishi, cordyceps, shiitake....
• Blood cleansing and liver supporting
• burdock root
• oregon grape root
• dandelion root
• lemon balm
• mullein leaf (lungs)
• licorice (sinuses, lungs)
• cayenne pepper
Aromatics - the typical culinary herbs are both anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial and cleansing/supporting to the mucus membranes. Cook with them regularly.
*Steam inhalation may be helpful with these plants as well as lavender, peppermint and eucalyptus.
Astringents/ demulcents- for nasal and eye washing is necessary
• witch hazel
• golden rod
• marshmallow root
• violet leaf
Anti-inflammatory foods should be considered and eaten throughout the year, but especially when allergy season hits. I love to make bone soups and do weekly during the colder months. Other foods to consider are brightly colored berries like blueberries, raspberries, & lycium (gogi) berries. Colorful vegetables like winter squash, tomatoes, carrots......anything brightly colored shows us that these foods are high in bioflavanoids. Other choices are onions (high in quercetin), kale and other dark leafy greens. Avoid dairy and other mucus promoting and inflammatory foods.
• evening primrose oil
• fish oil (a good source)
• vitamin C (whole food form)
• vitamin A & D (whole food form)