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How to survive in the sneezing season

The longer evenings, better weather and blooming of nature herald the onset of sunnier times for most people. But for those with hay fever, the beginning of summer just means pollen and pain. In Ireland, the high pollen count usually begins some time in June, which means sneezing season is officially upon us and it's time for hay fever sufferers to take action.

Hay fever is an allergic reaction and symptoms occur when the mucous membranes of the mouth, nose, sinuses and throat become inflamed from exposure to airborne substances such as pollen. Although conventional treatments are generally limited to antihistamines and steroids, there are natural alternatives worth exploring:

Build your constitution

One way to ease allergy symptoms is by building up your constitution so that your foundations are strong. Imagine your body as a table. Each leg of your table represents a different aspect of your lifestyle: one is diet, another is exercise, the third is stress and the fourth is sleep. The more you take care of each of these legs, the stronger your table is. If, for example, your diet is poor and your stress levels are high, then your table's legs can become shaky.

Increase your resistance

The top of your table is your genetic make-up. What you put on top of the table are your allergies. The more allergies you have, the more your table has to hold. If your legs are weak i.e. your foundation, then your table may collapse when allergies are piled on top.

So, besides the obvious of limiting your exposure to allergens, you can build your body's resistance to allergies through healthy lifestyle habits along with dietary changes and natural remedies.

Cut down on dairy

Most of my hay fever patients have been able to reduce their symptoms with a few dietary tweaks, the most important being a reduction in dairy consumption. The body produces mucous when tissues become inflamed or irritated (mucous acts as a protective film). Dairy is a mucous-producing food and overconsumption can interfere with the body's natural mucous production. So, try limiting dairy over the summer months to see if symptoms improve. Soy, almond, rice or oat milk fortified with calcium can be used as an alternative.

Food sensitivities

If pollens and other airborne allergens bother you, chances are you may also be sensitive to certain foods that can exacerbate symptoms. Studies show that people with food sensitivities release more histamine than non-allergic individuals. Histamine causes allergic symptoms when the body overreacts to an allergen. Identifying these foods and avoiding them may help with hay fever and other allergic symptoms. The best way to do this is through a 'guided elimination diet' done under the supervision of a health professional.

Natural supplements

A healthy gut flora is an essential part of building resistance to allergies so consider taking a probiotic supplement along with eating probiotic foods such as live yogurt, sauerkraut and miso soup. Cod liver oil helps to reduce inflammation of the mucous membranes and high doses of vitamin C and the antioxidant quercetin both act as natural antihistamines so a supplement containing both is highly advisable. Foods naturally high in quercetin and vitamin C include cranberries, cherries, peppers, onions, apples, blueberries and broccoli.

Helpful herbs

First and foremost, it's vital that you stay hydrated in order to help flush your system of toxins, so aim to drink at least two litres of pure water per day.

Herbal teas such as nettle, rooibos, chamomile, or ginger may help to soothe mucus membranes and decrease symptoms of allergies.

Chamomile teabags placed on the eyes can also help to soothe itchy eyes and reduce redness. Steam inhalations are also useful.

Adding a few drops of eucalyptus oil to hot water and inhaling the steam will help clear nasal congestion.

Elsa Jones is a qualified nutritionist who offers consultations in GP clinics around Dublin – www.elsajonesnutrition.ie