Herbs for hay fever

Mary Barker reached for another tissue and absent-mindedly dabbed at the thin stream of mucus advancing down her nose to her upper lip. "The last one!" she declared. "I knew I should have bought another box." If an observer who didn't know Mary had commented on her condition, they would have assumed she was very sad and had been crying about some calamity. Her eyes were puffy, red and swollen and her nose was running. This appearance was misleading, however, because Mary was a very happy person. She could usually be seen in high spirits, laughing and talking with her friends. In fact, things were going very well for Mary--a satisfying job and a solid relationship. And she never had so much as a cold all winter. She only had one minor health problem--and it was, temporarily at least, ruining her life. Mary had a had case of hay fever.

The name hay fever was originally called Cararrhus aestivus, also hay asthma, summer catarrh, rose catarrh or summer fever. In 19th century England, it was thought that the allergic symptoms associated now with hay fever were brought on by cut and dried hay. It was not realized that this dry hay was an excellent souce of pollen.


Today, hay fever is technically called pollinosis and is considered to be a seasonal type of allergic rhinitis. The Merck Manual (14th ed) says that it is generally produced by wind-borne pollens, and they differentiate between the spring, summer and fall types.

Tree pollens are usually involved, such as oak, elm, maple, alder, birch and cottonwood. I have observed that in California, acacia and redwood pollens may also play a role.

Grass pollens like bermuda, timothy, sweet vernal, orchard and Johnson grasses are often the culprit as well as a number of common weeds, for instance, sheep sorrel and plantain. In California privet is also a major problem.

In the fall, daisy family members, such as the ubiquitous ragweed, are usually blooming. Besides pollen, some people may be sensitive to air-home fungus spores--especially in areas of the country where it is very damp. The signs and symptoms of hay fever are well-known. One usually experiences an itching of the roof of the mouth and eyes, at first. As the season progresses, the itching is usually accompanied by watering of the eyes, sneezing and a clear, watery nasal discharge. This is followed by redness and swelling of the nasal passages and mucus membranes surrounding the eyes, sometimes accompanied by a headache. Fortunately, there is usually an end to these uncomfortable feelings. After the pollen or pollens season passes, the symptoms subside. This is in most people. There is a scond type of allergic rhinitis that lasts all year, called perennial allergic rhinitis. In this type, the symptoms are similar, but may be caused by food allergies, sensitivity to dust mites, animal dander or other factors. In this type of allergy, the symptoms usually vary in intensity throughout the year, and may only marginally correspond to the blooming times of various flowers.

What is uppermost in the minds of most hay-fever sufferers is one question--what can bring relief from these symptoms? Western allopathic medicine has an arsenal of drugs to combat hay fever, including sympathetic nervous system stimulants like pseudoephedrine, antiinflammatory steroids and oral antihistamines (such as chlorpheniramine). These have varying results, but the possibility of side-effects is high. Many people report drowsiness or experience a hazy mental feeling after taking some of the most-prescribed medicines (antihistamines). Besides, it is known that steroids can suppress immune function; antihistamines may have diverse side effects, including nausea, headaches and dizziness in some people; and sympathetic nervous system stimulants can lead to restlessness, sleeplessness and even anxiety. Because of such unwanted effects on our bodies, as well as the industrial wastes that may find their way into our environment that are generated in the manufacture of some of these drugs, more and more people are choosing natural alternatives that can offer relief of symptoms and help address any deeply-seated imbalances that may lie at the root of the problem.

The best cure for hay fever is to remove oneself from the source of allergens. Someone once told me that they had a spring residence in Alaska and summered in a desert in Mexico. Avoiding the pollen is the surest cure, but not always easy. I have observed that hay fever sufferers have several things in common. They generally have what is called in Chinese medicine a damp spleen, deficient spleen, liver fire or stomach heat. This means that certain digestive functions may be disordered, such as can also lead to food allergies. Western herbalists also relate allergic conditions to weakened liver and digestive function. Because of this, it is best to avoid eating too much sweet fruit. A moderate amount of fruit in season is fine, but avoid any refined sugar products. Stick to a whole foods diet that consists mainly of whole beans, grains and vegetables, both raw (and organic) and steamed. Some fish or chicken is beneficial for some people, if they are very weak or deficient.

One natural remedy I have found to be very helpful is the salt-water nasal wash. When pollens are inhaled into the nasal passages, they adhere to the sticky mucous membranes and eventually sensitize the immune system, leading to a systemic reaction. This may take some hours, so if one can frequently wash out the pollen before it can produce the immune reaction, symptoms will be lessened. Make a light salt solution by dissolving a teaspoon of sea salt into a cup of warm water. Pour some of the water into the cupped palm and draw into each nostril, allowing it to pass through into the throat. Spit out the water, and blow the nose into a soft handkerchief or tissue. Repeat often during the day.

There are a number of excel lent commercial herbal products that are designed to bring relief to the hay fever sufferer. But here I have to subscribe to the Lincoln principal

I have found that some of these work for some people some of the time, but not all of the time.

It is best to try an herbal remedy for a period of at least 2 weeks before giving up--even 3 weeks in some cases. Remember that herbs work slowly, surely and can rebalance body systems that are imbalanced. If one doesn't work after 3 weeks, try another for a period of time. I have seen poor results when one jumps from one remedy to another every 2 or 3 days. However, it is best to try several before the right remedy is found. Each person is unique, and each has a unique constitutional type.

Begin taking an herbal remedy 2 or 3 weeks before you suspect, based on past experience, that you may begin experiencing symptoms. This way, you are arming your body with the best defense possible--a balanced immune system and additional adrenal support. Here are some of the herbal programs I have found to lee effective for hay fever

1. Adrenal support
Because of stress and a fast-paced life style, our adrenal system is often weakened, leading to abnormal immune response, fatigue and chronic inflammatory imbalances, such as allergy and arthritis.

The best-documented herbs for adrenal support include eleuthero (Siberian ginseng), rehmannia, ginseng, ashwaganda and reishi.

If you have been under stress, are overworked or suspect you have weakened your adrenal system, it is best to add some of these herbs in either tincture, tablet or tea form to accompany any herbal program--for the duration of the season.

2. Digestive support
Herbal hitters (many good brands are available) and liver tonics will help insure that our digestion is working as well as it can. Herbs include milk thistle (as a standardized extract), burdock, dandelion and artichoke leaf. These can be taken as a tea or are available in a variety of capsules, tincture or tablet formulas. I can't stress enough the importance of a strong digestion as the basis of health.

3. Immune support
It is well-known that hay fever is associated with our immune response. What is not usually understood, though, is that although our immune system is overreacting to certain types of high-protein sources, such as pollen, our immune response is really in a weakened state. When our immune system has been weakened by stress, poor diet and other factors, it loses control of its communication system, and actually over-reacts to common, non-threatening proteins, such as those found in pollen.

So the first step is to provide deep immune support for up to 3 or even as much as 9 months. The best documented herbs, both clinically and in the laboratory, include astragalus, ligustrum, codonopsis, reishi and shitake. These herbs can be purchased singly and put into soups and stews (don't eat the spent herbs themselves, they are too fibrous). Or they can be found in a tremendous variety of commercial products. I recommend formulas that contain at least 3 of these herbs in an extract form, either in tablet or tincture form. Take a dose morning and evening for a period of several months, as needed.

4. Herbal anti-inflammatories
Certain herbs, such as golden seal, can actually lower inflammation in the mucous membranes. Take 1 or two capsules morning and evening for up to 10 days. I usually recommend moderation in the use of golden seal, and don't use it during pregnancy. Other herbal anti-inflammatories include white willow bark extract and feverfew. Take the feverfew consistently for a period of several weeks to months. Bilberry extract, which contains a good deal of the flavonoid quercetin, may also help.

5. Other herbs
Other herbs often found in hay fever remedies include echinacea, which is an immune stimulant, ma huang, a Chinese herb that contains the sympathetic nervous system stimulant, ephedrine (use with caution) and the mild natural decongestant and anti-inflammatory, eyebright.

Whatever natural remedy you choose, by working towards higher health personally and globally, a positive result and higher quality of life is assured.



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