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Herbal medicine for hay fever

Most people are feeling relieved to see that spring is just around corner but for many it spells the start of allergy season. It is estimated that 10-30% of adults and 40% of children experience hay fever in varying degrees of severity. Along with hay fever, many more people suffer from other allergies such as eczema, food and pet allergies.

What is hay fever?

Allergic reactions are an abnormal immune response, when certain substances such as pollen, pet hairs, dust mites or mould cause the body to make allergic antibodies (also known as immunoglobulins). Antibodies are proteins produced by the immune system to stop an intruder from entering the body and causing harm. Antibodies mark these intruders to be targeted by your immune system. When people have allergies, they produce more antibodies than necessary, leading their immune system to over react and create the symptoms they experience.

The symptoms of hay fever are:

· Itchy eyes/ throat

· Sneezing, blocked/runny nose

· Watering, red eyes (allergic conjunctivitis)

· Headaches, blocked sinuses

· Shortness of breath

· Tiredness

· The sensation of mucus running down the back of the throat

Whilst this is not life threatening like some allergies that cause anaphylaxis, hay fever can be debilitating, affecting many peoples work and social lives. The most common treatments for managing hay fever are anti-histamines and decongestants, which themselves can have unpleasant side effects such as:

· Dry mouth

· Drowsiness

· Dizziness

· Nausea/vomitting

· Rebound congestion

· Increase in blood pressue

· Anxiety

What can herbs do?

Whilst herbal medicine is tailored to each individual who has a consultation, for most people, the same principles apply. These are to help modulate the immune system, provide symptom relief and support the lymphatic system to help remove excessive inflammatory by products. In this article, I will highlight some of the most helpful herbs that are easily accessible, either in health food shops or at supermarkets and mention a few that are mostly available through medical herbalists.

Billberry & Blueberry (Vaccinium myrtillus & Vaccinium corymbosum)

Both billberries and blueberries reduce the production of pro-inflammatory substances such as histamine and stabilise mast cells which all play a role in the symptoms associated with hay fever. Billberry supplements can be purchased in tablet, powder and liquid forms (Finberry do an excellent quality powder that I use personally). Billberry supplements usually have a better

nutrient profile than commercially grown blueberries but including these in your diet is a good alternative. If using supplements, follow the manufacturers instructions, or if using blueberries as part of your diet, a generous handful a day is a good guideline.

Eucalyptus leaf (Eucalyptus globulus)

Used as an essential oil, a few drops can be placed on a tissue and inhaled or placed in a diffuser to ease congestion.

Nettle leaf (Urtica dioica)

Nettle leaf demonstrates anti-inflammatory effects and in a controlled trial, showed an ability to reduce allergic reactions and symptoms of seasonal allergies. Nettle leaves can be picked fresh or purchased dry and used as a tea. Ideally steep 1-2 teaspoons per mug of hot water for 20-30 minutes and drink 2-4 cups per day.

Sage leaves (Salvia officinalis)

Sage tea can be useful for reducing excessive sinus secr