Runny nose, itchy eyes, can’t stop sneezing, sexy panda eyes – it can only be hay fever. It’s just the worst, isn’t it?
Close to a million people in Ireland suffer from hay fever and the bad news is, this year is set to be a severe one for allergy sufferers. Hay (sorry), don’t shoot the messenger! I’ve had hay fever since I was a child so when an event invitation landed in my inbox promising to give me a few tips on managing hay fever, you can bet I made my way to The Westbury faster than you can say ‘BLESS YOU’.
I’ve tried a lot of allergy tablets which promise to keep hay fever misery at bay but usually I find they stop working – if they worked at all – after a few days, so, in recent years I’ve stopped using antihistamines, preferring to just become a shut-in on high pollen days. Fun! I thought I was doing the right thing by treating hay fever naturally but when I was chatting to pollen expert Dr Jean Emberlin at the event, she told me to get my hay fever under control or it could lead to asthma, which can be fatal. YIKES.
So, apart from obsessively checking the pollen count each day, how can you manage hay fever? Whether you’ve always had hay fever or you’re among the many people who have developed it in the last couple of years, here are a few tips for coping with hay fever:
1. Get help.
There has never been so many products on the market for hay fever so there’s no need to suffer in sniffling silence. Before you start experimenting, consult your GP to make sure you definitely have hay fever and get their advice on what to use. Depending on the severity of your hay fever symptoms, there are antihistamines, decongestants and anti-inflammatory nasal sprays to ease your woes. Previously only available on prescription, Nasacort Allergy is now available to purchase over the counter (€14.99 from pharmacies) and one spray of this non-drowsy formula will relieve your hay fever symptoms for 24 hours. Remember, you need to start using nasal sprays before your allergies kick in because the spray needs a dry nose to cling to in order for it to work. If you want a natural hay fever remedy with no risk of side effects, Dr Emberlin also recommended Boots own brand cellulose spray.
So many lifestyle factors impact hay fever so I could easily write a whole post on it but I’ll just stick to the major ones Dr Jean Emberlin recommended. Alcohol and cigarettes really aggravate hay fever so avoid drinking and steer clear of second hand smoke if you’re not a smoker yourself. Love swimming? Chlorine in swimming pools can play havoc with your respiratory tract and worsen hay fever symptoms so leave laps of the pool to Tom Daley on high pollen days. Hoover your house as much as realistically possible, without going a bit Monica Geller, to reduce dust and pollen spores which might be lurking around. The good news? Next time you’re booking a holiday, make it a seaside getaway because the lovely sea air will just blow that pesky pollen away.
I know this is the world’s most boring health tip but the first tip for dealing with hay fever naturally is to stay hydrated. Drink plenty of water and try nettle or liquorice teas. Fill your plate with foods containing quercetin, a natural antihistamine. Onions in particular are loaded with quercetin, as well as apples, yellow peppers, garlic, berries and broccoli. Hay fever is caused by the immune system’s response to allergens so following an anti-inflammatory diet or introducing anti-inflammatory foods like fatty fish, green leafy vegetables like kale and nuts (walnuts/almonds) will really help your immune system. Check out my post on gut health to find out more about the best anti-inflammatory food.
4. Limit your exposure to pollen.
Don’t dry your clothes outside on a high pollen count day because you’re just bringing pollen into your home and it will go everywhere. If you’ve got a cat or dog, gently give them a wipe down with a damp cloth when they’ve been outdoors. Keep your windows shut, especially in your car while driving and definitely while you sleep at night. Grass pollen counts are often highest in the early morning and evening so don’t walk through your local park on your way to and from work. Uplands, moorlands and coastal areas usually have lower pollen counts, whereas inland areas have higher pollen counts. Most importantly, if you hear a lawnmower, run the other way!
5 De-stress your day.
If you’re regularly stressed (who isn’t?) your allergies will be worse because stress inflames your immune system with the release of cortisol, the stress hormone. How you deal with stress obviously depends on what your stress is and how bad it is but there are simple but effective things you can do to de-stress your day, such as exercising. Contrary to what you might think, getting outdoors is still so good for you, hay fever or no hay fever, so just avoid the high pollen count times when you’re heading out for a brisk walk. A free way to get a breather (literally) from pollen is to close all the doors and windows in a quiet room and just sit still for 15 minutes or more. With no movement, the pollen will fall to the ground, leaving you with gloriously pollen-free air to breathe. Take it as a rare opportunity to just sit with your thoughts (great stress relief!) or, if you get antsy just doing nothing, listen to a podcast. Breathing slowly in the stillness will help your hay fever and work a treat on your stress levels.
Find out more about relieving hay fever at the Allergy Ireland site https://www.allergy-ireland.ie/our-services/sinusitis-facility/hay-fever