Most of us look forward to the warmer weather every year, but if you’re one of those unlucky allergy sufferers, it can mean bouts of sneezing, a runny nose, headaches and watery, itchy eyes. Warmer weather is the peak time for airborne allergens such as pollens, dust, grasses and animal dander, leading to immune activation and an increase in hayfever (allergic) and sinusitis.
Allergies and immunity
Allergies are considered an abnormal immune system reaction to things that are harmless to most of us. When you’re allergic to something, your immune system mistakenly believes that this substance is harmful to your body so establishes a defence mechanism to protect you.
The immune system generates large quantities of defence molecules known as immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies which bind to the allergen. Each IgE antibody is specific to a particular allergen, so if you are allergic to grass pollen, you would have large numbers of specific IgE antibodies for grass pollen, but no IgE antibodies for any other types of pollens.
After your initial exposure to an allergen, these IgE antibodies attach themselves to immune system cells called mast cells. These mast cells become primed and ready to be activated when you next come into contact with that allergen. IgE antibodies attached to the primed mast cells then signal the release of large amounts of histamine and other chemicals that cause inflammation and irritation, creating those uncomfortable allergy symptoms.
Respiratory allergies can be seasonal or perennial, and some may have a hereditary aspect, and cold air, stress, cigarette smoke or environmental pollutants can all make symptoms worse. Knowing what you’re allergic to can certainly help to reduce your exposure to allergens and increase your level of comfort.
Herbal and nutritional treatments for spring allergies
Managing allergy symptoms revolves around supporting immune health while decreasing the production and ill-effects of histamine and other inflammatory chemicals.
- Garlic – traditionally used to support a healthy immune system and relieve mucous congestion of the upper respiratory tract and nasal passages. Garlic provides both anti-inflammatory and antioxidant activity.
- Vitamin C – helps boost the immune system and provides potent anti-inflammatory and natural anti-histamine activity that helps reduce the symptoms of an allergic response.
- Quercetin – a natural bioflavonoid that contains natural anti-histamine properties, inhibits the release of histamine and other inflammatory mediators to down-regulate an allergic response for the relief of allergic symptoms such as runny nose, sneezing and itchy, watery eyes.
- Horseradish – a decongestant herb that contains sulphur compounds which help to relieve respiratory mucus and nasal congestion, and inflammation of the mucous membranes of the respiratory tract (catarrh).
- Eyebright – a mucous membrane tonic traditionally used to relieve hayfever and sinusitis, nasal congestion and excess mucus discharges. Eyebright is also traditionally used as an astringent and tonic to support mucosal surfaces, especially the nasal membranes.
- Baical skullcap – provides antiallergic, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant activity to help relieve allergies and allergy symptoms.
- Bromelain – a proteolytic (protein digesting) enzyme derived from pineapple that provides potent anti-inflammatory activity for the relief of mild sinusitis.
Mr Vitamins Recommends
- Braun L. & Cohen M (2007), Herbs & Natural Supplements: An Evidence Based Guide, Elsevier Press, Churchill-Livingstone.
- Chevallier A (2001), Encyclopaedia of Medicinal Plants, Dorsling, Kindersley.
- Marieb, EN, 2000, Essentials of Human Anatomy & Physiology, Benjamin/Cummings Science Publishing, California.
- Mills S & Bone K (2000), The Principles & Practice of Phytotherapy, Elsevier Press, Churchill-Livingstone.
- Nutrient References for Australian & New Zealand, Australian Government of Health & Ageing.
- Otsuka et al, Histochemical and functional characteristics of metachromatic cells in the nasal epithelium in allergic rhinitis: studies of nasal scrapings and their dispersed cells, Journal of Allergy Clinical Immunology, 96 (4):528-36.
- Pizzorno JE & Murray MT (2013), Textbook of Natural Medicine, 4th Edition, Missouri, Elsevier.