Hay fever is an allergic condition triggered by the immune system’s response to inhalant substances (frequently pollens).
Researchers have yet to clearly understand why some people’s immune systems over-react to exposure to pollens while other people do not suffer from this problem. Symptoms of hay fever are partly a result of inflammation that, in turn, is activated by the immune system
What are the symptoms of hay fever?
Inhaled allergens trigger sneezing and inflammation of the nose and mucous membranes (conjunctiva) of the eyes. The nose, roof of the mouth, eyes, and throat begin to itch gradually or abruptly after the onset of the pollen season. Tearing, sneezing, and clear, watery nasal discharge soon follow the itching. Headaches and irritability may also occur.
Medical treatments for hay fever
Over the counter topical nasal decongestants such as oxymetazoline (Afrin®) and phenylephrine (NeoSynephrine®) may provide relief from nasal congestion, but they should only be used for a few days. The oral decongestant pseudoephedrine (Sudafed®) may help relieve nasal congestion, while antihistamines such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl®), brompheniramine (Dimetapp®), chlorpheniramine (Chlor-Trimeton®), and loratadine (Claritin®) might help dry excess mucous and reduce sneezing. Cromolyn sodium (Nasalcrom®) is used as a nose spray to prevent hayfever symptoms.
Prescription antihistamines are often prescribed for relief of hay fever symptoms. These include cetirizine (Zyrtec®), desloratadine (Clarinex®), and fexofenadine (Allegra®). Inhaled corticosteroids, such as flunisolide (Nasalide®), triamcinolone (Nasacort®), fluticasone (Flonase®), and mometasone (Nasonex®) may also be suggested to prevent and treat nasal symptoms.
Dietary changes that may be helpful for hay fever
People with inhalant allergies are likely to also have food allergies.1 2 A hypoallergenic diet has been reported to help some people with asthma and allergic rhinitis,3 but the effect of such a diet on hay fever symptoms has not been studied. Hay fever sufferers interested in exploring the possible effects of a food allergy avoidance program should talk with a doctor. Discovering and eliminating offending food allergens, should they exist, is likely to improve overall health even if such an approach has no effect on hay fever symptoms.
Nutritional supplements that may be helpful for hay fever
Although vitamin C has antihistamine activity, and supplementation, in preliminary research,4 5 has been reported to help people with hay fever, 2,000 mg of vitamin C per day did not reduce hay fever symptoms in a placebo controlled trial.6 Thus, while some doctors recommend that hay fever sufferers take 1,000–3,000 mg of vitamin C per day, supportive evidence remains weak.
Quercetin is an increasingly popular treatment for hay fever even though only limited preliminary clinical research has suggested that it is beneficial to hay fever sufferers.7
The oral administration of a thymus extract known as Thymomodulin® has been shown in preliminary studies and double-blind trials to improve the symptoms of hay fever and allergic rhinitis.8 9 10 Presumably this clinical improvement is the result of restoration of proper control over immune function.
Are there any side effects or interactions with hay fever?Refer to the individual supplement for information about any side effects or interactions.
Herbs that may be helpful for hay fever
Tylophora is an herb used by Ayurvedic doctors in India to treat people with allergies. It contains compounds that have been reported to interfere with the action of mast cells, which are key components in the process of inflammation responsible for most hay fever symptoms.11 Mast cells are found in airways of the lungs (among other parts of the body). When mast cells are activated by pollen or other allergens, they release the chemical histamine, which in turn leads to a wide number of symptoms familiar to hay fever sufferers—itchy eyes, runny nose, and chest tightness. Ayurvedic doctors sometimes recommend 200–400 mg of the dried herb daily or 1–2 ml of the tincture per day for up to two weeks.
In an isolated double-blind trial, nettle leaf led to a slight reduction in symptoms of hay fever—including sneezing and itchy eyes.12 However, no other research has investigated this relationship. Despite the lack of adequate scientific support, some doctors suggest taking 450 mg of nettle leaf capsules or tablets two to three times per day, or a 2–4 ml tincture three times per day for people suffering from hay fever.
The Japanese herbal formula known as sho-seiryu-to has been shown to reduce symptom, such as sneezing, for people with hay fever.13 Sho-seiryu-to contains licorice, cassia bark, schisandra, ma huang (ephedra), ginger, peony root, pinellia, and asiasarum root.
Are there any side effects or interactions with hay fever?Refer to the individual herb for information about any side effects or interactions.