Published May 12, 2011
Ah, spring is here. The birds are chirping, days are warmer and longer, and the air is filled with a profusion of potent allergens, as pollen granules waft through the atmosphere. Plants produce pollen as part of their reproductive lifecycle, and so the production of pollen is important to plant life on earth. But unfortunately, pollen granules, which are microscopically tiny, invade our bodies through the nose, mouth and eyes, triggering in many individuals a reaction that we know as a seasonal allergic response, or hay fever.
What is an allergy anyway? In the case of seasonal allergies, pollen gets into the body, and the body recognizes pollen as foreign and potentially dangerous. The body develops an exaggerated immune response, trying its best to fight off the pollen invaders. Typically an allergic reaction is rapid. The body generates white blood cells known as mast cells and basophils. This results in acute inflammation characterized by coughing, sneezing, runny nose, redness of the eyes, and general malaise. Pollen allergies are not healthy reactions. And seasonal allergy sufferers know only too well that while they hack, sneeze, wheeze, cough and run with mucous, others around them are unaffected. According to some health experts, heredity, gender, race and age can all play roles in allergies.
In cases of runny nose and sneezing, this is referred to as “allergic rhinitis,” or hay fever. Often an allergy is simply an inconvenience that persists while pollen levels are high. But in some cases, such a reaction can trigger an asthma attack, and that can be a dangerous or in some cases even a potentially fatal condition. Often allergy season is an annual period of abject misery.
For allergies, you can use anti-histamines. These drugs will help to decongest clogged sinuses and open up breathing passages. But this class of drugs can cause drowsiness, blurred vision, dry mouth and urine retention. These negative effects seem like a bad deal when you are trying to get well.
For seasonal allergies, you can turn to natural remedies that can help without similar detrimental effects. First on the list is the traditional remedy nettle, Urtica dioica. Also known as stinging nettle, this traditional remedy is safe, inexpensive, non-toxic, and often highly effective. Nettle is found profusely throughout North America, Europe, Asia and Africa, and has been used for centuries. The easiest way to use nettle is as a tea, though supplements are also available. I suggest the Alvita brand nettle leaf tea, which comes in bags, has a pleasant flavor, and is inexpensive. Two to three cups daily will likely improve your condition if you suffer from hay fever.
For symptomatic relief of nasal congestion, eucalyptus is a favorite remedy. The eucalyptus tree produces leaves rich in a natural aromatic oil that helps to open clogged sinuses and relieve congestion. It can also help to curb runny nose and thus alleviate some of the suffering caused by hay fever. One convenient way to employ the decongesting power of eucalyptus is with a natural inhaler. The Swiss company Olbas makes an inhaler that contains essential oils of eucalyptus, along with other aromatic, sinus-opening oils such as peppermint, cajeput, wintergreen, juniper berry and clove. You can use an essential oil-based inhaler as often as necessary, without developing a dependence, which is common with over-the-counter nasal sprays. Another eucalyptus-based product is the encapsulated herbal supplement SinuCare by EuroPharma. Taken orally, these little capsules decongest very well, providing relief for hours.
A third way to go in fighting seasonal allergies is to attack the problem directly via the immune system. A favorite herb for this is the Amazon plant cat’s claw, about which I have written many times in this column. Known as an immune modulator, cat’s claw helps to strengthen immune function in cases where immune defense is lacking. Cat’s claw accomplishes this by causing the body to produce more protective immune factors. But cat’s claw is also a very powerful anti-inflammatory agent as well, and thus can help to relieve seasonal allergic reactions. I am a fan of the Nature’s Way Standardized Cat’s Claw extract capsules. Taken as directed at the commencement of allergy season, this may help you to thwart hay fever altogether.
Some people simply out-grow seasonal allergies, suffering them while young but not later in years. For others, the opposite may occur. Many people have no allergies while young, but develop them later in life. But whatever the case may be, you do not have to suffer for months every year. The remedies suggested here are found at natural food stores, including Whole Foods and Vitamin Shoppe chains. By employing simple remedies, you can either somewhat relieve or completely overcome seasonal allergies. For those who suffer from hay fever, this is wonderful relief indeed.
Chris Kilham is a medicine hunter who researches natural remedies all over the world, from the Amazon to Siberia. He teaches ethnobotany at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where he is Explorer In Residence. Chris advises herbal, cosmetic and pharmaceutical companies and is a regular guest on radio and TV programs worldwide. His field research is largely sponsored by Naturex of Avignon, France. Read more at www.MedicineHunter.com.
Click here for more information on current pollen levels.