Allergic rhinitis is caused by proteins in the pollens of plants, trees and grasses and other plants that irritate the delicate membranes of the nose and eyes causing inflammation.  Symptoms include red, itchy, watery eyes and runny or congested nose.

Not all hay fever sufferers react to the same pollen therefore the timing of symptoms should be noted.  Generally tree pollen is present from February to May with the peak time being in April.  Grass pollens are prevalent in June and July and weed pollens (eg nettle) will be worse in July and August.  Hay fever that begins in late summer and continues into the autumn may be a mould allergy.  It is possible to have allergy testing to pinpoint which plant pollens you are sensitive to – consult your GP or nutritional therapist.

Amongst various natural remedies, butterbur is a herb that has undergone scientific trials showing a substantial health benefit for relieving hay fever.

  • Butterbur (Petasites hybridus) has been shown to relax blood vessels and various smooth muscles in the body.  It contains chemicals that are also known to reduce inflammation, as demonstrated in human studies. Some studies have also shown that butterbur extract performed as well as a common antihistamine drug taken by hay fever sufferers, but without causing drowsiness. 
  • Bioflavanoids are plant compounds that have shown anti-allergic and anti-inflammatory activity.  Along with Vitamin C, these supplements can help prevent the formation of histamine – the chemical that causes the common reactions of streaming, itchy eyes and runny nose.  Foods rich in the bioflavanoid quercitin include onions, garlic, green tea, red wine and dark chocolate (70%+ cocoa solids).  Vitamin C is found in broccoli, green peppers, citrus fruits, strawberries and blackcurrants, kiwi, cabbage and cauliflower.
  • Plant sterols (phytosterols) are fats found naturally in plant foods. Phytosterols are highly versatile substances that have been shown to be useful in the management of several conditions include immune disorders. Phytosterols inhibit the release of prostaglandins (hormone-like substances) thus reducing the production of histamine and its attendant symptoms such as itchy eyes and sneezing. Plant sterols are present in all plant foods with soy and whole grains, particularly whole oats, being rich sources.

There are other measures to help ward off the worst effects of pollen:

  • A thin layer of petroleum jelly around and just inside the nostrils can trap minute pollen particles and prevent them from being inhaled and starting an allergic reaction.
  • Steam inhalations help to reduce the “blocked nose” feeling.
  • Most national weather forecasts now include a pollen count so take note and keep windows and doors shut to reduce the chances of pollens invading your house!

If you are taking any medication, always check with your GP or health practitioner before taking any herbal or vitamin supplements.