Allergic Reaction - Hay Fever

Hay fever is like a cold without germs. When you breathe something you’re allergic to, histamine and other allergy producing chemicals are released and the membranes of your nose and respiratory tract immediately become inflamed, swollen and soggy. The results? A runny nose. Itchy, watery, puffy, tired eyes.

Constant bouts of uncontrollable sneezing. Sometimes this discomfort can leave you so irritable, headachy and tired that you don’t feel like doing much of anything. At night, sneezing fits interrupt your sleep. And you share your misery with about 15 million other Americans. Hay fever (doctors call it allergic rhinitis) is more than a nuisance, however.

Uncontrolled, it can lead to migraine headaches, sinus infection or hearing loss. You can't just let is take it's course. Antihistamine drugs alleviate hay fever – but they leave most people too groggy to think straight. In small children and older people, antihistamines have the opposite effect, leaving people restless and unable to sleep.

And after a while, antihistamine lose their effectiveness – you need to take more and more to get the same level of relief. Nasal decongestants have similar drawbacks, as we discussed at length in Allergy Drugs and Their Alternatives. Clearly, drugs aren’t the solution.

Vitamins, Herbs and Exercise Can Help

Vitamin C, however, acts as a natural antihistamine, counteracting the tide of histamine that causes your nose to swell, ache and run. According to doctors we spoke to, the average dose of vitamin C needed to break a bout of hay fever is about five grams a day – ranging from four to eight grams (individual doses), depending on the individual.

Bioflavonoids – compounds found in the white pulp of oranges, grapefruits and other fruits and vegetables – boost vitamin C’s ability to relieve hay fever symptoms. Studies show that citrus bioflavonoids seem to favorably alter the way our bodies use vitamin C, concentrating the nutrient in certain tissues and making it more absorbable (Americans Journal of Clinical Nutrition, August, 1979).

Bioflavonoid tablets – up to six grams a day – are the most convenient way to get the amounts needed to break a reaction. For those days – or nights – when your nose is so stuffy that you feel like it's been embalmed with rubber cement, there are several ways to get your head unstuck. One of them is panthothenic acid, a B vitamin.

Sandra Stewart, M.D., former assistant director of the Out Patient Department of Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, decided to try it when she found she couldn’t tolerate antihistamines.

”I took a 100 milligram tablet at night,” she says. ”And I found my nasal stuffiness would clear in 15 minutes. I could breathe again. And I (no longer wake up) at four or five in the morning with a cough and mucus secretions. So panthothenic acid appears to have an antimucus-secreting effect on me personally.”

And, she adds, many other patients report that it helps to relieve their nasal congestion, too (Annals of Allergy, July, 1982). Hot broth also speeds up the flow of mucus, especially if the broth contains fiery foods or herbs such onion, garlic, cayenne pepper or horseradish. The vapors of eucalyptus leaves (available in many health food stores) also help to clear the head quickly.

Place a few leaves in a large pot of boiling water for five minutes. Turn off the heat. With a towel draped over your head, breathe in the vapors (be careful not to get too close to the steam – you could scald your face). Exercise, too, promotes free breathing. Many hay fever sufferers find that running, walking, bicycling or other vigorous exercise relieves their stuffiness.

Evening jaunts are best if you exercise out doors – the pollen levels are lowest then. Pollen counts also tend to be lower after it rains and near lakes, ponds or other large bodies of water. Indoor, 15 or 20 minutes of rope skipping or dancercise may do the trick.

Take a Permanent Vacation from Hay Fever

To a great extent, relief also depends on how well you can avoid airborne allergens. In fact, the first thing most allergy doctors usually tell their hay fever patients is: ”Avoid whatever bothers you.” But that advice is only useful if you’re also told exactly how to avoid the problem.

Over the course of a year, there are 250,000 tons of ragweed pollen floating around outside, plus pollen from trees, weeds and grasses. The entire pollen season can last for months. In some areas, pollen is practically a year round problem. You can't cloister your self in air conditioned room the whole time.

You can install an air filter in your bedroom, however. Giving yourself eight solid hours of breathable air every night goes along way toward round the clock relief. For some people, flicking on an air filter has been known to relieve hay fever misery in as little as ten minutes.

Another way to ”filter” pollen is to rinse your hair and change your clothes and shoes the minute you come in from working or playing outdoors. This helps to shed pollen grains that would tend to stir up symptoms if allowed to stay on your clothes. Reducing your exposure to other common hay fever triggers – such as dust and molds – can be just as simple.

For instance, switching from a conventional bag type vacuum cleaner to a more efficient and thorough water trap vacuum cleaner will help you to get all the dust out of a room. And hooking up a dehumidifier (the kind you can buy in any department store) in the basement or bathroom cuts down on growth of molds and mildew.

The odors of aerosol air fresheners and other household cleaning products can also aggravate your hay fever. Substituting simple, less noxious cleaning agents for complex chemical products cuts down on indoor air pollution and can leave you breathing more freely after just a day or two.

All in all, there are over 70 practical and effective ways to purify the air you breathe, discussed in Clearing the Air. You can follow as few or as many recommendations as you see fit, depending on what sets off your hay fever. Most people, however, notice a big improvement after making just a few basic changes we suggest.

We don't recommend that you move to another area of the country to find relief. While Hawaii, Alaska, the Pacific Northwest, the southern tip of Florida and northern tips of Maine and Michigan are free of ragweed pollen, there’s no guarantee that after you’re lived there a few years won’t end up having traded one allergy for another.

So while any of those pollen free regions may be the ideal spot for a long vacation during ragweed season, you shouldn’t consider relocating permanently unless you’re tried everything else. One last suggestion: if you smoke, try quit. Smoking irritates the respiratory tract and will only aggravate your already beleaguered nose and airways.

In fact, Stuart Freyer, M.D., an ear nose and throat specialist in Bennington, Vermont, told us, ”Smoking is madness for anyone who suffers from hay fever.” You’ll find other recommendations for dealing with hay fever in Clearing the Air; Allergy Drugs and Their Alternatives; Immunotherapy a Matter of Choice.