Hay Fever & Seasonal Allergies
Seasonal Allergies – Hay fever
Seasonal allergies, or commonly called hay fever, are a group of conditions that may cause a person to sneeze, have a stuffy nose, or a irritating runny nose. These symptoms happen certain times of the year when the irritants are in full exposure.
Some of these irritants include:
- Weeds (like ragweed)
- Mold spores (in humid, wet, or damp weather
Some of the Symptons can include:
- Watery, itvhey or puffy eyes
- Runny nose
We all inhale these irritants and for some, it is no problem! But, for those who suffer from seasonal allergies, their immune systems springs into action. This complex defense system identifies the irritants as substances that are harmful to the body. War is declared! In response to the body attacking the invaders, the body releases enzymes that cause allergic symptoms, like sneezing, coughing, and runny nose. Usually, people get seasonal allergies during their childhood and the symptoms can get better or worse over time.
However there is a lot more to this picture than pollen, itchey eyes, coughing, bronchial issues and sneezing. Did you know that your nasal microbiome is a diverse community of microorganisms that can be found throughout the noise and sinuses and they all lead to your mucous pathways. Which of course actually travels into our Digestive System which of course effects our Gut.
Could we have been treating the symptoms and obvious irritations (Eyes, Nose and Throat) thinking we have been treating the cause?
First we need to understand the common causes…
Seasonally Spring is a rebirth, as we come out of hibernation.
I adore Spring! As the weather gets warmer I feel myself coming out of hibernation. I want to eat lighter and exercise more, spending time in my garden is a joy and as all of my indoor plants put out new leaves I feel like a proud plant mama! I also sneeze and itch and feel like my head is full of stuffing unless I deal with my seasonal allergies head on!
As plants release their pollen into the air to fertilise other plants and continue their reproductive cycle, people sensitive to airborne allergens begin to sneeze, sniffle and itch their way through the ‘hayfever’ season.
As we go about our daily lives, we are exposed to an abundance of foreign substances, and it is our immune system’s job to detect which of these are harmful and mount an appropriate immune response. When you experience hay fever symptoms however, your immune system has mounted an inappropriate response to a harmless substance (e.g. pollen) and has become hyper-reactive. This causes specialised immune cells, known as mast cells, to migrate to your nose and throat, where they release histamine. This chemical triggers an explosion of inflammation, which forces foreign particles out of your body. It is the swelling and irritation that inflammation causes which leads to the miserable symptoms of hay fever.
Typical allergy symptoms include sneezing, runny nose, watery eyes, coughing, itchy eyes and nose, itchy roof of the mouth. However they can also include dry skin, redness in the eyes, dark circles under the eyes, ear congestion, nasal congestion, sore throat, post nasal drainage, headache, wheezing, shortness of breath, worsening of other allergic symptoms (dust, pets etc) and increased incidence of sinus infections. If you also have asthma, seasonal allergies may worsen your symptoms of trigger an asthma attack.
- Check the pollen forecast and stay indoors when there is a high pollen count, particularly on windy days.
- Pollen levels in the air tend to be higher during early morning, so try and adjust your routine where you can
- Consider wearing a dust mask when you’re outside, especially on windy days.
- Keep the windows and doors closed on high pollen count and windy days.
- Wear sunglasses outdoors and use a gentle eye drop or saline eye bath to flush out any pollen.
- Have a shower and wash your hair before bed to minimise the impact of hay fever symptoms on your sleep.
- Use a saline nasal flush to rinse pollen out of your sinus cavity.
- Dry your bed linen and clothes indoors when pollen count is high
- Choose plants in your garden that are pollinated by birds or insects, Australian natives are often suitable.
An allergy may be diagnosed based on your health history and symptoms, and/or an allergist may conduct a skin test to isolate the particular allergen/s that are causing you grief.
In addition to reducing your exposure to allergens, there are a number of natural treatment options available which can address both the symptoms and the cause of your allergies:
- Nasal irrigation uses a saline solution in to clear out mucous and irritants and open the sinus passages. You typically use a squeeze bottle or neti pot (from the chemist), fill it with the saline solution and squirt this up each side of your nose whilst in the shower or leaning over a sink. It can feel a little uncomfortable at first but it’s very safe and effective.
- Your natural health practitioner may prescribe a nasal spray to help alleviate congestion, reduce sinus pressure, wash away airborne irritants and soothe and moisturise the nasal passages. Sprays containing saline and Xylitol may help.
- Adjusting your diet to support immune function is an important aspect of treatment. Making sure to eat plenty of plant foods which contain vitamin C and antioxidants, getting enough zinc in your diet, ensuring you have adequate vitamin D levels are all things that your practitioner can help you with.
- Working with a practitioner trained in identifying food intolerances and removing them from the diet will help your immune system to calm down! Many people find they are less congested when they remove or minimise dairy foods form the diet for example, wheat, eggs and soy are other common allergens which may be promoting an over active immune response.
- Quercetin is a natural pigment present in many plants, it’s widely available, in fact it’s one of the most abundant antioxidants in our diet. We find Quercetin in fruits, vegetables and grains. Quercetin has been shown to support appropriate immune function, combat allergies and reduce inflammation. Good food sources of this awesome antioxidant are apples, grapes, berries, leafy greens, asparagus, onions and coriander. Your practitioner may also prescribe a supplement to help address your allergy symptoms.
- Eat some pineapple! Bromelain is a powerful anti-inflammatory compound commonly found in pineapples, particularly the core. It is also available as a nutritional supplement. Bromelain has been shown to reduce respiratory symptoms and inflammation related to allergies.
By blocking the effects of histamine, antihistamines reduce or suppress hay fever symptoms; however, they do not address the underlying hyper-reactive immune response that causes histamine release in the first place. This is why you only experience temporary relief of your symptoms, which return once you stop taking the medication. Alternatively, an approach that builds immune tolerance, which is the ability of the immune system to resist reacting to harmless substances, can treat the underlying cause of hay fever.
Allergies and gut health are connected.
There are two key ways to help improve immune tolerance. The first is to boost your body’s production of specific immune cells known as T regulatory (Treg) cells. Put simply, the more Treg cells you have, the more balanced your immune system is, and the less likely you are to react to harmless substances.
The second way is to support the health of your gut and its microbiota (the 38 trillion microorganisms that live in your intestines), as there is a strong connection between the microbiome and immune reactivity.If there is an imbalance of good and bad microorganisms in your gut, your immune system can become hyper-reactive and as a result less tolerant to harmless substances (click here to find out what can cause an unhealthy microbiome). A healthy microbiome also requires a healthy gut lining (and vice versa!). If the lining of the gut is inflamed or damaged, perhaps due to a poor diet or digestive illness, this can also disrupt your microbiome, increasing immune reactivity and allergic symptoms.
Find out the difference and why gut bacteria might treat allergies in the future. We do need to know the difference between an allergy and an intolerance.
What do milk, eggs, nuts, wheat, soy, fish, and shellfish have in common? That’s right, they cause allergies — in fact, these are the most common triggers of food allergy in the population, responsible for 90% of reactions.
These allergens cause symptoms such as sneezing, a runny or blocked nose, red and watery eyes, hives, swelling, tummy pain, nausea, and diarrhoea. In severe cases, the body can go into an extreme reaction known as anaphylactic shock, a medical emergency that requires immediate attention.
Allergic asthma is the most common type of asthma. It causes sufferers to feel like they are short of breath, wheezing, coughing, and feeling a tightening sensation in their chest. The overreaction of the immune system causes the airways to tighten and flood with thick mucus, which makes breathing difficult.
What’s the difference between allergy and intolerance?
Allergies and intolerances are actually different medical problems because they are caused by different pathways in the body’s processes. Intolerances take longer to manifest, whereas allergies cause a rapid reaction that can sometimes be deadly.
An allergy is characterised by an overall, systemic immune reaction against a foreign invader, wherein the body’s disease-fighting immune cells misidentify harmless substances as a dangerous bacteria or virus.
These immune cells then ‘attack’ the allergen, trying to clear it from the body. They produce chemicals called IgE antibodies that bind to the allergen, causing the release of histamine, which is responsible for many of the symptoms of allergy.
The symptoms of an allergy are:
- Runny/stuffy nose
- Red, watery eyes
- Abdominal pain
Nausea and diarrhoea are digestive symptoms of allergies, but have other causes too.
A food intolerance, on the other hand, is when the body can’t digest the food properly, leading to digestive symptoms like bloating, cramps, constipation, or diarrhoea. In some cases, they can cause severe reactions that require immediate medical treatment.
Lactose and alcohol intolerance
Lactose intolerance, for instance, is common in up to three-quarters of East Asians. It is caused by decreased production of a protein, lactase, that breaks down a sugar in milk known as lactose. Almost all infants can digest milk, but this protein ceases to be produced in many people once we age past childhood.
East Asians also commonly experience alcohol intolerance, with a characteristic ‘red flush’ and stuffy nose after drinking alcohol. The red colour comes from the accumulation of acetaldehyde, a toxic breakdown product of alcohol because of decreased production of a protein that breaks acetaldehyde down to a less toxic substance.
Gluten sensitivity and Coeliac Disease
Issues digesting gluten are triggered by exposure to many grains, such as wheat, barley, and couscous. Coeliac disease is a severe form of intolerance which requires the affected person to cut out all foods containing gluten, which includes very common foods such as bread, cereal, and pasta. It is different to non-celiac gluten sensitivity, a milder health problem that may affect 5% of people.
Celiac disease sufferers experience autoimmune inflammation in the small intestine that is triggered by gluten, wherein the immune system attacks the body itself, which if left untreated can lead to conditions that affect other systems of the body, such as infertility, osteoporosis (brittle bones), and chronic fatigue.
Interestingly, 30% of the Caucasian and Western European population carries a gene that predisposes towards celiac disease, but only a small percentage of those with the genes develop celiac disease.
Gut health and allergies are connected
An allergy can be diagnosed and treated with medication prescribed by a doctor, but there are ways to prevent our risk of developing allergies, starting with a healthy gut. The gut microbiome consists of bacteria that live in our gut in a mutually beneficial relationship with us — they feed us and we feed them.
New research is increasingly finding evidence that a healthy and diverse gut microbiome is associated with fewer allergic symptoms. The rates of allergies have been rising steeply in the last few decades as humans settle in comfortably in urban environments.
Indeed, eating habits have become more homogenised with less variety of food sources. People get outdoors less and do less exercise. Families are also having fewer children and taking more antibiotics. In particular, antibiotics are a potent disruptor of microbial balance in the human gut.
All these factors cause our microbiomes to lose precious diversity, decreasing the number of species in the ‘database’ that our immune system can recognise as foreign, yet not overreact, because it knows that they are not harmful.
In fact, this idea is not new. As far back as 1989, the hygiene hypothesis of allergy was proposed, stating that the greater our exposure to microorganisms, the lower our risk of developing allergies. This doesn’t refer to how often you tidy your room or wash your hands, but rather to factors that affect your level of exposure to microorganisms.
This was because ancient humans, during the evolution of our relationship with microorganisms, derived lots of benefits from a symbiotic relationship with species that existed in the same environments as human hunter-gatherer and farming communities, surrounded by mud and vegetation.
This includes microorganisms living on other people in the community, which we grew accustomed to, and those that infected us at low levels we could tolerate and learn to build immune defenses against. Fortunately, there are some simple things that can increase your exposure to microbes:
- Having one or more older siblings
- Living in a rural rather than urban area
- Owning a pet
These microbes have persisted in our guts, forming an integral part of our immune system’s control against foreign agents. Hence, modern environments, which compromise their existence, have a knock-on effect of compromising our immune system, which overreacts to allergens as if they were these ancient microbes, kicking our bodies into defense mode.
Microbiome diversity develops from birth
As soon as a baby is born, microorganisms from the environment begin colonising their microbiome. In fact, vaginal delivery has been shown to increase microbiome diversity in babies compared to delivery by Caesarean section, providing protection against allergies later in life.
Breastfeeding also directly transmits beneficial bacteria such as Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria to the infant, and it is rich in sugars known as oligosaccharides that nourish these microbes, which in turn feedback to the developing infant immune system via molecular signals.
While often unavoidable due to infections, the use of antibiotics during pregnancy and infancy has been linked to increased risk of allergies later in life.
Probiotic and food allergies The good news about allergies is that children sometimes outgrow them. Three-quarters of children with milk or egg allergies outgrow it by age 16, and 20% of children with peanut allergy do outgrow it. Nevertheless, there is plenty parents can do for themselves and their kids to lower the risk of developing allergies in the first place.
Researchers in Boston have recently identified the species of gut bacteria, Clostridiales and Bacteroidetes, that protects against the development of food allergies in children. When these microbes were given to mice, it increased the mice’s tolerance to food allergens and reversed their pre-existing food allergies.
The scientists speculated that in future, giving such bacteria to children whose microbiomes show signs of forming allergies could help prevent these allergies from forming in the first place. Flagging such infants is already being done — in one study, three-month olds who were found to lack four key microbe groups were more likely to develop asthma by age three.
How to alleviate seasonal allergies and digestive problems
A balanced, diverse diet with lots of fibre and oligosaccharides supplied during pregnancy may help protect against later allergy development in babies. Whole grains, beans, vegetables, fruit, nuts, and seeds are all sources of fibre, including prebiotic fibers that also benefit the gut microbiome.
Last but not least, exercise, perhaps the simplest and least complex intervention, has been proven to increase microbiome diversity. In mouse models, this diet increased amounts of beneficial bacteria, Lactobacillus and Clostridium leptum, that protect against wheat allergy. Regular exercise also is linked to greater gut microbial diversity, yet another excellent reason to make physical activity part of your life.
We know our eyes connect to our brain, our nose connects to our sensors and our mouth connects to our tastebuds [to put it very simply as our eyes, nose and mouth do FAR more than this – right?]
If we do not treat the WHOLE PERSON we are basically saying the picture to the right is correct and our eyes, nose and throat END as seen ———->
There may be more to allergies than meets the eye — and more we can do about it than we previously thought possible. While gut bacteria and allergies continue to be an active area of research, careful nutrition and diet, along with early interventions, could help children be free of allergies for life.
However, even though there is a connection between gut health and allergies, there is no gut allergy. Rather, the gut can help mediate the body’s reaction to an allergen. That said, food intolerances to gluten and lactose directly affect the gut, but they have different symptoms.
References & Links
- Amin K. The role of mast cells in allergic inflammation. Respir Med. 2012 Jan;106(1):9-14. doi: 10.1016/j.rmed.2011.09.007.
- Miller A. The pathogenesis, clinical implications and treatment of intestinal hyperpermeability. Alt Med Rev [Internet]. 1997 [cited 2017 Jul 13]. Available at: http://static1.1.sqspcdn.com/static/f/290061
- Science Daily, New therapy targets gut bacteria to prevent and reverse food allergies, 2019
- Gut Microbiota for health, Scientists study possible strategies for prevention and treatment of children’s allergic disease through the gut microbiota
- American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology, Celiac Disease, Non-celiac Gluten Sensitivity, And Food Allergy: How Are They Different?
- American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology, The Current State Of Oral Immunotherapy (OIT) For The Treatment Of Food Allergy
- A. Abdel Gadir et al., Microbiota therapy acts via a regulatory T cell MyD88/RORγt pathway to suppress food allergy, 2019
- M. Pascal et al., Microbiome and Allergic Diseases, 2018
- M.C. Arrieta et al., Early infancy microbial and metabolic alterations affect risk of childhood asthma, 2015
- M.L.K. Tang et al., Administration of a probiotic with peanut oral immunotherapy: A randomized trial, 2015
- G. Bouchaud et al., Maternal exposure to GOS/inulin mixture prevents food allergies and promotes tolerance in offspring in mice, 2016
- N Gujral et al., Celiac disease: Prevalence, diagnosis, pathogenesis and treatment, 2012