Hay Fever and Environmental Allergies

Runny nose. Sneezing. Itchy, watery eyes.

These are the classic symptoms of allergic rhinitis, commonly known as hay fever. These irritating symptoms aren’t usually caused by hay and don’t usually include a fever, but the term hay fever has been used for at least two centuries.

In the early 1800s, thirty years before pollen was identified as the offending agent, the condition was also called “summer catarrh.” Catarrh refers to inflammation of the mucous membranes. At first it was considered an illness of aristocrats, with one medical paper noting that doctors and clergymen were the most likely to suffer from it. 

As the century progressed, a variety of potential causes and cures became popular. Climate change, industrialization, and the trend toward better educated women were all blamed, and smoking tobacco was advocated as an effective remedy. [1]

Two decades into the 2000s, medical researchers have learned much more about what causes allergic rhinitis, why the body reacts the way it does, and how to relieve the symptoms and improve the overall health of those who experience hay fever.

You may find that you have bouts of hay fever that coincide with the seasons. For example, you may be miserable when the grass turns green and trees leaf out in the spring, or you may find yourself blowing your nose and sneezing almost constantly come August or September when ragweed flourishes. You may experience some or all of these symptoms:

  • Nasal congestion
  • Sneezing
  • Runny nose
  • Itchy eyes and nose
  • Scratchy throat
  • Headaches
  • Facial (sinus) pain
  • Increased mucus production
  • Fatigue
  • Coughing
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Wheezing

 

As bad as seasonal allergies are, at least you can look forward to relief during the off-season. But if your allergic rhinitis is triggered by allergens other than pollen, these symptoms may persist year round.

With seasonal allergies, pollens are to blame. Seed plants release pollen—a mass of microspores—as part of their reproductive cycle. When pollen is visible, it looks like fine yellow dust. Usually, though, it’s invisible. The minute grains disperse on the wind, enabling plants to propagate. In areas with a lot of vegetation, pollen makes up a significant component of the outdoor air, especially during times when plants release their spores. In other words, if you step outside, you’ll breathe in pollen. And unless you have an effective air filtration system indoors, you’ll be inhaling pollen inside as well. Keeping your windows closed reduces indoor pollen counts only by about a third. [2]

Among the pollens that are particularly troublesome for people with allergic rhinitis are:

  • Trees: oak, maple, elm, cypress, birch, ash, and cottonwood
  • Grasses
  • Weeds: ragweed, pigweed, sagebrush, lamb’s quarters, and tumbleweed

 

Although many people believe goldenrod causes their sneezing in late summer, that’s usually not the case. Ragweed and goldenrod release spores at the same time, but goldenrod’s flowers attract insects as the main pollinator, while ragweed depends on the wind to distribute its pollen. As trees go, pine trees are the least allergenic, but even evergreens can produce reactions in some people.

The most common triggers for indoor allergies are:

  • Dust mites
  • Pet dander
  • Mold
  • Cockroaches
  • Chemicals

 

Many people are allergic to animal dander, the flecks of dead skin that all mammals shed. If you’re allergic to cats, you’re probably reacting to Felis domesticus allergen 1, a protein in cats’ saliva that transfers to their fur when they groom themselves. Between 10% and 30% of people have cat allergies. [3] Allergies to other pets—like dogs, rabbits, and guinea pigs—are also common, but less prevalent than cat allergies.

But the most common thing people react to indoors is dust. In 1967, scientists discovered that dust itself isn’t allergenic. Rather, the microscopic components of house dust lead to allergic asthma or allergic rhinitis. Dust includes human skin flakes, which invisible dust mites eat. The mites excrete waste products that can become airborne and find their way into people’s lungs. [4]

The symptoms of hay fever aren’t just annoying. They interfere with activities, employment, and social life, according to a large study done by the U.S. government in 2007. In addition, many survey respondents said they couldn’t think or perform mental tasks as well due to their symptoms. American workers lose 10.7 million workdays per year because of allergic rhinitis. [5] About 40 million Americans suffer from this allergic condition. [6]

Those cognitive, work, and personal costs would be bad enough if there weren’t long-term consequences from seasonal allergies. That’s not necessarily so. Allergic rhinitis increases the risk of chronic sinusitis and ear infections. [6] For some people, one type of allergic disorder leads to another—and then another—in a process called the “allergic march.” People who have allergic rhinitis can develop atopic dermatitis and eventually allergic asthma. Be sure to read our article on Allergies for more information on what these three conditions have in common.

If you want to find out what’s causing your nose to run and eyes to itch, you can schedule a skin-prick test with an allergist. Using a needle, the doctor will inject a small amount of various allergens under your skin and then observe which ones cause a wheal to develop. But you’ve probably lived in your own skin long enough to know what causes your symptoms. Getting a definitive list of which weeds and trees cause you to sneeze won’t be that helpful—especially if you can’t avoid being outside. It’s more important to find a way to reduce or eliminate the symptoms.

A walk down the aisle of your local drugstore will confirm that there are plenty of non-prescription medications that promise to relieve hay fever symptoms. Many people don’t like the headaches, nasal irritation, sleep disturbances, and mood changes that can accompany those drugs. Thankfully, many natural and plant-based formulas work just as well—and without the side effects. In addition to specific hay fever formulas, you can use products that lower inflammatory processes naturally. You might also want to try immunotherapy (allergy shots or drops) or a complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) approach to clearing your allergies like NAET (Nambudripad’s Allergy Elimination Technique).

1 Dinning R. 6 facts about the history of hay fever. History Extra, July 2, 2018. https://www.historyextra.com/period/7-facts-about-the-history-of-hay-fever/

2 D'Amato G, Russo M, Liccardi G, et al. Comparison between outdoor and indoor airborne allergenic activity. Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol. 1996;77(2):147-152. doi:10.1016/S1081-1206(10)63501-6

3 Bonnet B, Messaoudi K, Jacomet F, et al. An update on molecular cat allergens: Fel d 1 and what else? Chapter 1: Fel d 1, the major cat allergen. Allergy Asthma Clin Immunol. 2018;14:14. Published 2018 Apr 10. doi:10.1186/s13223-018-0239-8

4 Wilson JM, Platts-Mills TAE. Home Environmental Interventions for House Dust Mite. J Allergy Clin Immunol Pract. 2018;6(1):1-7. doi:10.1016/j.jaip.2017.10.003

5 Bhattacharyya N. Functional limitations and workdays lost associated with chronic rhinosinusitis and allergic rhinitis. Am J Rhinol Allergy. 2012;26(2):120-122. doi:10.2500/ajra.2012.26.3752

6 Kozlov, V., Lavrenova, G., Savlevich, E. et al. Evidence-based phytotherapy in allergic rhinitis. Clin Phytosci 4, 23 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1186/s40816-018-0080-0

7 Hewlings S, Kalman DS. Evaluating the Impacts of Methylsulfonylmethane on Allergic Rhinitis After a Standard Allergen Challenge: Randomized Double-Blind Exploratory Study. JMIR Res Protoc. 2018;7(11):e11139. Published 2018 Nov 29. doi:10.2196/11139

8 Saxena VS, Venkateshwarlu K, Nadig P, et al. Multicenter clinical trials on a novel polyherbal formulation in allergic rhinitis. Int J Clin Pharmacol Res. 2004;24(2-3):79-94.

9 Ebrahimi M, Ghayour-Mobarhan M, Rezaiean S, et al. Omega-3 fatty acid supplements improve the cardiovascular risk profile of subjects with metabolic syndrome, including markers of inflammation and auto-immunity. Acta Cardiol. 2009;64(3):321-327. doi:10.2143/AC.64.3.2038016

Natural formulas that we recommend include:

Allerstop

With quercetin and methylsulfonylmethane (MSM), this product is designed to help prevent and relieve hay fever and other environmental allergy symptoms. Recent research suggests that taking MSM may reduce allergic rhinitis symptoms without the side effects of standard allergy medications. [7]

Migra-Eze

This product contains four herbal ingredients that have anti-inflammatory properties: butterbur, feverfew, gingko, and ginger. This formula is designed to help prevent migraine headaches by balancing the body’s inflammatory responses. Research shows than an active ingredient in butterbur reduced allergic rhinitis symptoms within five days and decreased inflammatory markers. Other studies found that it reduced seasonal allergic reactions in 90% of subjects and was as effective as the prescription medication it was tested against. [6]

Herbal Eze

This formula combines four natural anti-inflammatories: turmeric, ginger, boswellia, and black pepper. Supplements containing black pepper, ginger, and other ingredients were found to reduce signs and symptoms of seasonal allergies and to normalize immune system responses. [8]

Omega Pure EPA-DHA 2400:

A key part of an anti-inflammatory diet is fish because fish contains oils that our bodies need for optimal functioning. Some people don’t like eating fish, and nowadays it’s not always easy to find fish that are free of contaminants. This purified, potent fish oil supplement makes it easy to get these important fatty acids in the right amounts. Taking fish oil supplements is associated with a reduction in C-reactive protein and other markers of inflammation. [9]