Seasonal Allergies and You
Spring is upon us! The increasing daylight, warming temperatures, and the reappearance of leaves and flowers are so very welcome, especially for those of us in the northern latitudes. However, as trees begin to bloom, and later as grasses start to flower, hay fever is the unwelcome guest accompanying the change of season for ten to thirty percent of people in Western countries, especially among those twenty to forty years old.
In respiratory allergies the body’s immune system reacts against inhaled plant pollens and molds, causing symptoms including sneezing, coughing, runny nose, itchy eyes, nose, and throat. While many people experience seasonal allergies in the springtime, often beginning with the onset of tree pollens, other times of year such as early summer or autumn can be troublesome for others.
Allergies, and other conditions where the immune system functions inappropriately, have become much more common in recent times. An interesting perspective that has attracted much study of late is known as the hygiene hypothesis.
The human immune system evolved in conditions where dirt and microbial life associated with dirt—bacteria and parasites typically present in mud, water, and on plants. When we are born and grow up in conditions where cleaning and sanitation practices have greatly reduced our exposure to these organisms, it seems that our gut bacteria and immune systems often develop without some of the data that is apparently needed for properly regulating immune responses.
This situation, although it has reduced the incidence of many acute infections, has also led to a higher incidence of allergies and asthma, and also of autoimmune illnesses such as inflammatory bowel disease, multiple sclerosis, and type I diabetes.
Natural childbirth, sustained breast feeding, physical interaction between siblings, and encouraging children to spend more time in “uncleaned” outdoor environments and to care for pets and other animals, have all been proposed as possible ways to reduce the impact of overly antiseptic hygiene practices. Probiotics and fermented or cultured foods are also plausible (although so far unproven) ways to improve the balance of gut bacteria that are increasingly seen as likely factors in a wide array of inflammatory conditions, including arteriosclerosis and depression.
Emotional stress and hormonal influences are also known to affect immune function, and both can play a role in the occurrence and intensity of allergy episodes.
Standard medications for allergies—antihistamines, nasal sprays, and decongestants—sometimes produce unwelcome side effects like drowsiness, cognitive impairment, reduced libido, and depression; increased appetite and weight gain; altered taste and smell; heart palpitations, insomnia, and anxiety.
Fortunately, herbs can often help to control allergy symptoms naturally, without these accompanying issues. Em’s Herbals offers Aller-Geez! Herbal Teaas an all-organic aid for allergy sufferers, combining five gentle yet powerful anti-inflammatory herbs with multiple actions against hay fever symptoms.
- Nettles (Urtica dioica) help to quell the histamine response to allergic triggers, acting on receptors and enzymes that cause seasonal allergy attacks. Interest in this use of nettles was revived in the last decades of the 20th century, but it’s hardly a new idea: the famous 16th century herbalist Culpeper suggested boiled or juiced nettle roots or leaves for wheezing, shortness of breath, and throat inflammations.
- Eyebright (Euphrasia officinalis), as its name implies, has long been associated with relief for inflammations affecting the eyes, and it is known as a soothing astringent for the entire respiratory tract.
- Sage (Salvia officinalis) is another traditional herb with astringent and anti-inflammatory activity, especially for the mouth, throat, and tonsils.
- Chickweed (Stellaria media) contains saponins that act on the mucous membranes, cooling itchy sensations, soothing the bronchial tubes, and helping to expel phlegm from the lungs.
- Licorice root (Glycyrrhiza glabra) benefits immune regulation and hormone balance, and reduces coughing, swelling, and mucous accumulation.
Happy customers (see “reviews” on this page) find that Aller-Geez Tea can help take the dreaded discomforts out of springtime, or any season when allergies erupt.
Other useful natural approaches for allergies may feature certain adaptogenic herbs (the topic of an upcoming post here) such as Reishi mushrooms or Eleutherococcus.
As Emily says—Plants are cool!