Hayfever (Allergic Rhinitis)

Strictly speaking, hayfever is an allergic reaction to grass pollen, which usually occurs at its worst in May, June and July, often a stressful time for children as it is exam time. The term was originally related to symptoms caused by dust when haymaking and now includes a variety of seasonal allergic reactions due to pollen or some other airborne substance. Although most of the symptoms of over-sensitivity of the respiratory mucosa caused by hayfever are more annoying than serious, hayfever can trigger an asthma attack in a susceptible child. Hayfever rarely occurs before the age of five, and children tend to be worse affected during adolescence. Very often, these are children with an existing allergic tendency, who perhaps exchange a former allergic reaction, such as eczema, for hayfever (see Allergies). There may be an inherited disposition to allergies and / or hayfever, or it may be that weak digestion, poor diet or low general health has rendered the immune system and respiratory tract over-susceptible to pollen. Hayfever often occurs in children who have a tendency to chronic catarrh or frequent respiratory infections, as the mucous membranes are already irritated.

It appears that hayfever has become widespread only in the last century, during which time the consumption of sugar has increased dramatically. It could be that the detrimental effect sugar has on immunity is related to an increased incidence of allergies in children and adults alike. Allergic rhinitis is a major challenge to health professionals. A large number of the world’s population, including approximately 40 million Americans, suffer from allergic rhinitis.

Wheat is a member of the grass family. If wheat is removed from the diet during the hayfever season, the allergic symptoms can very often be reduced, if not eliminated. It appears that when wheat is removed from the diet, the body is better able to cope with the extra exposure to grass-related substances during the hayfever season. I have seen this work well countless times, and it is well worth the effort. It is also a good idea to cut out cow’s milk produce, sugar and refined carbohydrates at the same time.

There is a way of desensitizing a child before the hayfever season to prevent the allergic reaction to pollen, using honey, and especially the wax capping on honeycombs. For 2-4 months before the hayfever season, give a dessertspoonful or two (10-20 ml) of honeycomb, bee pollen or honey with each meal. Local honey will contain the type of pollens in the surrounding countryside to which the child is likely to be exposed, so this is best. This preventative treatment often works well.

Herbs can be given to enhance immunity and general health for a few months before the hayfever season begins, to enable the child to cope with the high levels of pollen when they come (the Immune System). Useful herbs include golden rod (Solidago virgaurea), plantain, ground ivy (Nepeta hederacea), echinacea, garlic, ginseng and liquorice, which can be continued throughout the hayfever season. Golden rod has anti-inflammatory and astringent properties. Ground ivy has been used for centuries for its anti-inflammatory, antiseptic and astringent actions which have been borne out by recent research.

Ayurvedic approach

According to Ayurveda, hayfever is caused by toxins / ama in the body and the main approach to treatment is removal of impurities from the blood. According to Vasant Lad hayfever is a Kapha problem as it affects the respiratory tract and the lungs, which are ruled by Kapha. However once the heat rises in spring and Pitta is increasing, the phlegm is liquefied and the mucous membranes of the respiratory tract become irritated and inflamed, giving rise to sensitivity to pollen and the resultant Pitta and Kapha symptoms of inflammation, redness, sneezing, running nose and eyes and a tendency to wheezing. However, David Frawley (2000) states that hayfever is a condition of autoimmune derangement and relates it more to Vata derangement as Vata types are the most sensitive. Dr Vinod Verma (1995) recommends taking turmeric daily for a year to remove toxins and to enhance resistance to allergens. A traditional formula known as Mahamanjista, the main constituent of which is manjishta (Rubia cordifolia), is also recommended as it is one of the most popular Ayurvedic formulae for cleansing the blood. Daily practice of jalnetti is also advised which may be possible for older children. This is the administration of warm salty water through alternate nostrils using a netty pot. It helps to open blocked passages and melt and clear excess Kapha.

As with other symptoms Ayurvedic medicine classifies hayfever according to the dominant dosha revealed by the symptoms.

Vata type characterized by scanty phlegm, dry cough, tendency to headaches, insomnia, constipation, wind, restlessness and anxiety.

Pitta type involves red, burning eyes, inflamed mucosa with runny nose and eyes, thirst, feeling of heat, and tendency to loose stools and skin rashes.

Kapha types are prone to abundant white phlegm, feeling dull, congested, heavy and lethargic. The appetite will be low and bowels sluggish.

Herbal treatment of hayfever

• The following herbal remedies can be given, which help to reduce hayfever symptoms as well as to support the immune system: chamomile, echinacea, elderflowers, euphorbia (Euphorbia pilulifera), eyebright (Euphrasia off.), marshmallow (Althea off.) and liquorice. These can be taken in hot infusion, three to six times daily depending on the severity of the hayfever.

• Butterbur (Petasites hybridus) () and stinging nettle have both been tested on a small scale on patients with allergic rhinitis and both show some efficacy. Research indicates that nettle acts as a potent anti-inflammatory, with mechanisms of action including inhibition of biosynthesis of arachi-donic acid metabolites and reduction in the release of pro-inflammatory cytokines.

Ephedra sinica is a specific for hayfever. It is one of the Schedule 3 herbs the use of which is restricted to the professional herbalist, because it is toxic in large quantities. A useful prescription for hayfever is equal parts of echinacea, ephedra, eyebright and euphorbia tincture ¼ – ½ tsp 3-6 times daily.

• If the mucus is particularly persistent, elder-flower and ginger tea and honey may well help.

• Garlic, either as juice, perles or honey, is helpful and can be taken every 2 hours if necessary.

• Steam inhalations of chamomile – using strong tea or two drops of essential oil in a bowl of hot water – can help reduce the allergic response and tone the mucous membranes. Inhalations can be done two or three times a day in conjunction with herbal teas.

• Taking honey or honeycomb can be continued throughout the hayfever season.

Because allergic reactions, including hayfever, are related to a complex range of background causes and not only the offending allergens, it is always necessary to assess each individual child’s constitution and lifestyle.

Ayurvedic treatment of hayfever

A novel, botanical formulation (Aller-7) has been developed for treatment of allergic rhinitis using a combination of extracts from seven medicinal plants including amalaki, ginger and long pepper, which have a proven history of efficacy and health benefits.

Vasant Lad (1991) recommends chewing grains of bee pollen before the spring to prevent hayfever, as well as taking tea made from equal parts of liquorice, long pepper, and lemon grass three times a day. For wheezing he recommends boiling a ½ tsp of liquorice root in a cup of water for 5 minutes and before giving it to the child to add 5 drops of mahanaryan oil or ¼ tsp of ghee. This can be sipped every 15-30 minutes. Should it cause vomiting this is beneficial as it eliminates Kapha from the stomach and clears congestion and wheezing rapidly.

David Frawley recommends strengthening the immune system and the lungs prior to the hayfever season using dietary recommendations for one’s dosha and taking tonic herbs such as ashwagandha and bala as well as Chayawan prash.

All types of hayfever require treatment using herbs to reduce congestion and reduce the sensitivity of the mucous membranes. Holy basil is a popular remedy and can be taken as an infusion with honey.

• For Vata: calamus (Acorus calamus), ginger and liquorice tea. Ginger paste applied to the head (see headaches / pain). Calamus ghee inserted into the nostrils is used by Ayurvedic doctors.

• For Pitta: coriander leaf juice and tea, chamomile tea, gotu kola, ghee or gotu kola oil inserted into the nostrils. Sandalwood paste applied to the head, bitter and cleansing herbs such as amalaki and guduchi are recommended. For red itchy eyes Triphala ghee is used, applied to the eyelids. Triphala decoction and chamomile tea also makes good washes for the eyes.

• For Kapha: Trikatu, ginger tea, ginger and liquorice tea / powder with honey, cinnamon tea, cloves, calamus, are given as well as nasal administration of calamus ghee.