Hayfever Irritability (& It’s Upsides)

It’s not something I treat a lot of in my clinic but it should be as I used to suffer horribly as a child and onwards into my 30’s. I used to dread the summer months. Cleaning up my diet, lifestyle, daily yoga and acupuncture drastically reduced my hayfever where now its an occasional niggle rather than 4 months of survival; feeling irritable, fatigued and sneezing non-stop.

I’ve treated a few patients this summer and am constantly amazed at acupuncture efficacy. Maybe I shouldn’t be, but I specialise in pain management as I feel its where acupuncture shines most strongly but maybe I should be adding hayfever treatment to that. The best thing about treatment for hayfever is it tends to be a much shorter period of treatment than for pain (3-4 session for most) and then the hayfever does not tend to make a re-occurence for years. The results are by no means guaranteed, but more than worth giving it a go if you are suffering.

So What is Hayfever?

Pretty much most people know its an allergic reaction to pollen. This pollen can come from a variety of sources. The time of year gives clues as to the source of your foe. If you suffer only early Spring the likely culprit is tree pollen. If you suffer mostly end of spring into beginning of summer the culprit is grass pollen. If you suffer all the way through Spring and Summer its likely that weed pollen is your problem.

Whatever your source the symptoms are pretty much universal; sneezing, red itchy eyes, runny or blocked up nose. In general feeling a bit rubbish, irritable and fed up would sum it up.

The root of Hayfever – Histamine

Histamine is the hormone responsible for mounting attacks on normally inert substances that enter the body. In a normal person pollen can enter the body with little or no reaction from the immune system. It’s inert and doesn’t pose a threat so the body lets it in. An over-production of histamine means that normal reactions don’t occur. The body mounts a full scale attack on the pollen.The sneezing, runny nose, running eyes are your bodies attempt to flush out the perceived invader.

The most interesting aspect of histamine from my view is its impact on emotions. Hormones can have emotional impacts. Seratonin makes you feel good. Oxytocin creates connections and feelings of love. Adrenaline makes you feel alert and excited. Histamine unfortunately isn’t such a fun hormone – it makes you feel irritated. Anyone who’s suffered from hay fever can probably attest to this. In fact any women out there who have suffered PMS can probably vouch for this as well. PMS is thought to be linked to high histamine levels in the womb.

So There Are No Upsides To hay fever?

Well actually there are. Following research on 1000 elderly people in Taiwan, Andrea Graham, an evolutionary biologist at Princeton University, believes that allergies are a price we pay for an effective immune system. Think of the immune systems response to pollen as like that of an aggressive guard dog. The overzealous dog will bark at all intruders and may well even bite the postman. This isn’t great… but when a real intruder comes along you can bet that dog is primed to defend its territory. So it is with the immune system the sneezing and sniffles from our allergies may well be the price we pay for an immune system that zaps more serious maladies in its place.

This is perfectly aligned with Chinese Medical wisdom. The symptoms we experience when a bug enters our body are not from the invading bug/ pathogen, but rather the immune response our body wages on it. The streaming nose, sneezing and coughing is our bodies way of expelling the pathogen from our body in colds and flus. The body covers the invading pathogen in mucus then tries to flush it out of the body. Strong sweats and high fevers are signs of a strong immune system. Think about it; if an octogenarian and an 8 year old both get the same bug who reacts the strongest -it’s nearly always the 8 year old. It usually comes quick and strong and then goes – with the octogenarian the immune system mounts a weaker defence and the pathogen stays longer to do its damage.

How Can You Treat it?

1. Head for the sea. We are fortunate living so close to the sea. If the winds are blowing on-shore head to the beach to get some relief. If you can’t make it to the beach you may have to stay holed up in your house or sealed in a car with a pollen filter – both not such fun options on a hot summers day.

2. Nasal Sprays: Steroid nasal sprays work by reducing inflammation and swelling and thereby alleviating the effects of an overactive immune system. Whilst steroids themselves can be harmful to the body and mind, nasal sprays are potentially less damaging as they are only absorbed locally into the nasal tissue. Bear in mind though that there are limited studies showing that chronic use of nasal sprays can inflict the same sort of systemic damage as steroid medication.

3. Anti-histamines: If you are taking these regularly please take a moment to reflect on a recent US study suggesting chronic use of anti-histamines may increase ricks of alzheimers. In particular those people taking daily dose of 1st generation anti-histamines such as chlorpheniramine and diphenhydramine are at highest risk and may want to consider switching to an alternative or looking for another option.

4. Neti Pot/Salt Water Sprays: These can be great for some patients. The mild salt water soothes inflamed mucus linings and can clear out excess mucus. Don’t go crazy though. Continual irrigation of the nasal passage can remove mucus membrane designed to protect the nose… And always use sterilized water to avoid introducing more bad bacteria or parasites into your nose.

5. Diet. Try moving towards a diet high in fruit and vegetables and eliminate processed and junk food. Eliminating mucus forming foods such as dairy, starch and sugar and focusing on foods with anti-inflammatory properties is a good starting point.

6. Acupuncture: Trials of acupuncture for hayfever have been generally positive. Acupuncture may work by stimulating the nervous system and deactivating those areas of the brain involved in processing pain. In addition needling around the sinuses can increase local blood circulation and reduce inflammation.