Your hayfever questions answered.
What exactly is Hayfever?
The definition of hayfever
In a nutshell, hay fever is the allergic form of a disease called rhinitis which affects roughly 500 million people worldwide. “Hayfever” is allergic rhinitis.
The inflammation of the insides of the nose is due to a sensitised immune system reacting to allergens which are wrongly identified as a threat.
How do I know it’s hayfever?
Hayfever is characterised by swelling of the insides of the nose due to the release of histamine and other chemicals by the body, with the other common symptoms being mucous discharge, itchiness, sneezing, sneezing and sneezing.
What could it be that’s causing my hayfever?
Allergens can include pollen, dust, dander, mould and fungal spores, house dust mites, and other particulate matter such as smoke and air pollution.
Keep in mind always that your symptoms may not indicate hay fever, or they may indicate something else combined with hay fever. Your doctor is the best ally available to help you properly understand what exactly you are suffering from, and how best to treat it with or without medication.
What is it that causes hayfever?
What could it be that’s causing my hayfever?
Hayfever as a term used by people is quite broad. “Hayfever” is technically the allergic rhinitis caused by grass pollen/s only, so the technical answer as to what is causing your “hayfever” is “grass pollen”.
The condition we are often describing when we have the symptoms associated with allergies is called actually more like general “rhinitis”.
Be sure to see a doctor, you may not have hay fever, or general rhinitis, at all.
What’s causing your respiratory symptoms could be something like asthma, food allergies etc.
Airborne hayfever triggers
Hayfever triggers include allergens such as pollen, dust, animal dander, fungal/mould spores and house dust mites, in addition to other particulate matter such as sawdust, smoke and air pollution.
Contact and consumable hayfever triggers
There can also be other triggers that you may be sensitive to such as food (such as cheese, wheat, cheese, strawberries) or drink (such as wine), perfume, cosmetics, make-up, latex, nickel, etc.
Some people’s symptoms, medical history and test results indicate that something else is combining with their hay fever.
Doctors and experts are the best ally available to help you properly test you and understand what it is you have, and the best method/s to control it.
Is there a cure for hayfever?
The short answer is “No.”
Allergic rhinitis is an immunological disease that does not yet have a cure.
However the good news is it can be fully controlled in most cases.
The strategy to beat hayfever
The first thing you need is the right mindset in order to ensure hay fever is stopped in its tracks as quickly and effectively as possible.
The habits to beat hayfever
Next you need to do an honest and well-informed review of your lifestyle, daily habits and living conditions in order to reduce your symptoms down to a minimum by getting control of the triggers of your hay fever.
The diet to beat hayfever
Think about your allergies and rhinitis symptoms as a cup.
The cup “gets full and overflows” when various contributors cause reactions like histamine production, nasal irritation, itching and sinus pressure.
If you’re eating cheese platters and drinking red wine during Spring then you’re probably not doing yourself any favours, you’re only helping your hay fever reach its full potential and you’re putting yourself miles away from any “cure” of sorts.
Everyone’s body, medical history, local conditions and perception of pain and suffering are unique.
The antihistamine that works well on one person, may not work so well on another, etc.
With only a few hours of reading and a few minutes of consultation with a local doctor you can put the finishing touches on a well-earned victory against hay fever.
Can I medicate when pregnant?
Can hay fever medication affect my baby?
There is a possibility that some medications could cause some harm, particularly in the first 3 months of pregnancy.
However, strict regulations, medication codes and guidelines exist for the safety of mothers and babies in almost all countries, all of which doctors and pharmacists are aware and trained to advise you on.
Which common medications should I be most cautious of?
There have been recent findings in relation to the use of decongestants in the first trimester, and some conjecture over possible side-effects from corticosteroids during the same period.
In general it is best to avoid systemic medications such as tablets, and choose topical (localised) treatments where suitable such as nasal sprays because they are applied only to the site of suffering. Always seek advice from your doctor or pharmacist before commencing any treatment while you are pregnant.
Where can I find more info on pregnancy and children with hayfever?
We have a dedicated section on pregnancy and children which references the points mentioned above, along with much more on children at different stages of their development.
How about when breastfeeding?
The short answer is “Some medication you can take, but others you probably shouldn’t.”
Overall, the goal should be to adopt the ideal diet, lifestyle and habits/routines to minimise your hay fever, as you may not need medication.
Even if you suffer from severe hay fever, the more you can reduce your symptoms with lifestyle changes, the less medication you will need for relief.
Often a saline nasal cleansing spray together with lots of vitamin C, combined with dust and dust mite reduction in the home can suffice for breastfeeding mothers with mild to moderate hay fever.
Failing that, there are several types of hay fever medication to choose from, all of which you should thoroughly research in addition to seeking medical advice from your doctor and pharmacist.
New non-drowsy antihistamines are sometimes used under medical advice by some expectant mothers.
Compared to older generation antihistamines much less of the drug is absorbed into your bloodstream. Antihistamine nasal sprays go direct to the site of suffering, which means even less of the drug remains in the body.
Older drowsy-type antihistamines are less ideal as they penetrate the blood-brain barrier, leaving significantly more of the drug in your system than newer versions.
If your baby was born early, had a low birth weight, or has any kind of medical condition you should seek specialist medical advice on any medication you are considering taking.
Pseudoephedrine is known to decrease milk supply, hence some healthcare professionals may advise against using decongestantswhile breastfeeding, as well as antihistamines that contain this decongestant.
As is commonly understood, decongestants need to be used with caution and only for a few days at a time even under normal circumstances, so be sure to consult your doctor before taking this type of medication. Decongestants are generally not recommended for pregnant or breastfeeding mothers.
Intranasal and inhaled corticosteroids are considered safer than oral corticosteroids, again because localised medication leaves much less trace of drugs in the body than medication that goes via the gut.
The proteins contained in allergy injections to prevent severe hay fever are not likely to enter breast milk. This option is sometimes approved for breastfeeding mothers.
What are antihistamines?
What is histamine?
Histamine is an immune response compound produced by the body that causes, among other things, inflammation.
When something that they body identifies as a threat comes along, some of the cells in the nearby tissue produce histamine in an attempt to remove the invaders.
In addition to inflammation and itching, fluid is released from tiny blood vessels as part of the allergic response, hence the runny nose and watery eyes commonly associated with hay fever.
What is antihistamine?
Basically, antihistamine (also known as histamine antagonist) prevents the production of histamine by introducing a competing response that blocks histamine from attaching to nerves, small muscles, mast cells etc which can bring the reduce inflammation and mucous production.
Itchiness and sneezing is prevented by antihistamine blocking your nasal nerve H1-receptors.
Antihistamine Nasal Sprays
Antihistamine direct to the nose is still relatively unknown on the hay fever scene in many countries.
Much to the delight of an increasing number of sufferers, these non-addictive sprays can start working in under 15 minutes and continue working for up to 12 hours.
People who don’t like other spray products may reject the benefits of what they might think is “just another nasal spray”.
There is an antihistamine nasal spray containing azelastine that in addition to relieving hay fever symptoms, also has anti-inflammatory properties and provides a decongestant effect.
Azep, for which Australian guidelines recommend one spray per nostril twice daily, is suitable for adults and children 5 years and over.1
- AZEP Nasal spray Australian product information. MEDA Pharmaceuticals, January 2014.
What are corticosteroids?
Corticosteroids are a group of steroid hormones produced by your body in the adrenal cortex, though they can be made synthetically as well.
There two kinds variations of corticosteroids, glucocorticoids and mineralocorticoids, perform different metabolic functions.
Common Corticosteroid Treatment
This treatment is for the more severe hay fever sufferers, and is regarded in some countries as the most effective treatment option for those sufferers.
It can take up to 2 weeks before the drug becomes fully effective, and dosing needs to continue for the duration as advised by a healthcare professional.
The most common side-effects of corticosteroids are nasal complications including nose bleeds and damage to the lining of the nose, headaches and increased susceptibility to infection.
Due to the suppression of the immune system brought about by corticosteroids, those with unhealed wounds should exercise caution before using, wound healing is impaired by this medication, and ulcer formation is also possible.
Always seek medical advice prior to taking any medication, and only ever take medication as directed.
Corticosteroid tablets are also an option, as are injections which may be available in some countries.
If you are using corticosteroids it is safe to use other hay fever medications, though only in line with medical advice from your doctor or pharmacist as always.
What food has antihistamine?
Fighting hayfever with food
This website does not attempt to provide definitive dietary information, the goal is to pass on some information to form part of your own research and consideration before you and your nutritionist and/or doctor make your dietary decisions.
Which foods are the heroes against histamine?
Any food containing quercetin or pycnogenol will aid in the reduction of histamine in the body – e.g. some citrus fruits, broccoli, capsicum (especially yellow), berries, onions, garlic, apples.
It’s not to focus only on foods containing antihistamine, there are a number of consumables which may (or may not in some cases) be helpful …
Might be helpful
Almonds, apples* (unpeeled), bananas*, blackberries, broccoli, brown rice, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, cloves, cod, flaxseed, garlic, ginger, goat’s milk, horseradish, kale, linseed, onions (red), kale, kidney beans, kiwifruit*, lemons*, lima beans, linseed, miso, molasses, parsley, peas, pineapple*, pro-biotic yoghurt**, quinoa, sage, salmon (fresh caught), sardines (fresh caught), seaweed, snapper, soy milk, sprouts, strawberries*, tofu, tuna (fresh caught), turmeric, turnip, yellow capsicum
*though could be unhelpful for some individuals
** it’s best to load up on pro-biotics before Spring arrives
Important: Some people are allergic to certain foods which contain the same proteins as certain pollens, for example. Always consult your doctor or medically qualified allergy healthcare professional to understand what you are allergic to, and for their advice on all dietary matters.
Carrot juice, chamomile tea*, eucalyptus tea, goldenrod tea, lemon tea, licorice tea, nettle tea, peppermint tea, plantain tea, rice milk, rooibos tea, rosehips tea, rosemary tea, soy milk
*chamomile is particularly applicable to ragweed allergy as both plants are related
1 beetroot, 1 cucumber, 2 sticks of celery, 3 carrots, 1 red apple, 1 inch of ginger. Add extra apple juice to help the ingredients blend if need be. Enjoy!
Blue-green algae (and spirulina), calamari oil, chlorella, coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10), fish oil, garlic, geranium, grape seed extract, herb nettle (Urtica dioica), krill oil, thymus extract, vitamin A, vinatmin B5, vitamin B6, vitamin C, vitamin E, quercetin
It may help to eat more foods that contain natural antihistamine or are known to reduce inflammation, as may be the case with several fruits and vegetables such as (but not limited to) the ones pictured above, as well as foods containing omega-3 fatty acids like fish oil for example.
Adding turmeric and curcumin to food is known to be helpful for some allergy sufferers.
Foods high in calcium (especially non-dairy), flavonoids (such as Quercetin) may help with both hay fever and asthma, though it can interact with some antibiotics and other medications – another example of why you should always consult a healthcare professional before changing your diet.
Magnesium is believed by some to be beneficial in the alleviation of hay fever and asthma, especially due to the fact that people suffering from asthma often have low magnesium levels.
Keep in mind that vegetables are considered to be more helpful than fruit as a source of added vitamin C, as fruits are high in sugar so over-eating can increase mucus formation.
Omega-3 fatty (found in fish, fish oils, flaxseed, krill oil, calamari oil) should be increased in proportion to Omega-6 fatty acids acids which are better for hay fever.
Basically, these two compete with each other for the same enzymes, so with the standard western diet containing as much as 30 times the amount of omega-6 compared to omega-3, often the omega-3 fats can struggle to do their job, and the chance of sickness may become greater.
Thus, any increase of omega-3 fatty acids will help even up the ratio and can thus be beneficial for hay fever sufferers, as proven in research on pro-inflammatory diseases including asthma.
What foods should I avoid?
Consumables to avoid
It’s not just food you need to be wary of, but indeed anything that you put into your body.
Adverse effects from other medications and supplements is another reason why you should involve a doctor in your hay fever strategy.
Might not be helpful
Apples*, bean sauce, bread, canned fish, cheese, chicken liver, chocolate, corn, cow’s milk, cream, eggplant (aubergine), egg white, ice cream, nuts, pickled herring, pineapple*, sauerkraut, spinach, smoked fish, soy sauce, strawberries*, tomatoes, wheat, Marmite/Promite/Vegemite
* though could be helpful for many individuals
Beer, cream, coffee, soft drinks, wine
Can you imagine trying to get through hay fever season without your early-morning double-strength latte? In a word – hard.
Well, you should know that caffeine puts stress on the adrenal glands which are already under stress from your hay fever, and it also reduces your ability to absorb nutrients from your food so cutting back could help.
More info on potentially unhelpful consumables
Gluten (wheat, oats, barley etc) and dairy foods should be reduced as they increases mucus, as does meat.
Omega-6 fatty acids (found in vegetable oils and some nuts and cereals) should be reduced in proportion to omega-3 fatty acids which are better for hay fever.
Basically, omega-6 and omega-3 compete for the same enzymes, so for the standard western diet with ratios as high as 30:1 the omega-6 level is so high that the omega-3 fats struggle to do their job, and the chance of sickness becomes greater.
Thus, any increase of omega-3 fatty acids will help even up this ratio and can thus be beneficial for hay fever sufferers, as has been shown in research on pro-inflammatory diseases including asthma.
What exactly is an allergy?
The term ‘allergy’ is used only for the most extreme reactions on the spectrum of hypersensitivity.
For example, if your sinuses become blocked a few hours after you eat cheese, you can’t really say you’re ‘allergic’ to cheese.
Correct would be to say your body is somewhat ‘intolerant’ of cheese, or that you are ‘hypersensitive’ to cheese.
How does the allergic hay fever reaction work?
The early stages
As we know, in a war there are innocent bystanders who are affected. Hay fever is no different.
The allergic reaction in hay fever gives rise to casualties in special cells called mast cells, an injured one of which will immediately release into the bloodstream a cocktail of inflammatory chemicals such as histamine, tryptase, chymase, kinins and heparin.
Before long, additional chemicals such as leukotrienes and prostaglandin D2 flood the bloodstream, interact with the earlier ones, and within minutes give rise to irritation, itching, swelling and leakage of fluid from the cells in the form of sneezing, a runny nose and watering eyes.
The latter stages
Within four to eight hours, the above-mentioned chemicals have worked hard to recruit further inflammatory substances, and this results in ongoing inflammation, often extending to wider-ranging mucous membranes.
The symptoms produced are similar to those of the early stage, except that there is less itching and sneezing and there is an increase in congestion and the creation of mucus.
The mixture of chemicals can even lead to muscle spasm, which causes tightening in the lungs and throat, as is experienced in asthma and laryngitis.
Fatigue, insomnia, irritability and a general feeling of malaise (feeling ‘out-of-sorts’) can arise from the late stage of reaction.
Accompanying these can be ultra-sensitivity to bright light (particularly sunlight) and loud noise, together with a lowered pain threshold.
This invariably has a negative impact on quality of life, at least for the duration of the symptoms.
Did you know: Up to 35% of the population can find themselves sneezing uncontrollably due to a sudden burst of sunlight? This phenomena known as PSR (the photic sneeze reflex) remains unexplained … though scientists have agreed on a detailed technical acronym for the condition that sufferers might prefer to use when describing their plight to an allergist – Autosomal-dominant Compelling Helio-Ophthalmic Outburst syndrome, or A.C.H.O.O. True story.
Additional environmental insults that can lead to or worsen hay fever with an allergic reaction of their own include bleach, cigarette smoke, dust mites, fungal spores, latex, mould, mushroom spores, nickel, perfume, vehicle pollution also called ‘petrochemical smog’.
Why am I worse at night?
First of all, night time is the worst time for pollen levels, so that could explain it.
Secondly, (and assuming we’re talking about sleep time as well) how old is your current pillow?
Experts report that over 50,000 dust mites live in the average pillow, and dust mites and their waste are extremely allergenic.
So it may not be the night as such, but your proximity to that old pillow you need to replace.
If it’s not the dust mites in your pillow, bedding or mattress, and your doctor and you have the medication situation under control, then it could be one of 5 other things:
- Your sleeping environment could contain dust and/or mould spores
- There may be a window open somewhere, allowing a night pollen invasion
- You might not be washing the pollen out of your hair before you go to sleep at night.
- There may be pet dander in the bedroom that’s adding to your hay fever symptoms.
1. Consider your sleeping environment
An ioniser like the Plasmacluster is highly recommended for the bedroom, as it will intercept and remove mould spores, bacteria, pollen, dust and dander from the air as you sleep.
It might be a great idea (while you’re changing your bedding and putting your mattress out in the sun to kill the dust mites) to vacuum under your bed regularly to keep dust levels down, and to wipe the walls near your bed with naturally fermented white vinegar to protect against mould spores, they often thrive in darkened wall areas due to the moisture-producing human sleeping close by night after night.
Indeed throughout the entire house and your workplace, you should go on a mould hunting spree. No harm done. Just make sure you protect yourself with a proper face mask and gloves, or better still have a mould removal specialist do it for you.
2. Be vigilant about the danger of night pollen
Keep in mind at all times that pollen is at its worst during the night, when the pollen from the day settles back down to earth as the temperature drops.
As hot as it may be, keep windows and vents closed after sundown if possible, ensuring that adequate cooling keeps you comfortable during the night.
3. Wash your hair, face and clothes straight away
Pollen sticks to your hair during the day, so you don’t want to spread it all over your pillow then try and sleep with it.
When your hay fever is bad it’s best to wash your hair as soon as possible after getting home, you don’t want your clothes the seeds for a sneezy night all over the place. Hit the shower!
Anyone with facial hair should make sure to wash their face twice a day and of course before bed time, and maybe consider being clean-shaven for the duration of pollen season.
4. Keep your distance from animals
Animal dander (dead skin flakes) is highly allergenic, and while you may be fine with Fluffy sleeping at the foot of your bed normally, during hay fever season she really should be kept outside the bedroom, along with all her excess hair and dander.
Pets are notorious for rolling around on the ground outside and innocently transporting copious amounts of pollen back indoors.
5. Aside from improving your medication, there may be nothing you can do about it
Another contributing factor in terms of waking up during the middle of the night with unexplainable suffering, is that your body is unable to sneeze when you are asleep.
As such your body and its immune response that rejects unwanted foreign particles from your nose in the form of sneezing is denied that opportunity while you’re asleep, so the other symptoms could become worse than normal as a result, hence your sleep is disturbed.
Certainly it pays to take great care in making the bedroom an extra clean, dust-free sealed enclosure that’s free from things like pollen, pets and dust mites.
Also, perhaps a decent nasal rinse with saline (salt water) before going to bed, using the best technique as advised by a healthcare professional is a good habit to start.
Indeed the right medication is vital, so get out of your comfort zone and go back to the doctor for that return visit so you can both exchange feedback and get on top of things.
Is hayfever contagious?
No. Certainly not.
Hay fever is not an infectious disease.