Medication, food and drink in the context of hayfever.

There’s no cure for hayfever, the disease needs to be managed.

The best way to “beat” it is to reduce and prevent your suffering with a combined approach.

A rigid “anti-medical” mindset is probably not the best strategy … nor would it be wise to leave all your hayfever treatment duties to medication alone.

Important

Your medical history (including other allergies) and past/present medications can have serious health implications. Always seek medical advice, and use medication only as directed.

Hayfever Drugs

Here are the most common hayfever medications, presented in order of speed-of-relief…

Fast relief

Decongestants
These come in two forms:

Topical which means ‘onto surface’ such as decongestant nasal sprays,

Systemic which means ‘acting from inside the body system’ such as decongestant tablets.

Relief from congestion or blocked nose can commence in under 1 minute (with a decongestant spray), and decongestant relief can last for a few hours.

However, continued use of a topical decongestant for two or three days may cause a decrease in effectiveness, called tachyphylaxis, and after 5-7 days of use what may result is called rhinitis medicamentosa, also known as ‘rebound congestion’.

This means the swelling of your nasal passages could ‘rebound’ back to its previous state, possibly becoming even more blocked than before the use of the decongestant.

So you can imagine someone increasing the number of sprays to clear their nose, which in turn keeps returning the nose to a worse condition, and you have a rather unhappy hayfever sufferer.

If used correctly on the first day of someone’s hayfever suffering for example, a topical decongestant can bring welcome relief on that day as the person waits for other medication to start working.

Antihistamine Eye Drops
Known for their rapid onset of action (around 3 minutes) antihistamine eye drops can bring 8-10 hours of welcome relief from seasonal allergic conjunctivitis symptoms like itching, runny and red eyes in adults and children.

Possible side-effects from antihistamine eye drops include eye irritation / burning / stinging, and a brief bitter taste.

For more information on all things ocular see our section on Eye Drops & Nasal Rinses here.

Antihistamine Nasal Sprays
Antihistamine direct to the nose is still relatively unknown on the hayfever 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 hayfever symptoms, also has anti-inflammatory properties and provides a decongestant effect1.

Australian guidelines for Azep recommend one spray per nostril twice daily, and it is suitable for adults and children 5 years and over.

The most common side-effects of antihistamine sprays are headache, nasal complications and a brief bitter taste.

Important

Always consult a doctor or local pharmacy about dosage levels before using any medication. If symptoms persist do not increase dosage beyond recommended limits, seek further medical advice.

Oral Antihistamines

Antihistamines are also available in tablet or syrup form. Relief from hayfever symptoms usually commences within a few hours and can last up to 24 hours from when the tablet was first ingested.

Although they appear similar, keep in mind that the different types of antihistamine tablets, like all antihistamine medications, are quite different from each other.

Fexofenadine tablets for example are not to be taken with fruit juice as this will reduce absorption, as will antacids containing magnesium.

The possible side effects across the most common antihistamine tablets (including cetirizine2, fexofenadine3, loratadine4) include headache, nausea, dizziness, drowsiness, sleepiness, nervousness, nightmares, frequent coughing, dryness of the mouth/nose/throat, urinary retention, blurred vision and gastrointestinal disturbances.

Some oral antihistamines come with pseudoephedrine5 as a decongestant, which has the advantage of not causing rebound congestion like topical decongestants.

However, due to pseudoephedrine being a stimulant, additional side effects may occur including hypertension, sweating, insomnia and anxiety.

Long-term Relief

Corticosteroid Nasal Sprays
This treatment is for the more severe hayfever 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 corticosteroids6, 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 hayfever medications, though only in line with medical advice from your doctor or pharmacist as always.

For more information on medication see our section on Nasal Sprays & Tablets here.

Immunotherapy

Allergen immunotherapy is an attempt to deactivate the cause of hayfever from within.

This relatively rare treatment is for the most serious of hayfever sufferers whose quality of life is dramatically affected by their hayfever, and standard medications are proving ineffective.

It can be in the form of drops placed under the tongue.

Over a period of 2 to 3 years, tiny amounts of allergen extracts are injected on a regular basis – usually once per week in the beginning..

Results are not guaranteed, and it can take up to six months before any improvement in symptoms results from treatment.

The most common side-effect is injection site swelling. Anaphylaxis is also a possibility, hence why patients remain at the medical establishment for up to an hour after receiving injections, and are instructed to not exercise for several hours.

For more information on injections and immunity we have a dedicated section about Injections & Immunity

Hayfever Diet

Important

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.

You may be hypersensitive (or even worse, allergic) to some foods so always consult your doctor and nutritionist before changing your diet, and before trying any new food, drinks or supplements.

For example; people allergic to birch pollen can have cross-allergic reactions to apples and other fruit. It pays to get tested and know which pollens and allergens you are allergic to before committing to a diet or following any suggestions from the internet.

For example; people who are sensitised to natural latex found in rubber gloves etc should be cautious about bananas and kiwi fruit. There are countless examples, all reasons why you should be allergy tested and only rely ultimately on medical advice.

NOTE: Some foods (marked with *) appear on both lists – they can be either helpful or not helpful depending on the individual in rare cases.

MIGHT BE HELPFUL

Foodstuffs
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.

Beverages

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

Hayfever Smoothie Suggestion; 

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!

Supplements

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

Herbs & Oils

More info on potentially helpful consumables
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 curcumin7 to food is known to be helpful for some allergy sufferers.

Foods high in calcium  (especially non-dairy), flavonoids (such as Quercetin8) may help with both hayfever 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 hayfever 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 oil9) should be increased in proportion to  Omega-6 fatty acids acids which are better for hayfever.

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 hayfever sufferers, as seen in research on pro-inflammatory diseases including asthma10.

MIGHT NOT BE HELPFUL

Foodstuffs
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

Beverages
Beer, cream, coffee, soft drinks, wine

Can you imagine trying to get through hayfever 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 hayfever, 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 increase 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 hayfever.

Important

Adverse effects from other medications and supplements is another reason why you should involve a doctor in your hayfever strategy. Some medications may trigger adverse reactions in hayfever sufferers.

Sources:

  1. AZEP Nasal spray Australian product information. MEDA Pharmaceuticals, January 2014.
  2. Cetirizine, Zyrtec Australian product information. UCB Pharma, February 2006. Accessed at https://gp2u.com.au/static/pdf/Z/ZYRTEC-PI.pdf, July 2014.
  3. Fexofenadine, Telfast Australian product information. Sanofi, July 2010. Accessed at http://products.sanofi.com.au/aus_pi_telfast.pdf, July 2014.
  4. Loratadine, Claratyne Australian product information. Merck Sharp and Dohme, April 2014. Accessed at http://secure.healthlinks.net.au/content/msd/pi.cfm?product=mkpclard, August 2014.
  5. Wikipedia. Pseudoephedrine. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pseudoephedrine, July 2014.
  6. Wikipedia. Corticosteroid. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corticosteroid, accessed July 2014.
  7. Body + Soul. Beat hayfever naturally, . http://www.bodyandsoul.com.au/health/natural+health/beat+hayfever+naturally,6681, accessed July 2014.
  8. Wikipedia. Quercetin. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quercetin, accessed July 2014.
  9. Wikipedia. Omega 3 Fatty Acid. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Omega-3_fatty_acid#Dietary_sources, accessed July 2014.
  10. Simopoulos AP. The importance of the ratio of omega-6/omega-3 essential fatty acids. Biomed Pharmacother. 2002; 56; 365-79.