Allergic rhinitis

The hay fever season is upon us. Allergic rhinitis, to give it its proper name, can happen at any time of the year, but ‘hay fever’ is primarily a reaction to grass pollen. Itchy eyes, runny nose, sneezing, headache – and sometimes it can involve fever as well.
In an allergic reaction, the body reacts against harmless things like pollen, fungal spores, house dust, animal dander and so on, as though they were pathogens. The symptoms are not caused by the pollen itself, but by your body’s defence mechanisms. We don’t know why some people’s immune systems are so much more prone to doing this; or rather, there are many different factors that may be at play. A family tendency is one of them, but sometimes this may not be activated until later in life, when something like a shock or a respiratory infection may trigger it into action.
What we do know is that it’s a response evolved to help us cope with parasites. In past times, when various parasites – from fleas and lice to worms, flukes and other internal passengers – were an everyday part of life, those people whose systems were better at dealing with them stood a better chance of survival. Nowadays, in the ‘clean’ environment most of the western world lives in, this response has no parasites to work with, and so sometimes it starts to react to the wrong stimuli. Hence the misery of hay fever, just when the weather is warming up.
The good news is that although some inflammatory responses can be hard to quell, hay fever usually responds very well to herbs. Many of our best remedies grow close at hand, like nettles, ribwort, eyebright and yarrow. Others are more exotic, like Ma Huang from China (restricted to practitioner use only). But they do work, though sometimes it takes a little while to get the allergic response to calm down to the point where it’s no longer automatic. Herbs don’t make you drowsy and they do have other benefits too. It’s always worth a try.

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