The immune system is the body’s defence to provide protection from infections. When a virus or bacteria enters the body, the immune system employs a range of defences to fight off the infection. Swelling, redness and fever are all signs that the body’s immune system is working well as it battles against the external organism.
In allergy, however, the immune system has become hypersensitive, and over-reacts to what should be a harmless substance, such as food, dust or pollen, and thus sends white blood cells, known as lymphocytes, to create antibodies to fight what is mistaken to be an invader, or allergen. One type of Lymphocyte, known as a B cell, memorises the allergen so that it is able to create antibodies if the allergen should return. This process is called sensitization, causing the sufferer to react to the particular allergen whenever they come into contact with it.The antibody that is frequently created is IgE – immunoglobulin E, which attaches itself to mast cells in the skin, nose, mouth, throat, and gastrointestinal tract, and the white cells in the blood stream. When the allergen is experienced again, the IgE activates the mast cells and triggers the release of chemicals, including histamine, which leads to symptoms like sneezing, sore and runny eyes, rashes, tingling, vomiting or diarrhoea, depending on the type of allergy.
In hayfever, or allergic rhinitis, the allergen is pollens, and as this is inhaled the immune system activates mast cells to release histamine, which leads to the typical response of sneezing and running nose and sore eyes. Where air quality is reduced due to pollution and fumes, hayfever can be particularly severe.
It is easy to see that it is important to encourage the health of the immune system in order to minimise the risk and reduce the severity of experiencing hayfever. Many modern day influences might impact the immune system including air pollution, stress, chemicals, insufficient nutrients, a high-sugar diet and unbalanced gut ecology. Back in May I commented on the way in which a yeast overgrowth might impact the immune system, so working to support gut ecology is always a good place to start. There are also nutrients which are reputed to have natural ‘anti-histamine’ properties, so these may well be helpful in dealing with hayfever symptoms. You may like to consider requesting a nutritional consultation for more specific advice on these things.
Another factor which may be helpful is to make a simple dietary change as reported by Dr John Briffa:
I was away for the weekend on a walking trip with a couple of good friends. The proprietor of one of the guesthouses where we stayed knew that two of us were doctors, and at breakfast asked for some friendly medical advice. It was about the medication he was taking for his quite-severe hay fever. Once that was done, my doctor friend asked what might be done for hay fever from a nutritional perspective.
I explained that one strategy I find quite useful here is to eliminate dairy products from the diet. Some people are sensitive to dairy products in a way that can cause mucus and congestion around the nose and throat. There is a thought that even if this is not obvious, for some people dairy products can ‘sensitise’ the tissues around the nose and eyes and make them more susceptible to, say, pollen, house dust mites or animal dander.
Individuals who are sensitive to dairy often had signs suggestive of this in childhood. My experience is that ear, nose and throat issues are often rooted in dairy sensitivity. I asked about this, and our proprietor told me he’d had his tonsils removed as a child. He also said that he drinks a lot of milk. He asked how long it would be before he would know if removing dairy was helping him. I told him people will usually know within a week.
Today, I got an email from the proprietor telling me that he had eliminated all dairy products from his diet yesterday, and today his eyes are not itching and his nose is “totally clear”. He has halved is medication and plans to stop it altogether at the weekend.
Of course, the resolution of his symptoms may not be due to his cutting out of dairy products. Some may argue it is just a fantastic placebo response. However, should this be the case, I don’t think he’ll mind (and neither do I).
However, if this improvement really is because he stopped dairy products (as I suspect), then it does not surprise me. I find that elimination of dairy products brings dramatic improvement in hay fever symptoms in about half of people who try it.