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Hay fever

Itchy, watery eyes? Constantly sneezing? It's that time of year again. And while we welcome the longer days and more sunshine, spring also brings with it a fair bit of suffering for those who experience hay fever. It might surprise you to know that changing what you eat can have a big impact on the severity of your allergy symptoms.

According to Allergy UK, as many as 30% of adults and 40% of children suffer from allergic rhinitis (the medical term for the condition), an allergic reaction to pollen. You might start noticing symptoms in March when the tree pollen season starts. Then there’s the grass pollen season, followed by the weed pollen season, which can go on into September!

Some of the symptoms you may experience if you are suffering from hay fever include: itchy, red or watery eyes; runny or blocked nose; sneezing and coughing; itchy throat, mouth, nose and ears; loss of smell; earache; headache; and feeling exhausted.

There are some foods that can make the symptoms of hay fever worse, so try to cut these out or reduce them as much as you can during hay fever season. Other foods are naturally anti-inflammatory, so you’ll want to ensure you’re getting plenty of these in your diet.

Foods containing high levels of histamine can intensify symptoms. These include chocolate (sorry!), tomatoes, aubergines and many fermented foods like vinegar, sauerkraut, yoghurt, miso, soy sauce, and canned fish.

There are also foods that, while they are not high in histamine themselves, are ‘histamine liberators’ and can trigger your cells to release histamine. These include strawberries, pineapple, bananas, citrus fruits and egg whites.

Foods containing wheat – like bread, pasta and pastries – can also be problematic for people with grass pollen allergies.

Dairy products like milk and cheese may stimulate the body to produce more mucus, making blocked noses or ears much worse. Matured cheeses also tend to contain high levels of histamine. And sugar, which causes your body to produce more histamine, can further exacerbate your symptoms.

Foods to add in or increase

Some foods are rich in natural anti-histamine properties, and may help to disrupt or block histamine receptors, therefore reducing allergy symptoms. These include foods that contain the plant chemicals quercetin and beta carotene, and those that are high in vitamin C (see below).

Local honey may also be helpful because, although it contains trace elements of pollen, over time it may help your body to become more familiar with the pollen entering your system and may therefore reduce the inflammatory response.

Foods rich in Quercetin

Onions, garlic, goji berries, asparagus, all berries, apples, kale, okra, peppers, plums and red grapes.

Foods rich in Beta-carotene

Sweet potato, carrots, butternut squash, red and yellow peppers, apricots, peas, broccoli, dark leafy greens like kale, and romaine lettuce.

Foods rich in Vitamin C

Blackcurrants, blueberries, peppers, kale, collard leaves, broccoli, kiwis, mango, courgettes, and cauliflower.

What to drink

Drink plenty of water. Keeping well hydrated is helpful for all aspects of health. In the case of hay fever, it helps to thin the mucous membranes and may help to that ‘blocked up’ feeling.

Green tea is packed full of antioxidants, which are helpful for the immune system generally. It has also been proven to block one of the receptors involved in immune responses.

Ginger tea has been shown to help reduce allergic reactions by lowering your body’s IgE levels (the antibody involved in the specific immune reaction associated with hay fever).

Peppermint tea is also worth trying because peppermint contains menthol, a natural decongestant that may help improve sinus symptoms.

Add nettle tea to your shopping list for its ability to relieve inflammation of the upper respiratory tract and ease nasal congestion, sneezing and itching.

An anti-inflammatory approach

Hay fever is an inflammatory condition and may be further helped by including other types of food that calm the inflammatory response. Top of the list are foods containing anti-inflammatory omega 3 fatty acids, which I often recommend to clients struggling with any inflammatory condition. These include all types of oily fish (like salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines and herring) as well as flaxseed and walnuts.

As well as adding flavour to your food, herbs like parsley, sage, thyme, oregano and basil have anti-inflammatory properties as do many spices, including turmeric, ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, clove, fennel and nutmeg.

If you are struggling with symptoms, please feel free to arrange a complimentary call with me to discuss your concerns. I can be reached via email at

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