Dr Jess says: Most of us long for spring and summer, but for some of my patients this can be a miserable time of year. They develop symptoms such as itchy eyes, a runny or blocked nose, a sore throat, skin problems and in some cases, asthma. The time of year that these symptoms start can give an indication of what it is that is causing it.
I have homoeopathic remedies for symptoms on my desk from early spring and give these to my patients, who queue up for more the following year! I am also a big fan of diffusers and essential oils for relieving symptoms (see my recipes below). There are many excellent traditional Western and Chinese herbs for hay fever that a good herbalist can prescribe based on your symptoms, and functional medicine practitioners can work on the root causes, by supporting your immune system.
Hay fever is an allergic reaction to pollen, which affects one in five people at some point. Pollen – a powder that’s released by plants – comes in different forms: Tree pollen (most common in the spring), grass pollen (most common at the end of spring into summer), weed pollen (autumn), or plant and tree moulds. Some people are allergic to a mixture of these.
Pollen particles irritate the lining of the nose, eyes, skin and throat, and may aggravate asthma. When you are having an allergic reaction, the body’s immune system responds to pollen as though it is an invader (like a virus) and produces inflammatory chemicals that cause the symptoms.
Pollen counts can vary in response to weather conditions. Many weather apps on your phone can tell you the pollen count and air pollution levels for the day, so you can prepare for the days when those levels are high.
symptoms of hayfever include:
- A runny or blocked nose (this can lead to a loss of smell)
- Itchy mouth, throat or ears
- Itchy, red or watery eyes
- Cough (postnasal drip)
- Facial pain from the sinuses
- Tiredness and fatigue
- A worsening of asthma: A tight chest, shortness of breath, cough (asthma can be very serious, seek medical advice if displaying these symptoms).
If you feel like you may be suffering from hayfever, there are IgE Allergy Inhalant blood tests available, including home kits for you to identify what may be aggravating you.
what may I be allergic to?
Moulds: Mould allergies may be mistaken for hay fever. The most common mould sensitivities are Alternaria alternata, an allergy-causing fungus that lives on plants and in the soil that can cause nose, skin or asthma symptoms. This is most commonly seen in children and can occur anywhere between spring and autumn – counts are highest when it is dry. It has also been found on food, textiles, in sewage, cardboard, paper, and electrical cables.1
Aspergillus is another species of mould allergy that may be mistaken for hayfever. This commonly creates persistent nose, sinus and asthma symptoms, and mould spores can even live in the nose or sinuses. If symptoms are persisting all year round, a mould allergy should be considered, particularly as aspergillus is associated with dampness or mould in buildings. It may also be more likely in those with nasal polyps.2
If you are concerned about mould reactions, one of the most comprehensive tests is from Genova diagnostics.
Grasses: Grass allergy is the most common cause of hay fever, which usually comes on between May and July. The most common grass allergy is to Timothy grass, however, allergy to Cocksfoot, Bermuda grass, Johnson grass, June (Kentucky Blue) grass, Meadow Fescue, Meadow grass and Rye are also common.
There is a much higher likelihood of food allergies in those with grass pollen allergy.3
Tree pollens: Tree pollen is the second most common cause of hay fever and usually starts much earlier than grass pollen allergy – February to June. The most common allergy is to birch pollen, but can also include hazel, cypress, oak, maple or sycamore allergies.
One-third of patients with birch pollen allergies also have asthma, while half have food allergies to Rosaceae fruits eaten raw4– most commonly peach, apple and apricot (but may also include pear, plum and strawberry).
Weeds: Weed pollen allergy usually presents itself later in the summer and is most commonly a reaction to ragweed and mugwort from June to September. Other weeds that are common allergens include plantain and rough pigweed.
Dust mites: There is a strong crossover between dust mite allergy and hay fever. If you test positive for a dust allergy, then frequent hoovering using a vacuum with a HEPA filter, the removal of bedroom carpets and the regular hoovering of bedding, mattresses and pillows can help improve your symptoms. You can also buy anti-allergy mattress protectors, which can help minimise the appearance of dust mites.
jess’ top seven homeopathic remedies:
Mixed pollens and grasses 30c. In homeopathic theory, we often use remedies made from the substance that aggravates you, which have been put through the process of homoeopathic dilution (and therefore are no longer harmful) in order to desensitise you. It’s usually suggested to take this remedy once daily throughout the hayfever season, alongside the specific remedies below.
Allium cepa. For frequent sneezing, watery discharge from the nose (which can irritate the skin around the area), profusely watering, but not irritated eyes.
Apis mellifica. Good for children (or adults) with hayfever who quickly get very swollen and puffy round their eyes. Stinging eyes, relieved by cold compresses and a stuffy nose. (This remedy can also be great for animal allergies, Dr Jess’s daughter does very well on this remedy for a horse allergy)
Arsenicum album. For a burning discharge from the nose, or frequent, relentless sneezing with tickling in the nose. You may feel anxious and restless or panicky if afflicted or experience asthmatic chest symptoms which are worse around midnight.
Euphrasia officinalis. Use if the worst of the symptoms are eye symptoms, such as sneezing, with profuse irritating tears and red inflamed eyes. A bland discharge from the nose that doesn’t irritate (the opposite of the symptoms for using Allium cepa). Worse in open air and wind.
Natrum muriaticum. Use if experiencing a watery discharge from eyes and nose, (profuse from the nose), or an uncomfortable sensation of a worm in the nose. Tears burn the corners of the eyes. Headache on waking. Violent sneezing, cough with a tickling throat. Loss of smell and taste. May crave salt. Worse in the sun, better at the seaside.
Nux vomica. When experiencing paroxysms of sneezing, violent headaches. Irritable and hot. Itching extends down the throat. Blocked nose. Strong irritation and heat of eyes, nose and face. Sensitive to the cold.
Sabadilla. For those whose nasal symptoms are the worst. Violent sneezing, profuse watery discharge from the nose. The nose is stuffed up, and breathing can be difficult. Snoring, itching in the nose, nose bleeds, sinus pain in the face. Can be very sensitive to the smell of garlic.
It’s always worth consulting a qualified homoeopath to get the most appropriate prescription for your symptoms, however, selecting the remedy above with the best fit can be helpful for short-term relief. Take the remedy in doses of 6c or 30c, up to three times daily. If you are not sure which remedy is best, a useful general combination to try for common hay fever symptoms is Euphrasia, with Allium cepa and Sabadilla, which is available from Helios, the homoeopathic pharmacy in a dispenser. I also like this combination in 6x potency, up to five times daily as needed for symptoms.
use essential oils in a diffuser
My passion for essential oils has only increased with time and my experiences of using them, I have seen a lot of benefits, both for my patients and for my children. A plug-in diffuser is an excellent investment, especially if you have children, to help ease the symptoms of colds, hayfever and asthma. It’s one of the best ways to use essential oils.
There is an excellent selection of diffusers, including great eco and sustainable options from Madebyzen (I have had one of these for five years and still use it all the time). Absolute Aromas is a great supplier of essential oils, including many organic high-quality oils (quality is important with essential oils, as there are many over-diluted and poorly produced oils on the market).
Blue tansy – Tanacetum annuum. Traditionally used for irritability and agitation, anxiety, nervous tension, over-sensitivities and allergies, restlessness, itchy red skin rashes (hives) and headaches; all these symptoms are worse if stressed. It is traditionally used as a respiratory relaxant as a bronchodilator, is considered good for asthmatic conditions and is anti-inflammatory and anti-allergic. It has low toxicity (meaning it is reasonably safe, but seek advice if pregnant). Its antihistamine action likely comes from the sesquiterpenes and lactones that it contains.
German chamomile. This is very similar in traditional use to blue tansy above. Also traditionally a strong anti-inflammatory, good anti-allergic and antihistamine.5 Generally considered safe.
Helichrysum. This is historically considered to be good for anxiety, suppressed anger, anxiety, depression, sluggish energy and burnout,6 chronic headaches, allergies and skin conditions. People who need this may feel better with activity. Considered traditionally to be antiallergic, good for hayfever, anti-inflammatory, good for rhinitis (nose), otitis (ears), asthma and urticaria (hives). High in the anti-inflammatory and antihistamine, sesquiterpene curcumene.h
Siberian fir. For people with chest symptoms, traditionally used to aid breathing and as a bronchial relaxer for asthma. Traditionally good for apathy, low self-confidence, chronic cough and emotional burnout. It has been shown to have antifungal properties, so may be beneficial in treating mould allergies.7
Any or all of these can be used singly or in combination in a diffuser. Just one or two drops per day of each are needed. Dr Jess has found a stronger dose of twelve drops of lavender (avoid if pregnant), six drops of eucalyptus (avoid Eucalyptus globulus for children under two years old and instead try Eucalyptus radiata, which is gentler), three drops of tea tree oil and two drops of camphor in a large, fully-filled diffuser, used overnight is helpful to aid sleep, clear a stuffy nose and aid breathing (Jess also uses this combination for treating colds).
use a barrier balm
A simple, mechanical way to trap pollen particles and prevent them from getting to sensitive tissues like the inside of the nose, eyes and mouth is to put a layer of a hay fever barrier balm around the eyes, nose and mouth several times a day. An independent survey by Allergy UK saw 80% of sufferers found an improvement using Haymax barrier balm. Haymax has an excellent video to show how to apply it here – the key is regular application when going outdoors.
the best seven herbs for hayfever
Start using these herbs around seven weeks before hayfever season starts. Seek advice from a qualified medical herbalist if you have any medical conditions, are on medication or are pregnant or breastfeeding.
Boswellia serrata. Ayurvedic herbalists consider Boswellia as a herbal anti-inflammatory and often use it for arthritis. However, Boswellia has been shown to reduce inflammatory chemicals such as histamine and leukotriene (involved in hayfever) and in a clinical trial of asthma patients 70% of patients improved.8 It’s considered to be a very safe herb and can be taken as a tablet.
Butterbur (Petasites hybridus) – the most researched herb for hayfever, which may work by blocking leukotrienes (some of the inflammatory chemicals produced in hayfever) and is high in anti-inflammatory petasins. Trials show it can improve hay fever symptoms, quality of life and reduce inflammatory markers9,10,11 in just five days. Clinical trials have also found it to be a safe and effective treatment for migraine12 and asthma13. There is some concern over butterbur and pyrrolizidine alkaloids, so select a PA-free version.
Elderberry (Sambucus nigra). This is a traditionally used herb for hayfever. The flowers can be used in a tea or tincture, or the berries can be used to boost the immune system. See our elderberry syrup recipe here and learn about herbs to support your immune system.
Echinacea sp. Traditionally an immune-enhancing herb, echinacea has also been shown to be anti-inflammatory and act as a bronchodilator (open the airways), by reducing any present inflammatory chemicals14. There may be some crossover between ragweed allergy and echinacea, so use cautiously if allergic15.
Euphrasia Officinalis. A clinical trial has shown the benefit of euphrasia eye drops for conjunctivitis (eye inflammation)16 making this a good option for those suffering from eye symptoms with their hayfever. Euphrasia eye drops are safe, well-tolerated and widely available. Euphrasia can also be taken as a tincture, to help all upper respiratory symptoms of hayfever.
Guduchi (Tinospora cordifolia). An Ayurvedic herb, considered to be traditionally immune-boosting, anti-inflammatory and good for hayfever and skin conditions. It is also known as the ‘divine nectar’ and is considered to be an immensely healing herb. Early research seems to confirm its anti-inflammatory and immune-supporting properties and it shows promise for supporting diabetes17.
Nettle (Urtica dioica). Nettle leaf can be drunk as a tea and is considered to be very safe. It’s traditionally used for urticaria (hives) and burning conditions. Two randomised controlled studies of between 70 and 90 people showed an improvement in symptoms and inflammatory markers of hayfever when taking nettle18,19.
The most commonly prescribed traditional Chinese herbs for hayfever are Cang Er Zi (Xanthium fruit), Huang Qi (Astragalus), Bai Zhi (angelica root), Fang Feng (ledebouriella root), Bo He (peppermint), Xin Yi Hua (Magnolia flower) and Huang Qin (Scutellaria baicalensis), which have shown anti-allergic properties.20 Chinese herbs are best prescribed by a qualified practitioner and are usually given in combination, depending on your symptoms. Yin Qiao San combination as tablets are the most commonly prescribed formula for hayfever in Dr Jess’s practice and she finds them extremely effective for symptoms.
support your immune system
Visit our immune system & infection toolkit and consider:
Probiotics. Supporting the gut microbiome (gut bacteria and microorganisms) is one of the best ways to improve the health of our immune system, as over 70% of the immune system is in our gut. Fermented foods and probiotics like kefir are an excellent way to improve the health of our microbiome and help our immunity. A double-blind trial of 173 hayfever sufferers showed that taking daily probiotics improved symptoms and quality of life during hay fever season.21.
Vitamin D. Vitamin D plays a large role in immune function and levels are shown to be low in many allergic diseases, including allergic rhinitis.22 Take a good quality vitamin D supplement if you suspect your levels are low and read more about Vitamin D.
Zinc. Studies show that as zinc levels decrease, allergic reaction markers in the blood increase.23 Zinc is critical for the immune system and is likely to be beneficial for hay fever.
Vitamin C. There is a limited amount of evidence for the benefit of vitamin C, however, a small study of patients with allergic rhinitis showed they had better lung function after 2g doses of vitamin C.24 As a powerful antioxidant and immune-supporting vitamin, eat vegetables and fruit that are rich in vitamin C, to support your hayfever.
MSM. Methylsulfonylmethane, a natural compound in food, including vegetables, meat and dairy, has been shown to help hayfever symptoms and energy levels in a study of 55 people taking 2.6g for 30 days.25
Quercetin. A natural antioxidant found in broccoli, apples and berries, herbs and high-quality tea, which can also be taken as a supplement. It has known anti-inflammatory and anti-allergy properties and can inhibit histamine and inflammatory chemicals that create the symptoms of hay fever.26 A study of a supplement combination of quercetin, butterbur and vitamin D showed a 70% improvement in hay fever, when taken through the season.27 Other quercetin-related plant flavonoids have been shown to reduce ear symptoms of tree pollen allergy.28
Consider excluding wheat. A blood test study showed that 60% of children with grass pollen hay fever also had a sensitisation to wheat.29 Therefore, it may be beneficial to exclude wheat from the diet for four weeks, to see if there is an improvement in symptoms. Read more about wheat-related issues here.
- Daniel L. Hamilos Allergic Fungal Rhinitis and Rhinosinusitis | Proceedings of the American Thoracic Society
- Domínguez-Ortega J, Quirce S, Delgado J, Dávila I, Martí-Guadaño E, Valero A. Diagnostic and therapeutic approaches in respiratory allergy are different depending on the profile of aeroallergen sensitisation Allergol Immunopathol (Madr). 2014 Jan-Feb;42(1):11-8. doi: 10.1016/j.aller.2012.08.004. Epub 2012 Dec 21. PMID: 23265263.
- Lavaud F, Fore M, Fontaine JF, Pérotin JM, de Blay F. [Birch pollen allergy] Rev Mal Respir. 2014 Feb;31(2):150-61. French. doi: 10.1016/j.rmr.2013.08.006. Epub 2013 Nov 9. PMID: 24602682.
- Chandrashekhar VM, Halagali KS, Nidavani RB, Shalavadi MH, Biradar BS, Biswas D, Muchchandi IS. Anti-allergic activity of German chamomile (Matricaria recutita L.) in mast cell mediated allergy model J Ethnopharmacol. 2011 Sep 1;137(1):336-40. doi: 10.1016/j.jep.2011.05.029. Epub 2011 May 31. PMID: 21651969.
- Varney E, Buckle J. Effect of inhaled essential oils on mental exhaustion and moderate burnout: a small pilot study J Altern Complement Med. 2013 Jan;19(1):69-71. doi: 10.1089/acm.2012.0089. Epub 2012 Nov 9. PMID: 23140115.
- Ajupova R, Masteiková R, Nejezchlebová M, Zemlička M, Bernatoniene J, Vetchý D. [Preparation and evaluation of the oral gel containing the essential oil from Siberian fir (Abies sibirica Ledeb.)] Ceska Slov Farm. 2014 Jun;63(3):113-9. Czech. PMID: 25115663.
- Gupta I, Gupta V, Parihar A, Gupta S, Lüdtke R, Safayhi H, Ammon HP. Effects of Boswellia serrata gum resin in patients with bronchial asthma: results of a double-blind, placebo-controlled, 6-week clinical study Eur J Med Res. 1998 Nov 17;3(11):511-4. PMID: 9810030.
- Thomet OA, Schapowal A, Heinisch IV, Wiesmann UN, Simon HU..Anti-inflammatory activity of an extract of Petasites hybridus in allergic rhinitis Int Immunopharmacol. 2002 Jun;2(7):997-1006. doi: 10.1016/s1567-5769(02)00046-2. PMID: 12188041
- Lee DK, Gray RD, Robb FM, Fujihara S, Lipworth BJ. A placebo-controlled evaluation of butterbur and fexofenadine on objective and subjective outcomes in perennial allergic rhinitis Clin Exp Allergy. 2004 Apr;34(4):646-9. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2222.2004.1903.x. PMID: 15080820.
- Schapowal A; Petasites Study Group. Randomised controlled trial of butterbur and cetirizine for treating seasonal allergic rhinitis BMJ. 2002 Jan 19;324(7330):144-6. doi: 10.1136/bmj.324.7330.144. PMID: 11799030; PMCID: PMC64514.
- Lipton RB, Göbel H, Einhäupl KM, Wilks K, Mauskop A. Petasites hybridus root (butterbur) is an effective preventive treatment for migraine Neurology. 2004 Dec 28;63(12):2240-4. doi: 10.1212/01.wnl.0000147290.68260.11. PMID: 15623680.
- Danesch UC. Petasites hybridus (Butterbur root) extract in the treatment of asthma–an open trial Altern Med Rev. 2004 Mar;9(1):54-62. PMID: 15005644.
- Šutovská M, Capek P, Kazimierová I, Pappová L, Jošková M, Matulová M, Fraňová S, Pawlaczyk I, Gancarz R. Echinacea complex–chemical view and anti-asthmatic profile 2015 Dec 4;175:163-71. doi: 10.1016/j.jep.2015.09.007. Epub 2015 Sep 11. PMID: 26364938.
- Don’t take echinacea if you’re allergic to ragweed Consum Rep. 2012 Feb;77(2):12. PMID: 22368799.
- Stoss M, Michels C, Peter E, Beutke R, Gorter RW. Prospective cohort trial of Euphrasia single-dose eye drops in conjunctivitis J Altern Complement Med. 2000 Dec;6(6):499-508. doi: 10.1089/acm.2000.6.499. PMID: 11152054.
- Ahmad W, Jantan I, Bukhari SN. Tinospora crispa (L.) Hook. f. & Thomson: A Review of Its Ethnobotanical, Phytochemical, and Pharmacological Aspects Front Pharmacol. 2016 Mar 21;7:59. doi: 10.3389/fphar.2016.00059. PMID: 27047378; PMCID: PMC4800188.
- Mittman P. Randomized, double-blind study of freeze-dried Urtica dioica in the treatment of allergic rhinitis. Planta Med. 1990 Feb;56(1):44-7. doi: 10.1055/s-2006-960881. PMID: 2192379.
- Bakhshaee M, Mohammad Pour AH, Esmaeili M, et al. Efficacy of Supportive Therapy of Allergic Rhinitis by Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica) root extract: a Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo- Controlled, Clinical Trial Iran J Pharm Res. 2017;16(Suppl):112-118.
- Jung HS, Kim MH, Gwak NG, Im YS, Lee KY, Sohn Y, Choi H, Yang WM. Antiallergic effects of Scutellaria baicalensis on inflammation in vivo and in vitro J Ethnopharmacol. 2012 May 7;141(1):345-9. doi: 10.1016/j.jep.2012.02.044. Epub 2012 Mar 3. PMID: 22414480.
- Jennifer C Dennis-Wall, Tyler Culpepper, Carmelo Nieves, Jr., Cassie C Rowe, Alyssa M Burns, Carley T Rusch, Ashton Federico, Maria Ukhanova, Sheldon Waugh, Volker Mai, Mary C Christman, Bobbi Langkamp-Henken. Probiotics (Lactobacillus gasseri KS-13, Bifidobacterium bifidum G9-1, and Bifidobacterium longum MM-2) improve rhinoconjunctivitis-specific quality of life in individuals with seasonal allergies: a double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized trial The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 105, Issue 3, March 2017, Pages 758–767.
- Tian HQ, Cheng L. The role of vitamin D in allergic rhinitis Asia Pac Allergy. 2017;7(2):65-73. doi:10.5415/apallergy.2017.7.2.65
- Seo HM, Kim YH, Lee JH, Kim JS, Park YM, Lee JY. Serum Zinc Status and Its Association with Allergic Sensitization: The Fifth Korea National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey Sci Rep. 2017;7(1):12637. Published 2017 Oct 3. doi:10.1038/s41598-017-13068-x
- Bucca C, Rolla G, Oliva A, Farina JC. Effect of vitamin C on histamine bronchial responsiveness of patients with allergic rhinitis Ann Allergy. 1990 Oct;65(4):311-4. PMID: 2221490.
- Barrager E, Veltmann JR Jr, Schauss AG, Schiller RN..A multicentered, open-label trial on the safety and efficacy of methylsulfonylmethane in the treatment of seasonal allergic rhinitis J Altern Complement Med. 2002 Apr;8(2):167-73. doi: 10.1089/107555302317371451. PMID: 12006124
- Mlcek J, Jurikova T, Skrovankova S, Sochor J. Quercetin and Its Anti-Allergic Immune Response Molecules. 2016 May 12;21(5):623. doi: 10.3390/molecules21050623. PMID: 27187333; PMCID: PMC6273625.
- Ariano R. Efficacy of a novel food supplement in the relief of the signs and symptoms of seasonal allergic rhinitis and in the reduction of the consumption of anti-allergic drugs Acta Biomed. 2015 Apr 27;86(1):53-8. PMID: 25948028.
- Kawai M, Hirano T, Arimitsu J, Higa S, Kuwahara Y, Hagihara K, Shima Y, Narazaki M, Ogata A, Koyanagi M, Kai T, Shimizu R, Moriwaki M, Suzuki Y, Ogino S, Kawase I, Tanaka T. Effect of enzymatically modified isoquercitrin, a flavonoid, on symptoms of Japanese cedar pollinosis: a randomized double-blind placebo-controlled trial Int Arch Allergy Immunol. 2009;149(4):359-68. doi: 10.1159/000205582. Epub 2009 Mar 17. PMID: 19295240.
- Nilsson N, Nilsson C, Ekoff H, Wieser-Pahr S, Borres MP, Valenta R, Hedlin G, Sjölander S. Grass-Allergic Children Frequently Show Asymptomatic Low-Level IgE Co-Sensitization and Cross-Reactivity to Wheat Int Arch Allergy Immunol. 2018;177(2):135-144. doi: 10.1159/000489610. Epub 2018 Jun 12. PMID: 29894999.