Hayfever is one of many modern epidemics, or what I call ‘21st-century plagues’ – it was rare or unknown before the Industrial Revolution. Its spread is to do with our environment, our nutrition, and the way we live. Like many other illnesses today, hayfever is potentially preventable.
The first description of it in the UK medical literature was in 1819, in a paper presented by Dr John Bostock (1772–1846) to the Medical and Chirugical (surgical) Society. In Japan, where the Industrial Revolution occurred about 100 years later than in Britain, hayfever also appeared about 100 years later. But in Japan people developed allergic reactions to the pollen of Japanese trees, in particular the cedar tree. In the UK, similarly, people become allergic to the pollen of their local grasses or trees, though different people get ill at different parts of the hayfever season, depending on when their particular ‘demon pollen’ is most plentiful in the air.
What’s happening here is that particles of air pollution, primarily from vehicle exhaust fumes, are somehow causing people to have violent allergic reactions to an essentially harmless biological material that has been part of our natural environment forever: plant pollen.
This is an example of the phenomenon that Dr Claudia Miller of the University of Texas has called ‘TILT’ – toxicant-induced loss of tolerance. In other words, inherently toxic substances (in this case car fumes) are causing the body to react to an inherently harmless substance (in this case pollen) as though it were dangerous. This phenomenon is a big contributor to the rise of allergies in general, not just hayfever.
So, what to do? While moving out of town to a less polluted area isn’t a practical or immediate solution for most of us, there are other things we can do.
The lungs (and skin and immune system) are profoundly affected by the state of the gut, and the gut is often a good place to start with treating hay fever. Cut out sugar, cut out dairy products for the duration of the hayfever season, and generally follow the advice on ‘spring cleaning your gut not your house’ in the spring chapter of my book.
Quercetin is a very useful natural anti-histamine, a plant product. Vitamin C helps some people too, as does zinc. And of course, Vitamin D, if you have not been taking it throughout the winter. Many herbal remedies help with hayfever, and with allergic rhinitis in general (of which hayfever is just one particular example); chamomile, ginger, lime flower, and eyebright are but four.
Local honey makes a big difference to some sufferers, but it does have to be local, so the bees are feeding off the same plants whose pollen is affecting you.
Avoidance of air pollution is the best solution, where possible, but it doesn’t work instantly. Remember, it is the exposure to pollutants that has over-sensitised you to pollen, and that over-sensitisation doesn’t vanish overnight. It may take two or three seasons away from traffic fumes (or mostly away from them) to make a difference.
Lastly, it’s important to understand that allergies such as hayfever may behave differently in different people, so resolving hay fever may require an individual approach too. It’s sometimes best to see an expert, such as a herbalist or a nutritional practitioner.
Dr Jenny Goodman is an ecological medicine doctor and author of ‘Staying Alive in Toxic Times: A Seasonal Guide To Life-long Health’ (Yellow Kite). Available in paperback from all good bookstores. Visit
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