Do you suffer from itchy eyes, runny nose, sneezing and sinus headaches? You may have a common condition known as seasonal rhinitis, or hay fever. Hay fever is caused by allergens such as pollen, dust and pet dander, and affects as many as 1 in 5 people.
Conventional treatment for hay fever includes both over-the-counter and prescription anti-histamines. These medicines help block the allergic reaction by the body, but also can have unwanted side effects such as drowsiness. Fortunately, there are a number of natural hay fever remedies which also help treat seasonal rhinitis without the negative effects.
The first line of defense in combating hay fever is to strengthen the body’s natural defenses. One way to do that is to keep the upper respiratory tract clean.
An ancient technique for doing just that is a yogic cleansing practice called jalaneti – known in western terms as nasal irrigation or nasal lavage.
Using a neti pot, which resembles a small teapot, a mild saline solution is introduced into each of the nostrils to flush out excess mucous and debris.
You will want to do this over a sink to allow the waste and fluid to pour out the opposite side. To flush the right nostril, tilt the head to the left and pour the solution into the right nostril, allowing it to drain out of the left nostril. Quickly “blow” out any excess, and then repeat on the opposite side.
During allergy season, or whenever symptoms are present it is best to do this at least once per day. Research by the University of Wisconsin shows that nasal irrigation is an effective tool in both treating and preventing hay fever.
Breathing Exercises for Hay Fever
Some yogic breathing practices may also help strengthen and cleanse the respiratory tract. One such exercise, called Kapalabhati, is also referred to as the “cleansing breath”. It is practiced by forcefully expelling all the air from the lungs, much as in the same way as when you blow your nose. Then quickly inhale through both nostrils. Keep breathing short, quick, full breaths in this manner for 20 to 30 expulsions, then rest and repeat 1 or 2 more times.
Another breathing exercise which helps to clear the nasal passages and keep air flowing freely is a technique called “alternate nostril breathing”. Begin by pressing the right thumb on the outside of the right nostril. Exhale all the air through the opposite side. Next, inhale deeply through the same side. Pinch the nostrils shut and hold the breath for several seconds. Then, release the thumb only, and exhale through the right nostril. This is one round, or set. Repeat for 4 or 5 sets, once or twice a day.
Herbs for Hay Fever
When you think of natural remedies, you no doubt will think of herbs. Herbs are nature’s medicine, and treating hay fever is no exception. Some herbs to try include stinging nettle, cat’s claw and goldenseal.
Stinging nettle is a wild flower native to Europe and Asia. Some consider it a weed, but it also has powerful medicinal properties. Herbalists use nettle to treat a variety of conditions, including arthritis, muscle pain, high blood pressure and seasonal rhinitis. It can be found in liquid extract and capsule form. The recommended dose is 2 to 5 mL, or 2 to 4 gm, up to 3 times per day.
Cat’s claw, also known as uno de gato, is a South American remedy for dysentery. Herbalists use it to treat inflammatory problems such as arthritis, ulcers and fevers. The Mayo clinic also recommends cat’s claw to treat hay fever. It is also found in capsule or liquid extract form. The recommended dose is 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoonful, 2 to 3 times daily, or 250 to 350 mg per day.
Goldenseal is not to be confused with goldenrod, which is sometimes related to seasonal rhinitis. It is actually a wildflower native to North America and has been used to treat symptoms of hay fever for centuries. It helps to strengthen the immune system and supports the body’s natural defenses. The typical dose is 500 to 1,000 mg, up to 3 times per day.
Prevention from Hay Fever
It has been said that prevention is the best medicine. That may also apply to hay fever. If your condition is related to pollen, be sure to stay indoors during the morning hours, when pollen counts are highest. Also, consider using an air filter for your home. If your symptoms are related to dust or pet dander, make sure you keep carpets and bedding clean. Wash your pets regularly, and keep them off of furniture if possible.
- University of Wisconsin, Dept. of Family Medicine – Nasal Irrigation: http://www.fammed.wisc.edu/research/past-projects/nasal-irrigation
- University of Maryland Medical Center – Herbs: http://www.umm.edu/altmed/