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If you happen to be one of the many unfortunate people who suffer from hayfever, you will likely not be all pleased about the arrival of spring. Pollen laden spring air can be the source of misery and discomfort that may last for weeks or months. Violent sneezing fits, asthma attacks, sinus headaches, itchy eyes, runny noses, wheezing, and coughing are all common symptoms of this seasonal bane.

Hayfever is not a novel source of trouble, yet there is very little solid knowledge regarding its underlying causes and treatment options. The easiest explanation is of course that pollen grains are little protein packages, which can cause the human body to simply overreact when it encounters them via the respiratory system. But why this should be so nobody really knows. Fact is that autoimmune diseases like allergies and hayfever as well as food sensitivities, asthma and eczema have become far more common than they used to be. The notion that environmental factors, such as commonly used agrochemicals are to blame is a speculative theory, yet it is as plausible as any.

Whatever the causes may be, what interests most people is how they can deal with the symptoms, or better still, prevent them. Allopathic medicine recommends antihistamines, which are chemicals that block the histamine receptors in the body, thus suppressing the allergic reactions. Despite the fact that it can produce many unpleasant side-effects including drowsiness, dryness of the throat, nausea and even irregular heartbeat, it is still the fist line of defence for many people.

It is not easy to tackle hayfever preventatively. However, supporting the immune system gives the body a better chance to deal with it. Vitamin C and zinc may be helpful. A cup of Dandelion tea in the morning and Lime flower (Tilia sp.) tea with a few drops of lemon juice in the evening is an old home remedy. Reducing mucous forming foods and switching to a predominantly vegetarian diet with lots of fresh fruits and salads increases the fortifying vitamin supply and also helps to reduce the potential catarrhal congestion. Nettle leaf (Urtica dioica) extract, tea or tincture is also said to be helpful. For the best results it is recommended to start taking a regular dose about a month before symptoms are expected to set in.

Once the attack sets in it is best to treat symptoms specifically and topically. Chamomile (Matricaria chamomila) and Elderflowers (Sambucus nigra) are effective anti-inflammatories. Taken with lemon juice, honey and a pinch of Ginger or Cayenne, adds decongestant properties. Also very helpful are steam inhalations. A Chamomile steam bath clears the upper respiratory system and soothes the mucous membranes. A little Eucalyptus oil added to the steam pan helps to clear the head and lungs. A steam bath is easy to prepare. Just take a handful of Chamomile flowers and place them in a bowl. Add simmering water and cover yourself and the bowl with a big towel or blanket and inhale deeply until the steam-bath cools down. This performance can be repeated several times a day as necessary. A less pleasant but highly effective way to clear a congested nose is to rinse it with diluted lemon juice water.

Euphrasia (30K)

Several herbs are useful for making an eyewash to soothe itchy and inflamed eyes. Fennel herb (Foeniculum vulgare), Chamomile (Matricaria chamomila), Elder (Sambucus nigra) and Eyebright (Euphrasia officinalis) can all be used for this purpose. Make a tea with any of these herbs and allow to cool down. Use an eyewash cup to rinse each eye. This can be repeated as necessary. For a quick and easy method you can use tea bags and put them directly on the eyes once they cooled down. To refresh them simply return them to the tea to moisten. The tea will keep at least for 24 hours in the fridge.

If the problem is concentrated in the lungs herbs like,Elecampane (Inula helenium), Coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara), Mullein (Verbascum thapsus) and Lungwort (Pulmonaria officinalis, Ephedra (Ephedra sinica), can be used (people who suffer from high blood pressure should avoid Ephedra). Any conditions involving spasmodic coughs are greatly eased with an addition of Lobelia (Lobelia inflata) to the mix. However, since Lobelia (Lobelia inflata) is a restricted herb in most places it is necessary to either grow your own or get it prescribed from a qualified herbalist. Caution: In large doses Lobelia is a powerful emetic

A number of essential oils are useful for hayfever. They can be used as 'atmospheric remedies' by evaporating them in an oilburner, which diffuses their scent throughout the room and thus aids decongestion of the respiratory system. Essential oils of Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus globulus), Lavender (Lavendula sp.), Cedarwood Atlas (Cedrus atlantica) and Pine (Pinus sylvestris) are especially useful.

A theory, based on the homeopathic principle of treating symptoms with the thing that causes them, is the idea of using raw, unprocessed LOCAL honey or LOCAL bee pollen as a preventative. Starting early in the spring with a 1 large tablespoon per day dose is said to reduce sensitivity to the pollen allergens.

Homeopathy offers further treatment options. However, it must be remembered that homeopathy works best if the symptom complex corresponds closely with the remedy. It is best to consult with a qualified homeopath or a good book of homeopathy to determine which remedy might be the most appropriate for each individual case. Some of the most commonly used homeopathic remedies for hayfever symptoms include:

Allium cepa:
When mucous is watery and accompanied by sneezing and a tickly cough.

Arsenicum album:
A wheezy cough and swelling beneath the eyes is accompanied by a sense of stuffiness and watery mucous.

Euphrasia:
When symptoms concentrate in the eyes, with swelling, itching and discharge.

Ferrum phosphoricum:
This might be the most useful 'preventative' homeopathic remedy for hayfever, as it can stop symptoms from developing when taken early on in the process. Symptoms include runny nose and eyes, facial flushing and a tickly cough.

Gelsemium:
If symptoms are more akin to a summer flu, with tiredness, drowsiness, aching back and neck along with chills, runny nose and swollen mucous membranes this remedy might be indicated.

Nux vomica:
This remedy might bring relief when the nose alternates between being stuffed up and running, and is accompanied with a teasing, irritable cough, sore, tickly throat and headache.

Sabadilla:
When there are relentless, long lasting sneezing fits with itching nose and eyes, runny mucous and a lump in the throat this remedy may be indicated.

It should also be noted that homeopathic remedies don't work well in combination with certain other substances, like coffee, cigarettes and menthol-type smells or tastes, such as peppermint or eucalyptus, which are often present in toothpastes and chewing gums. Also, homeopathics would not work well in combination with the essential oil treatments mentioned above.

While these suggestions will not prevent the dreaded hayfever attacks they may offer several lines of defence that should help with finding a more effective strategy for dealing with the symptoms.

For questions or comments email: kmorgenstern@sacredearth.com

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This Article was originally published in the Sacred Earth Newletter. The Newsletter is a FREE service containing articles, news and reviews on all things herbal and/or ethnobotanical, with an approximate publication cylce of 6 - 8 weeks. If you wish to subscribe, please use the subscription box to submit your e-mail address.

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Please note that although all the references to edible and medicinal herbs are tried and tested, their efficacy cannot be guaranteed and has not been approved by the FDA. Furthermore, everybody responds differently to various plants, and adverse reactions cannot be ruled out. Historical information regarding poisonous plants is included for educational purposes only and should not be tried out at home. Everybody uses herbs at their own risk and thus must make themselves fully aware of their potential power. Any information given here is educational and should not replace a visit to the doctor should this be necessary. Neither Sacred Earth nor Kat Morgenstern accepts responsibility for anybody's home experimentation. Links to external sites are included as pointers to further resources - we do not endorse them or are in any way responsible for their content, nor do we thus verify that their content is accurate.