Why are allergies more common now than before?
Experts remain uncertain, but over-cleanliness, which reduces exposure to the bacteria that prime immunity has been suggested. Other factors include thriving dust mite populations, climate change, which encourages plants to release more pollen in one burst, reduced intakes of omega-3 fish oils which damp down allergic reactions, plus over-consumption of omega-6 vegetable oils which promote allergic responses.
What are the triggers?
According to Allergy UK, the most common causes of allergic reactions are:
- pollen from trees and grasses
- proteins secreted from house dust mites
- foods such as peanuts, tree nuts, milk and eggs
- pets such as cats and dogs, and other furry or hairy animals such as horses, rabbits and guinea pigs
- insects such as wasps and bees
- medicines (these may cause reactions by binding to proteins in the blood, which then trigger the reaction)
Coping with allergy season
- See your GP – “If you think you may be allergic to something, it is important to see your GP in case you need referral for skin prick or blood tests (to measure your level of certain IgE antibodies),” says GP and medical nutritionist Dr Sarah Brewer. Allergy treatments such as antihistamines or corticosteroid sprays may be recommended – either on prescription or over-the-counter. It is important to use these regularly, according to instructions, to keep on top of your symptoms.
- Anti-allergy diets – An anti-inflammatory diet may help to reduce symptoms by resetting your level of circulating inflammatory chemicals. These are best followed under the advice of a nutritionist. “Anti-inflammatory diets work to reduce inflammation by cutting down on pro-inflammatory foods such as omega 6, refined carbohydrates and unhealthy fats whilst including plenty of anti-inflammatory foods (within the confines of a healthy diet) including antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables, essential fatty acids (omega 3) and herbs and spices. The Mediterranean diet includes many of these foods and has been associated with helping hay fever symptoms” explains Robert Hobson, Head of Nutrition at Healthspan.
- Tea time – Try drinking green tea as research suggests it provides powerful anti-inflammatory chemicals. If you don’t fancy changing your cuppa, supplements containing the active ingredients are also available. Redbush tea (rooibos) made from the leaves of a South African shrub also appears to have anti-allergy activity.
- Helping Herbs – Many spices are known to have anti-inflammatory actions, and are worth including in your diet to complement the effect of anti-allergy medications – in particular garlic, ginger, turmeric and cinnamon.
- Prevention is better than cure. This is particularly true for hay fever. “Try to stay inside when the pollen count is very high,” explains GP Dr Roger Henderson. Damp dust and vacuum regularly to reduce dust and pollen in your home and try to drive a car with a pollen filter. “It may be helpful to air bedclothes in direct sunlight and to wear sunglasses to reduce pollen contact with your eyes,” Dr Henderson adds.
- Don’t bother with local honey – Thousands of people swear by a daily spoonful of local honey, preferably starting well before the pollen season, saying it has transformed their lives. Unfortunately the only evidence that it works is anecdotal with no science to back it up. Researchers at the University of Connecticut found no evidence of honey’s effectiveness in a study published in 2002. They divided hayfever sufferers into three groups. To one group, they gave local unpasteurised, unfiltered honey. A second group was given nationally collected, filtered and pasteurised honey. The third group received a placebo. All subjects were asked to record how they felt on different days, but neither honey group fared better than the placebo one.