Got the springtime sneezes?

Words by Erika Morvay

Do you dread the arrival of spring? While most people get excited when the weather starts to warm up and winter is behind us, many hayfever sufferers feel differently, because for them, the arrival of the springtime flowers can also herald the onset of sneezing, itchy eyes, a runny nose and other symptoms.

Hayfever affects up to one in five Australians, and the reason it tends to flare up in springtime is that it’s often triggered by pollens, especially those from grasses, weeds and trees that aren’t native to Australia. Other hayfever triggers can include dust mites, pet hair and mould.

Avoiding substances you’re allergic to (known as allergens) is critical to managing hayfever, but unfortunately isn’t always practical or possible.
Luckily though, some natural medicines may help you to manage your symptoms.

Understanding the role of histamine in hayfever
Regardless of what it is that sets off your sneezing attack, the symptoms are initiated by your body’s release of a compound called histamine. This occurs quickly after you’ve encountered something you’re allergic to, and, if you’re a hayfever sufferer, can result in the immediate and rapid onset of hayfever symptoms.

Anti-allergy herbs
In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) a herbal formula called Minor Bupleurum Decoction has been used for hundreds of years to relieve not only hayfever symptoms, but also mild food allergies. Individual herbs in the formula have also traditionally been used to help manage eczema, dermatitis and hives.

The formula comprises seven traditional Chinese herbs: bupleurum, pinellia, Chinese licorice, Korean ginseng, ginger, ziziphus and baical skullcap.

Experimental laboratory studies (in vitro research) suggest that they may work together to inhibit the release of histamine, and consequently reduce mild allergic responses and the resulting symptoms.

Antihistamine effects of vitamin C
Although it is best known for its role in helping to maintain proper functioning of the immune system, in vitro research demonstrates that vitamin C also has antihistamine properties.

Elderflower relieves hayfever symptoms
In western herbal medicine, elderflower is regarded as having decongestant properties, and is traditionally taken to clear nasal and sinus congestion, or to dry up a runny nose – regardless of whether these symptoms are due to hayfever or a cold.

Chinese herbs to relieve sinus pressure and pain
The sneezing and itchy eyes of hayfever are hard enough to cope with, but to make matters worse, about one in four sufferers also experience chronic or persistent sinusitis, which can cause headaches, sinus pressure and sinus pain.

Assuming your sinus infection is mild and uncomplicated, herbs may once again help to ease your symptoms. For starters, consider a blend of herbs traditionally used to manage sinus infections in TCM, including white angelica, xanthium, Asian wild mint and magnolia.
Houttuynia may be of beneficial support to this blend – in TCM it’s traditionally prized for its anti-infective properties.