Symptoms such as runny nose, itchy nose & eyes, especially on windy days & from season to season are a giveaway that you have seasonal allergies. What are seasonal allergies & what has this got to do with our immune system? How can we use foods, plants & nutrients to influence our immunological response?

The Garden City certainly provides pollens a-plenty to get up the noses of those who are allergic to them, as well as a Nor-West wind, which carries allergens collected in the air, over the ranges and across farmlands and foothills. From a minor nuisance to a cause of other health issues such as snoring, asthma, and seasonal allergic rhinitis (to give it its proper name), sufferers may notice a stuffy & itchy but clear running nose, frequent sneezing, itchy, watery eyes, a blocked nose, coughing, itchy roof of the mouth or throat, pressure in the cheeks and nose, a headache, an earache, dizziness or nausea, ear fullness or popping & nosebleeds or dark circles under the eyes.

What causes all of this to occur in approximately 20% of the population? (8)

Hayfever is an annoying anomaly whereby the immune system reacts to something that is not harmful, i.e. pollen. We also know that asthma, allergic rhinitis and eczema (or atopic dermatitis) often coexist in the same individuals, partly because of a shared genetic origin (2). In the main it affects quality of life not usually causing an significant impairment, in other words, its annoying.

So, why does the immune system react in this way? Is it simply an overdose of the allergen? There is certainly some evidence to suggest that the planting of male trees are the cause of the over dose of pollen during the seasons. The allergic reaction is really an immune hypersensitivity reaction, almost as though the body gets so sick of dealing with something it overreacts to even a tiny amount of it. However it seems like such an evolutionary waste of energy to react to an unsuspecting & non-harmful molecule so why is the immune system tipped in this way and why does it occur sometimes spontaneously during our lifetime? Are we all simply allergy prone?

Eosinophils are a type of white blood cell, part of the army of the immune system that is involved in the “allergic reaction”. (1) Allergic rhinitis is caused by the deposition of allergens (often pollen) on the nasal mucous membranes, resulting in a type I hypersensitivity reaction. Histamine is the chemical which co-ordinates this unnecessary campaign of defense. It causes your eyes to water, and flush the “invader” out. It initiates the manufacture of nasal secretions, to trap and excrete the presumed pathogen. It makes you cough and sneeze, to blast the “intruder “out of your throat and lungs. Your body is trying to defend its portals of entry from invasion! It is reacting to them as if they are harmful pathogens which need to be flushed out of your body.

Its not just pollen though. Dust, animal dander, certain drugs, chemicals, mould, bee stings, latex and food proteins can also cause allergies a we become over-sensitised to their exposure. In allergic rhinitis, numerous inflammatory cells, including mast cells, T cells, B cells, macrophages and eosinophils, infiltrate the nasal lining upon exposure to an allergen. T cells infiltrating the nasal mucosa release cytokines called interleukins that promote immunoglobulin E (IgE) production. IgE bound to mast cells in turn, triggers the release of mediators, such as histamine and leukotrienes, that are responsible for arteriolar dilation and increased vascular permeability, which causes the symptom of mucous secretion, and smooth muscle contraction in the lung which causes asthma. The mediators and cytokines released during the early phase of an immune response trigger a further cellular inflammatory response over the next 4–8 h called a late-phase inflammatory response, which results in recurrent symptoms (usually nasal congestion) that often persist. (1) What a lot of energy this must take!

So how do we fix this over-reaction? We know that certain environmental conditions can protect us from allergies. Studies have consistently shown that exposure to animals from a young age, living in a rural environment as well as exposure to potentially allergenic foods like nuts and peanuts at a young age can protect against allergies. A well known theory called the hygiene hypothesis states that “interaction with microbes that inhabit the natural environment and the human microbiome, from a young age, play an essential role in immune regulation. Modern changes in lifestyle and environmental exposure, rapid urbanisation, altered diet and antibiotic use have had profound effects on the human microbiome, leading to failure of immunotolerance and increased risk of allergic disease.” (3) In addition “absence of early antibiotic exposure, exclusive breast-feeding for the first 4 months of life, vaginal delivery, furry pets in the home during infancy, lack of maternal antibiotic use during pregnancy, and maternal animal exposure during pregnancy all were associated with lower rates of allergic disease.” (5)

Any avenue that supports a diverse and thriving gut microbiome protects against allergies. A systematic review with meta-analysis of 18 prospective studies evaluating the association between exclusive breast-feeding during the first 3 months after birth and Atopic Dermatitis demonstrated that exclusive breast-feeding is associated with a lower incidence of eczema during childhood in children with a family history of atopy. (4)

Certain probiotic strains are also associated with a reduced incidence of allergies, this includes regained tolerance to peanuts in a majority of participants in a study whom also received Lactobacillus rhamnosus during immunotherapy (6).

Chemicals found in plants that belong to the Bioflavonoid family such as quercetin are also cleverly helpful for thwarting the allergic immune response. Quercetin is found in onions, apples, tea and many other fruits, vegetables and herbs. Quercetin is considered an effective anti-allergy agent capable of influencing multiple biological pathways and immune cell functions in the allergic immune response. (7) This makes Quercetin an effective remedy for the acute allergic attack. Perhaps they were right – an apple a day does keep the doctor away.

If you’ve had enough of feeling like you have an allergic reaction that won’t go away – come and see us at The Apothecary for treatment that can help rescue the immune system from this over-reaction via our Allergy Clinic. At The Apothecary, we have everything from quercetin supplements, to herbs which reduce the swelling in your sinuses, and vitamins to help mop up the histamine you have already produced. We can supply you with symptomatic relief from eye drops to nasal spray, or the cleansing action of a Neti pot as well as treat the underlying cause which is the gut microbial environment.

Check out our in house Allergy Clinic.




Simone Reddington is the founder of the Apothecary, a Medical Herbalist and thinker. She holds a degree in Psychology and is a professional member of the New Zealand Association of Medical Herbalists.