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Feeling bunged up? Itchy eyes? Scratchy throat? Sneezing? These are all symptoms often associated with hay fever. As the winter months are swiftly turning into bright and sunny days, for some, this is a breath of fresh air, whereas for others this is coupled with some unpleasant symptoms. Hay fever is a common allergic condition, which can occur seasonally, typically between March and September. It has been reported to affect between 10 and 30% of adults, and around 40% of children in the UK.1
Other symptoms can include:
These symptoms are triggered by an allergic reaction to pollen; a very fine powder which is released from plants as part of their reproductive cycle. You can have an allergy to tree, grass, or weed pollen, which all have different times of release throughout the year, with grass pollen allergy being the most common. On inhalation, the immune system responds to pollen as if it were a threat, such as a virus or pathogenic bacteria, and mounts a rapid response resulting in symptoms. However, unlike with viral or bacterial infections, the symptoms of hay fever can last for months due to ongoing pollen exposure.
There are a few risk factors which can predispose us to this condition. Having a pre-existing allergic condition, such as asthma or eczema, can often be associated with an increased risk of hay fever. In children, this can be known as ‘allergic’ or ‘atopic march’, which refers to the progression of allergic conditions in infants, where the presence of one allergic condition as a child can increase the risk of developing another allergic condition.2
Additionally, a family history can also contribute to hay fever prevalence. Other factors such as exhaust fumes and cigarette smoke can exacerbate and provoke hay fever symptoms.3,4 Prevention is therefore key at reducing the risk of hay fever and the severity of associated symptoms, especially if you already have an allergic condition. For best results, you need to start preparing your body early, ideally 2-3 months before the pollen season begins.
What is histamine?
Histamine is a molecule released by immune cells in the circulation and in tissues (e.g. beneath the skin) as part of an immune response. During the immune response, histamine release and vasodilation brings blood and immune cells to the affected area, resulting in redness, heat, swelling, and the upregulation of mucus production. Histamine plays a key role in inflammation, especially in allergic reactions.
Individuals with allergies tend to have a higher baseline histamine level, prolonging inflammatory signaling.5 High histamine may be caused by poor detoxification of histamine or high histamine loading from diet (e.g. from histamine-rich foods like aged cheese and cured meats). The clearance or detoxification of histamine can be done via several pathways involving different enzymes, for example diamine oxidase (DAO), histamine-N-methyltransferase (HNMT), and monoamine oxidase B (MAO-B). Mutations or SNPs on the genes which code for these enzymes can reduce our ability to detoxify histamine, keeping levels higher. As well as this, other factors such as gut permeability, poor gut microbiome and stress can all further contribute to our overall histamine level and ability to detoxify effectively.6
So, prevention is vital - What are the key nutrients to support hay fever?
Alongside nutrient support, there are also lifestyle changes which can help to improve hay fever symptoms:
If you suffer from hay fever, making these dietary and lifestyle changes, and starting early before the pollen season, could help with the management of symptoms. Doing so will hopefully enable you to enjoy the warmth and daylight that the spring and summer months bring.
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2 Bantz SK, et al. The Atopic March: Progression from Atopic Dermatitis to Allergic Rhinitis and Asthma. J Clin Cell Immunol. 2014;5(2):202.
3 Gilliland FS et al. Effect of glutathione-S-transferase M1 and P1 genotypes on xenobiotic enhancement of allergic responses: randomised, placebo-controlled crossover study. Lancet. 2004; 363 (9403): 119-25
4 Thomson NC, Livingston CE. Asthma and cigarette smoking. Eur Resp J. 2004; 24: 822-833.
5 Anvari S et al. Genetic Variation along the Histamine Pathway in Children with Allergic versus Nonallergic Asthma. Am J Respir Cell Mol Biol. 2015;53(6):802-9.
6 Kukkonen et al. High intestinal IgA associates with reduced risk of IgE-associated allergic diseases. Pediatr Allergy Immunol. 2010; 21: 67-73.
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12 Terano et al. Eicosapentaenoic acid as a modulator of inflammation, effect on prostaglandin and leukotriene and leukotriene synthesis. Biochem Pharmacol. 1986; 35: 779-85.
13 Kalliomäki M, Salminen S, Arvilommi H, Kero P, Koskinen P, Isolauri E. Probiotics in primary prevention of atopic disease: a randomised placebo-controlled trial. Lancet. 2001; 7;357(9262):1076-9.
14 Asha'ari ZA, et al. Ingestion of honey improves the symptoms of allergic rhinitis: evidence from a randomized placebo-controlled trial in the East coast of Peninsular Malaysia. Ann Saudi Med. 2013 Sep-Oct;33(5):469-75.