If you suffer from seasonal allergies or “hay fever” (seasonal allergic Rhinitis), chances are you have a pollen allergy. You are not alone. According to the American College of Asthma, Allergies, & Immunology, more than 50 million Americans suffer from allergies each year.
In this post we will explore everything you need to know about your pollen allergy, including:
- What is pollen and where does it come from?
- What causes a pollen allergy?
- Pollen allergy symptoms
- Pollen allergy remedies: a holistic approach
Read on for all you need to know about your pollen allergy. Or see our post on Eight Natural Remedies for Seasonal Allergies for ways to naturally treat your pollen allergy symptoms today.
What is Pollen?
Pollen are the microspores produced by male plants. These microscopic plant cells carry the reproductive cells of seed plants. For this reason, pollen is sometimes referred to as flower sperm. Seed plants include both conifers (plants whose seeds grow inside cones) and flowering plants, grasses, and weeds. Each type of plant has its own unique type of pollen. In fact, you can identify the specific species of plant by its pollen.
Where does pollen come from?
In the spring, plants produce pollen cells – or “grains”, in huge numbers. Pollen grains are produced in pollen cones, which contain the pollen sacs. Pollen sacs contain the anther, which is where pollen is produced and stored.
The small, lightweight pollen grains have air sacs or wing-like structures to help carry them in the wind. Pollen is also spread by insects like bees and birds or other animals. The birds and insects travel from plant to plant, leaving pollen on them and pollinating them. This is how plants are fertilized and reproduce.
If you have a tree allergies or a grass allergy, you are actually allergic to the pollen of these pants. Common types of pollen allergies include:
- Tree pollen
- Grass pollen
- Flower (Weed) pollen
Tree pollen allergy
Tree pollen is the fist type of pollen to be released during pollen season. Some trees can start to release pollen in late winter. So if you have symptoms before other plants are blooming, you likely have a tree pollen allergy.
Tree species that cause most tree pollen allergies include: elm, oak, ash, pine, pecan, sycamore, boxelder, maple, birch, alder, mountain cedar, and hickory. Oak pollen is less potent than many on the list but oak trees release large amounts of pollen over a long pollen season. So if you have an oak pollen allergy, you will be exposed to more allergens, for longer periods of time.
The most allergic tree is pecan. Luckily, it is not as common as oak. Pecan trees grow primarily in the southeastern United States.
Grass pollen allergy
Grass pollen is also a common cause of pollen allergies. If you have a grass pollen allergy, you know how hard it is to avoid grass. While there are thousands of species of grass, luckily only a handful cause allergies. The most common grasses that cause grass pollen allergies include: Bermuda, Johnson, Kentucky bluegrass, orchard grass, rye grass, timothy grass, and sweet vernal grass.
Most grasses start to release pollen later than trees, usually late spring to mid-summer. If you live in the northern U.S., ryegrass is one of the most common and allergic of the wild grasses. Grass allergies can be reduced by keeping grass cut low and wearing a mask when doing yard work.
Flower & Weed pollen allergy
Most people with pollen allergies are not allergic to common flowering plants found in most gardens. A weed pollen allergy, however, is much more common. In fact, weed pollens are some of the most common allergens. Specifically, ragweed pollen.
Ragweed is the most common cause of pollen allergies. Ragweed grows in nearly every region, but is concentrated in the midwest, southwest, and along the Mississippi river basin. It has a lightweight pollen that is easily dispersed by the wind. Ragweed is also the main cause of hay fever. Most weed pollens, including ragweed, peak in late summer to early fall.
Other weed pollen that causes allergic reactions include: pigweed, Russian thistle, and lambs quarters.
You can check the local grass and tree pollen count near me.
What Causes a Pollen Allergy?
Allergies are the result of your immune system overreacting to foreign substances. Normally, it is a good thing when your immune system reacts to a potential invader. But in the case of allergies, your immune system misidentifies harmless foreign substances like pollen as potential threats.
Substances that cause this immune system overreaction are called allergens. Pollen is a common type of allergen, but dust, animal dander, latex, and certain foods can also be allergens.
When you come in contact with pollen – usually by breathing it in, your immune system immediately starts to go on the defensive. Your immune system produces a substance called IgE antibody. Antibodies are designed to bind to a specific allergen in order to protect your cells from the perceived threat.
Your symptoms of pollen allergies are not directly from the otherwise harmless pollen grains, but rather your own body’s natural reaction. Because pollen enters sensitive areas of your body like your nasal passages, lungs, eyes, and mouth, your immune response works to protect those areas.
The result is inflammation, redness, and the itching, sneezing and congestion you experience as pollen allergy symptoms.
Pollen Allergy Symptoms
Pollen allergy symptoms vary based on the individual allergen, severity of allergy, age, and overall immune system health. In short, we all react a little differently. But there are several common pollen allergy symptoms. You may experience any (or all) of the following as a result of grass, weed, and/or tree pollen allergy symptoms.
- Nasal congestion
- Runny nose
- Watery eyes
- Itchy eyes
- Wheezing, coughing, or breathing difficulty
- Itchy throat
Throughout the pollen season, your pollen allergy symptoms can improve or worsen depending on which plants are releasing pollen and other conditions like the weather.
No matter which type of pollen is causing your symptoms, you can use the same pollen allergy home remedies we cover in our post: Eight Natural Remedies for Seasonal Allergies. Read on for a holistic approach to pollen allergy remedies.
Holistic Allergy Remedies Inspired by Hildegard
Here at Healthy Hildegard we are firm believers in holistic healing. Even though allergies are an ailment due to specific causes, you can still benefit from approaching your pollen allergy holistically.
Hildegard of Bingen would advise you to look inward, to your disrupted immune system. Though she could not know the extent of the relationship between gut health and overall immune health, her focus on healing foods for gut health was ahead of its time. Much of our overall health is determined by our digestive health.
The severity of your pollen allergy may have a lot to do with whether or not your immune system might be out of balance. So we will start with a holistic approach to pollen allergies by looking at ways to strengthen our gut health and overall immune response.
Background on gut health for immune strength
Researchers are just beginning to link the various lifestyle and environmental changes that have occurred over the past few decades to the mysterious rise in allergies, asthma, and other auto-immune disorders. Interestingly, much of the research points toward the gut.
While most people think of the gut only in terms of digestion, gut health is actually essential for proper immune function. Unfortunately for many people, once their gut health has been compromised it never fully recovers. When this happens, they become more susceptible to a variety of chronic conditions, allergies included.
The gut hygiene hypothesis
In children, the sharp increase in food allergies and asthma is linked to what the medical community calls the Hygiene Hypothesis. Also known as the “Biome Depletion Theory”, it is the idea that the lack of early childhood exposure to infections agents, “good” bacteria in the gut, and even parasites, increases susceptibility to allergies and auto-immune diseases.
Studies are honing in on the gut, hinting that modern hygienic and dietary practices may play a role by disturbing the body’s natural bacterial composition.
One such study focused on just one common strain of gut bacteria naturally present in the digestive system called Clostridia. While there are numerous strains of bacteria that have important functions within our digestive system, this particular strain drew the attention of researchers.
What is remarkable about clostridia is how it seems to induce immune responses that inhibit allergens from entering the bloodstream. By inhibiting the mobility of allergens, clostridia prevent sensitization – a critical process in the development of allergies.
Finally, if you have young children the advice by many medical professionals in the field is to let them get a little bit dirty. You need to expose a healthy young immune system to a few bugs in order for it to grow into a healthy old immune system.
And what if the allergies are here to stay? We can go back to nature with Hildegard.
Hildegard’s Holistic Allergy Remedies
As with all of Hildegard’s remedies, we start with the concept of balance, particularly among our bodily juices. As is often emphasized in Hildegard of Bingen medicine, restoring balance to our intestinal flora by regenerating intestinal mucosa leads to a strengthened immune system.
A strong immune system can limit the severity and frequency of allergic reactions. Here’s how to keep your immune system strong:
1. Minimize personal pollution
It is a good practice to limit exposure to contaminants in food, drinking water, clothing, and home furnishings (furniture, carpet.) This includes limiting exposure to smoke.
Avoid the need for unnecessary fragrances found in perfumes, room sprays, and toiletries. In addition, avoid aggressive detergents, especially in sprays, because they can aggrevate an already sensitive respiratory system. Some can even induce asthma.
Consciously paying attention to the ingredients found in personal care products and household cleaners is a good way to avoid unnecessary irritants and toxins. There are a staggering number of synthetic fragrances and aggressive chemical substances confronting your immune system every day. The market is slow to respond, but there is a growing number of labels utilizing more natural components in their products.
2. Detoxify your body
Heavy metals such as lead, mercury, and palladium (from dental fillings), as well as other environmental toxins can tax your body’s natural detoxification organs, the liver and kidneys.
Due to our increasing exposure to toxins, our bodies fail to sufficiently eliminate these foreign agents. Thus, they remain in our bodies, leaving our immune systems overloaded and the stressed.
It’s up to us to support our bodies in the process of recovery and cleansing. Despite the overwhelming exposure, our bodies are quite robust. Recovery can be easier than you think. For better immune health, you can incorporate a few of the following simple measures into everyday life.
Algae, the green Detoxifier
Supplement your health regimen with ancient microalgae, such as chlorella and spirulina. They have the ability to bind heavy metals and other toxins, so that they can be more easily eliminated.
These species of microalgae (chlorella and spirulina) contain vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and vital fatty acids. Not only do they relieve the immune system, but they provide our bodies with micro nutrients utilized to strengthen and regenerate our organs and vital systems.
Spirulina is a powerful holistic allergy remedy. The positive effects of spirulina algae on the immune system was scientifically established in 2008, where the ingestion of the algae resulted in significant relief of hay fever symptoms in test subjects.
Green Vegetables Detoxify
As with green algae, all green plants contain chlorophyll. Chlorophyll is a natural cleaning agent. As such, it promotes the discharge of toxins. Whether you choose spinach, chard, lettuce or arugula, your body will always thank you. Green vegetables should be on the menu as often as possible.
If you do not have fresh green vegetables on hand, we recommend the use of natural supplement drinks made from barley grass or wheat grass. They are practical as whole food supplements and are nutrient-dense.
With Hildegard, there is no shortage of herbal treatments. Some have proven themselves particularly useful in naturopathy over the centuries for stimulating detoxification activity. These herbs include dandelion, nettle, coriander, and milk thistle.
Oil extraction is a traditional method of detoxification that derives from Ayurvedic medicine. It is easy to perform, inexpensive, and surprisingly effective.
Take a tablespoon of cold-pressed organic oil (e.g. sesame or sunflower) in the morning and leave it in your mouth for 10 to 15 minutes, moving it around, pulling it through your teeth. Afterwards, spit out the frothy liquid oil, rinse your mouth several times with water and clean your teeth thoroughly. Repeat this procedure in the evening before bedtime.
3. Support your liver
The liver is our most important detoxification organ. When you are looking to detoxify, pay attention to herbs and foods that help heal the liver.
In order to relieve and activate the liver, try bitter substances, such as fresh pressed dandelion root juice and artichoke. These are well established remedies in traditional German medicine to stimulate regeneration of liver cells, and create resistance to toxins. Milk thistle is also well known for its liver healing effects.
Turmeric for the liver and respiratory tract
Turmeric, a traditional anti-inflammatory spice, ranks among the most effective foods to maintain a healthy liver. The most active ingredient of turmeric, curcumin, protects the liver through its powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
Turmeric also helps intercept free radicals and thus protects against oxidative stress. As a result, turmeric is a great natural remedy for pollen allergies (and other allergies) and can also help relieve mild cases of asthma.
You can use turmeric generously as a spice, but as a spice you do not digest and absorb it well (low bioavailability.) So as one of your natural pollen allergy remedies, you may want to look into turmeric in dietary supplement form. Add capsules to piperin (an extract of black pepper), to improve the bioavailability of turmeric.
4. Gut health
No Hildegard remedy is complete without addressing gut health. Hildegard would concur that you cannot strengthen the immune system without a healthy gut. Weak intestines directly affect the immune system. Therefore, the first and most important measure for the restoration of intestinal health should be a cleansing cure.
Step 1: First ‘clean up’
To clean the intestines, you need a preparation that dissolves old deposits found on the intestinal walls, and releases residue quickly. Psyllium and Bentonite are among the most effective preparations to address these issues.
Psyllium powder (finely ground psyllium husk) binds large amounts of liquid, which supports an exponential swelling capacity. With its increased volume, psyllium acts to literally “sweep” the intestine through its passage along the digestive tract, freeing you of deposits and toxins.
Bentonite is a mineral earth substance of volcanic origin, which has an enormous binding capacity. It absorbs toxins and heavy metals so that you can can eliminate them.
Step 2: Enhance Intestinal flora
There are several solutions to promote the growth of beneficial intestinal bacteria and bring you back into balance. Lactobacilli and bifidobacteria are two of the “good” intestinal bacteria you can get by eating fermented foods, such as sauerkraut.
This approach is most effective using raw fermented foods. You can also ingest intestinal bacteria directly in the form of probiotics. They contain viable micro-organisms in capsules and are also available as liquid concentrates.
5. Neutralize the acid in your Body via alkaline nutrition
Allergies are often accompanied by acidity in the body. Your long-term success in treating allergies requires attention to your acidity. An unhealthy diet is the primary cause of high acidity in the body.
Our modern, carbohydrate-rich diet is highly acidic. When you eat sugar, flour, animal proteins and milk (products), you are encouraging more acidity. Processed foods are also highly acidic. You should adjust your diet to include alkaline plants.
These foods are highly alkaline: avocado, broccoli, cabbage, celery, cucumber, endive, garlic, kale, parsley, sprouts, spinach.
A diet consisting of surplus alkaline (base) has the following effects.
- Supplies your body with all nutrients and vital substances;
- Decreases chronic inflammation caused by allergies;
- Promotes the development of a healthy intestinal flora and displaces undesirable germs,
- Strengthens the immune system, restoring a balanced state.
6. Limit your inflammation
The symptoms of allergies result from inflammation to the skin and mucous membranes. Other related conditions, such as leaky gut syndrome are also due to inflammation. Natural anti-inflammatory plants and herbs are a great way to naturally treat your pollen allergy.
There are several herbal treatments that are effective against allergies. As part of a holistic approach to pollen allergy symptoms, use the following plants:
Black Cumin Oil for allergies
Black Cumin Oil, also known as black seed oil, or black caraway oil, has proven itself in the treatment of allergic conditions. Because black cumin oil is naturally anti-inflammatory it can help relieve inflammation, one of the major causes of allergy symptoms.
It also strengthens the immune system, relieves the bronchial muscles in allergic asthma, and offers anti-bacterial properties for viruses and fungi.
Butterbur for hay fever
Butterbur is a great holistic allergy remedy, particularly for the respiratory tract. It also works particularly well for hay fever. Tests in the EU show Butterbur extract effective when compared with conventional antihistamines, but without the negative side effects.
Note: Do not use Butterbur as a tea because the root contains liver-damaging pyrrolizidine alkaloids. Supplement (capsule) forms have had these alkaloids removed.
Other Helpful herbs
Other medicinal plants that are effective holistic allergy remedies include:
- Malabar Nut (Adhatoda Vasica): Anti-allergic and anti-inflammatory, relieves the bronchi, is effective against hay fever and allergic cough (e.g. best found in prepackaged homeopathic preparations)
- Eyebright (Euphrasia officinalis): Relieves hay fever and allergic conjunctivitis. Drink 3 times a day a cup of tea from the eyes of solace herb
- Hyssop (Hyssopus offcinalis): Hyssop also acts against hay fever. Drink a cup of hyssop tea 3 times a day, but not during pregnancy
- Nettle (Urtica urens): Can alleviate some acute allergic symptoms. Drink a cup of nettle tea.