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It's high pollen count time, what can you do about hay fever and allergies?

You can't hide from seasonal pollen. It's a plant's method of fertilisation and without it, many will die out. Around one fifth of the UK population has some sort of allergy or intolerance and a reaction to pollen is one of the most common problems. Hay fever; as many sufferers know, is more than just an irritation. It can cause numerous debilitating effects including sneezing, blocked nose, watery eyes, lethargy, headaches, sore throat, coughing and even asthma. There's no doubt that allergies pose a big problem for sufferers.

The above shows a close up of coloured pollen grains from a variety of common plants including sunflower, morning glory, hollyhock, lily and evening primrose. Beautiful, but annoying for some!

How allergies develop

Why do these hay fever reactions develop? Many theories lead to the belief that people can become allergic to things to which they are frequently exposed when their immune system might be low. For example, if a person is already fighting off an illness or infection and breathes in millions of pollen grains, the immune system can mistakenly identify this protein as something to fight. It will then raise defences every time it encounters the substance. Particularly if there is a genetic tendency towards reactive responses.

Spring and summer can be problematic for those with hay fever and other allergies. In the spring, a cubic metre of air contains thousands or even millions of minute grains of pollen. We are therefore inhaling them whenever we step outside. Indoors, there may be pets or exposure to certain foodstuffs which can cause a similar problem if the body marks it as a threat. Immune cells produce antibodies which attack the allergen molecules.  White blood cells then trigger the release of chemicals such as histamine. Once sensitised it's difficult to re-train the body to accept that these harmless substances can safely be ignored.

Bees collect pollen when they are looking for nectar and during early summer there's a lot of pollen blowing around in the air too.

Avoiding allergies from the onset

So, what can you do about it and how can you calm allergies? Firstly, don't believe that keeping children away from triggers, just in case, will help. Exposure to bacteria and viruses during early years is a great way to boost the immune system. Some people believe that too many vaccines at an early age prevents the natural building of an immune system, which then struggles to cope when bombarded with too many things at once. Whether you decide to vaccinate young, or not, you should allow your little people to play in mud and get dirty  within reason!

Small children playing in the garden is generally good for their health! Secondly, it's wise to avoid the many different anti-bacterial products that are routinely used in and around the home. We are lucky to have ultra-clean water and pasteurised milk, and nobody is suggesting that you drink river water or 'green'milk straight from the dairy beast. But we are all exposed to far fewer microbes than ever before. Our immune systems therefore have less opportunity to learn how to discriminate between dangerous pathogens and harmless substances.  It is beneficial to the body to form symbiotic relationships with micro organisms. This is often known as the hygiene hypothesis.

Are we too clean? Many say that it's not good for long-term health.

Natural remedies from the garden

If you are a hay fever sufferer, there are many natural remedies that might help. Many people find that an anti-inflammatory diet improves bodily responses to pollen and allergens.  A diet rich in green leafy vegetables, some fresh fruit, and supplements of turmeric; curcumin, rosemary and a move away from overly processed foods and sugar.  Some swear by eating local raw honey as a gradual intake of local pollen can teach the immune system to accept and ignore potential allergens. Nettle and peppermint tea is said to have many amazing properties including lowering blood pressure, relieving arthritis and helping seasonal allergies.

Nettle and mint tea is said to be very good for building health and boosting the immune system.

Swap your planting scheme for a low-allergy garden

A low allergy garden is perfectly possible. Yes, there really is such a thing as a low-allergy garden. Ask Lynda Snell (BBC Radio 4, The Archers)! Your garden can become a safe haven if you use appropriate plants. It doesn't mean that you have to forego beautiful flowers either. Here's a few suggestions for plants that are unlikely to provoke a response from those with an intolerance:

Sweet peas (Lathyrus odoratus); foxgloves (Digitalis); bizzy lizzies Impatiens); forget-me-nots (Myosotis); petunias; violas; crocus; daffodils; cyclamen; gladiolus; hardy geranium; day lilies (Hemerocallis); peony; azaleas and rhododendrons; fuchsia; pinks (Dianthus); poppies; roses (avoid the highly scented varieties); penstemon; snapdragon (Antirrhinum). Hostas and coleus are excellent plants that tend not to aggravate allergies, as are Chinese lanterns (Physalis); hydrangeas; viburnum; Elephant's ears (Bergenia); beeblossom (Gaura) and many herbs including Salvia. It's also worth mentioning that if you choose female trees, where possible, these might have berries or seeds, but they don't produce pollen. Amelanchier is a particularly good one.

Foxgloves come in a range of different cultivated colours and are said to be non-allergenic. Enjoy your summer garden without sneezing! Visit for all your gardening needs        

By Perfect Plants


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