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Herbs for Hayfever with Ciara O'Meara

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Ciara O'Meara is here to talk about herbs to ease hayfever this summer, especially as a warm and sunny March has brought on the hayfever season early.

Ciara O'Meara - Medical Herbalist
I have a long standing interest in natural medicine. From a young age I found myself allergic to antibiotics, this prompted a proactive approach to preventative medicine, ensuring that through diet and exercise I was always doing my best to stay healthy. I completed an honours Science degree in University College Dublin in 1997 followed by an MSc in Medical Genetics at Aberdeen University. I then spent a number of years working in the field of academic research in areas such as The Human Genome Project at Oxford University, UK, and on Cancer research at Cancer Research UK. It was during this time that I took up a yoga practice and further cultivated an interest in holistic medicine.
First hand experience of successfully using herbal medicine prompted me to pursue an interest in the subject. I soon realised that this interest was part of a much broader, richer and complex area of natural medicine which required dedicated study to appreciate both its subtleties and power. To deepen my knowledge on the subject and acquire the ability to confidently use it as a health professional I completed a four year degree at Westminster University in London.
This University is a long established centre for excellence in the training of medical herbalists. Its facilities encompass a central London clinic for herbal medicine where members of the public can avail of treatment. This is where I completed 500 hours of clinical training as part of my degree, treating members of the public from young to old with a range of illnesses. This was an integral part of the educational programme, in the interests of maintaining a high level of safe practice. This training included differential diagnosis of illness up to a high standard of training clinically on par with that of a GP.

What is Hay fever?
Hay fever is a seasonal form of allergic rhinitis. Symptoms include itchy, red sore eyes, frequent sneezing, itchy sore throat, sinusitis and excess catarrh. The symptoms can lead the sufferer to become tired and irritated. It rarely occurs before the age of 5 in children, symptoms are worse in early childhood and many individuals grow out of it by 30-40 years of age.
The term was originally used when referring to dust produced during haymaking; nowadays it includes a much broader variety of allergens. If the hayfever develops in the spring, it's usually due to tree pollens often birch. If it develops in the summer, grass and weed pollens are probably to blame. Many people also develop hayfever in response to mold or fungus spores, which commonly occur any time from mid-March to November.

What's happening in the body?
Inhaled allergens from the atmosphere make contact with the mucosal lining of the nose and lungs the body reacts by producing antibodies and releasing histamine. Histamine causes the body to flush and produce extra mucus irritating the respiratory passages causing them to swell and eyes to tear.
The main actions required in hayfever are herbs to reduce catarrh, reduce inflammation, support the immune system, and herbs to reduce any risk of infection due to the extra mucus load.

. Look at the pollen forecast and avoid exposure at times of the day when pollen is greatest in the atmosphere.
. Wear sunglasses to reduce contact of pollens with the eyes
. Smear some Vaseline inside the nostrils to catch airborne particles
. Supplements which can help to reduce histamine levels include vitamin C, B6
. Use a NETI POT daily in high season to remove allergens form the sinus cavities (I can bring one of these and explain how to use it ???they are a great help to patients)

Nettle Leaf Urtica dioicia
Fresh nettle contains the valuable anti-inflammatory properties, is jam packed full of vitamins and minerals, and has anti-allergic properties. It is very safe for young children and adults alike.
I would recommend taking this herb either as a fresh plant juice for this purpose, or even better go out and pick some in your locality now is the perfect time of year.
. Chop off the fresh tops of the nettles the first 6-8 inches.
. Fill a saucepan with the fresh nettle leaves, add one pint of water
. At this point you can chop the herb by hand or use an electric hand held processor
. Bring to the boil for approximately 5 minutes
. To add variations you can add garlic, onion, thyme, and a pinch of vegetable stock. Strain and serve.
. You can drink it hot or store it in the fridge for a maximum of two days drinking regularly.

Eyebright Euphrasia officinalis
Eyebright has two functions in dealing with allergy. It contains phytochemicals called flavonoids which are anti-inflammatory and they also help to stabalize mast cells which line the nasal passages and release histamine.
Historically the name Eyebright come from the fact that it was traditional used as an infusion (tea) and the liquid used to sooth irritated eyes.
Euphrasia can be taken as a tincture or tea, although the tincture may be easier to come by in the shops.

Plantain Plantago lanceolata
Plantain can be used to prevent risk of infection of the respiratory tract which can be a risk due to the excess mucous produced.
It acts as a gentle expectorant while at the same time soothing irritated membranes, it also has a anti-infective properties and can work well combines with Echinacea.
Plantain can be taken in tincture or fresh plant juice or tea.

Chamomile teabags
This is a low cost effective way of bringing relief to tired irritated eyes. For some hayfever sufferers itchy eyes can be the primary symptom which can become stinging and painful.
Chamomile has anti-inflammatory, cooling and antiseptic properties.
. Take two chamomile teabags, cover with boiling water infusing for 15 mins.
. Squeeze out excess water, store in the fridge on a saucer until you are ready to use them.
Gently place the teabags over the eyes for 10-15 mins and relax.