Is hayfever really getting worse?
It seems like every year the newspapers are full of horror headlines about how this year’s hayfever season will be the WORST EVER, and how hayfever sufferers are in for MONTHS OF MISERY. But is the hayfever season really getting worse?
Well there could be some truth in these headlines: hayfever season is affected by things like pollution and climate change, so as these worsen each year it seems logical that hayfever could get worse each year.
However, there are a number of additional reasons why your hayfever specifically may have got worse. These include things like changes to diet and lifestyle or even moving out of your parents’ home for the first time.
What impact does climate change have?
It’s no secret that climate change is slowly getting worse, and this warmer weather can bring with it a more difficult hayfever season.
Warmer weather is the biggest trigger for pollination, so as climate change brings warmer and warmer weather to the UK, this can trigger a hayfever season that starts earlier and finishes later each year – so even if the pollen count itself is not much higher, you may have to cope with hayfever symptoms for much longer, which puts extra strain on the body.
How pollution affects hayfever
If you live in a big city this is definitely one to think about!
Typically, pollen floats into the higher atmosphere during the day as the weather warms up, and can be easily blown away and dispersed once plants stop pollinating. However, pollen particles cling to the heavier pollution particles, meaning that in highly polluted areas, pollen can linger in the air for longer than usual.
In addition, many of the chemicals that make up what we refer generally to as ‘pollution’ can be respiratory irritants, meaning that if your immune system is already struggling to cope with pollen, it may be extra sensitive to the pollution you usually face without problem.
If you feel like this is the worst your hayfever has been, this could be because pollution is slowly getting worse in the UK’s biggest cities. Some of the most polluted cities in the UK include London, Glasgow, Scunthorpe, Port Talbort, Southampton and Nottingham – so not always necessarily the biggest! If you’ve recently moved to a new city, it may be that the pollution levels are higher there, triggering more severe symptoms.
Has ragweed appeared in your area?
Ragweed is notorious for causing severe hayfever symptoms! It's native to North America but seems to be spreading across Europe and has even been found in the UK! It may be that this new plant has appeared in your area for the first time, causing your hayfever symptoms to escalate.
Change in diet and lifestyle
Diet and lifestyle play a huge role in hayfever, but are often overlooked. Consider whether your diet has changed recently – has a new job meant that you’re too busy to cook fresh food? Has a new relationship meant that your eating habits have changed?
If your diet this year has incorporated more meat, dairy, alcohol or sugar than usual, then this is likely the cause of your worsening or appearing hayfever symptoms. These foods are all inflammatory, and many contain histamines that will worsen your allergic reaction. In addition, dairy is known to promote congestion.
Likewise, if you’ve been eating less fruit and veg this can have an impact too. Fruit and vegetables are fantastic for the immune system, and they are often packed full of antihistamines that work a bit like natural versions of your antihistamine tablets.
Stress is also a huge trigger for hayfever. If your lifestyle has suddenly become more stressful, whether due to a new job, a newborn child, a long commute or simply taking on too much at once, then this could be a cause of worsening or new hayfever symptoms.
Stress puts a lot of pressure on the body, and compromises several of your key functions, including both digestion and immune system. If your immune system is compromised then you won’t be well equipped to deal with even mild allergens. If your digestion is weakened then your ability to digest food and absorb nutrients will be compromised – so even if your diet hasn’t changed, the way your body makes use of the foods you’re eating may have!
Something we see very often is that when younger people move out of their parents’ home for the first time, their hayfever symptoms can suddenly get worse. But why?
Well, many young people who move out do so because they’re going to university, and for many, this also means lots more alcohol, late nights and takeaways. Without parents to cook healthy, nutritious foods, many students end up on a diet full of processed foods, refined carbohydrates and sugar.
For those of you not going to university, moving into your own home can still provide the challenge of cooking for yourself and the stress of paying bills, looking for a job, or taking on a new job.
Many young people often end up in poor-quality housing when they first move out, and this can have a big impact too! Poorly ventilated, cold and damp flats are the perfect breeding ground for mould, and mould spores can cause reactions very similar to hayfever. This, coupled with the increasing pollen outside your home, can result in more severe symptoms.
So what can you do?
Unfortunately there isn’t much you can do about climate change and pollution, except perhaps moving somewhere with fresher air like the seaside!
Other than this, the best thing you can do is focus on the diet and lifestyle aspects.
First of all, cut down your intake of inflammatory foods like meat, dairy, sugar and alcohol – especially during hayfever season, but all year round is best. This will make a huge difference!
However, all is not lost! Research has shown that gin and other clear spirits are the best drinks for hayfever sufferers, as they contain the least histamine of all the alcohol types, and contain no sulphites so are the least likely to irritate your symptoms. So if you don’t want to ditch alcohol all summer, you should still be able to enjoy a gin and tonic without too many problems.
Fill your diet with healthy, wholesome foods like brown rice, wholemeal bread, quinoa, nuts, seeds, fruit and vegetables. Focus in particular on fruits and vegetables that contain lots of vitamin C or quercetin – this includes blueberries, strawberries, citrus fruits and carrots. Garlic, onions and ginger are also great for hayfever!
If you’re worried about cutting out meat and dairy, there are lots of easy replacements. Tofu, tempeh, seitan, bean burgers and falafel make good substitutes, while dairy-free milk and cream replacements are easy to find in most supermarkets. We would advise, however, staying clear of too many processed replacements, such as soya burgers, fake chicken and vegan cheese.
If you’ve just moved out and are struggling to come up with easy-to-make and nutritious meals, then check out our fantastic recipes. Curries and stir fry are always good choices as you can throw in almost any veg that you have lying around, as well as pulses like chickpeas and kidney beans, and even extras like walnuts or cashew nuts. Choosing brown rice or wholewheat noodles make these dishes even more nutritious.
Try this tasty Three Bean Curry or this Tofu & Vegetable Satay to get you started. Soups are a fantastic way to boost your veg intake, whilst a smoothie in the morning can give you a big boost in vitamins and antioxidants!