Star foods for hay fever: almond, barley, blackberry, blackcurrant, blueberry, broccoli, brown rice, buckwheat, cabbage, fig, garlic, ginger, grapefruit, honey, horseradish, kale, lemon, lime, mackerel, onion, orange, rocket, rosemary, salmon, sardine, thyme, turmeric, turnip, watercress
Hay fever (or allergic rhinitis, also known as seasonal rhinitis) is a seasonal allergy. It is caused by pollens produced by trees and grasses in spring and summer. Hay fever often runs in families, especially where there is a history of other allergic diseases such as eczema and asthma. In a child, hay fever is most likely to manifest itself after the age of six years and, today, as many as one in ten adults suffer from the disease in one form or another.
Hay fever symptoms are caused by an immune response to pollen that causes the mucous membranes in the nasal cavity to become inflamed. When pollen comes into contact with the membranes, the immune system goes on the assault and creates antibodies to it. If children are not allergic to pollen, this response is a normal, low-key one and goes unnoticed. If, however, your child has a pollen allergy, an extreme response is triggered, resulting in a mass production of histamine and other inflammatory chemicals that, in turn, cause the symptoms of hay fever. These include sneezing, itchy and watering eyes, runny nose, itchy and sore throat, swollen eyes and itchy and irritated skin. Sufferers are also likely to feel tired, irritable and have difficulty concentrating.
Medicinal foods for hay fever
Another food that may exacerbate hay fever is wheat. This is originally a grass product and, although no formal studies have yet been carried out, it is suggested that some hay fever sufferers become hypersensitive to the proteins that are common in wheat and other grasses. Another consideration is that intensive farming practices mean that today's wheat is much higher in gluten, a common gut irritant which stimulates mucus production. A simple month's exclusion will help to identify if wheat is indeed worsening your child's hay fever. Alternatives to common wheat products include rye breads and crackers, oats and oat cakes, gluten-free flours, brown rice, millet, quinoa and buckwheat.
Give your child foods rich in beta-carotene to help reduce allergic reactions and soothe mucous membranes. Beta-carotene can be found in all yellow, orange and red fruits, and in vegetables such as carrot, peppers, pumpkin, squash and sweet potato.
Phytonutrients from the flavonoid group, especially quercetin, are known for their antihistamine qualities. Quercetin is found in the peel of citrus fruits as well as in buckwheat, coloured onions, apple, tomato, potato, grapes and broad beans. It also enhances the body's absorption of vitamin C, another antihistamine. These two substances are often found together in foods, a common example being citrus fruits. Other vitamin C-rich foods include blackcurrants, kiwi fruit, guava and peppers.
Garlic can also provide relief for hay fever sufferers as it helps to reduce sinus inflammation. Include plenty in stir-fries, soups and salad dressings. Other herbs and spices that can help relieve the symptoms of hay fever are horseradish, chilli, ginger, cinnamon and turmeric, all of which have decongestant and expectorant qualities.
Calcium and magnesium are excellent anti-allergy minerals that have a calming influence on the nervous system. They are found in nuts and seeds and green leafy vegetables. Prepare children who suffer from hay fever enticing salads full of green leafy vegetables and offer almonds as a snack if they are over five years old.
It is, as ever, important to encourage your child to drink plenty of fluids throughout the hay fever season. Water and diluted fresh juices help to thin mucus secretions.
Some naturopaths swear that the severity of hay fever symptoms can be reduced by taking a teaspoon of locally produced honey (made from local pollen) dissolved in warm water once a day in the run up to the hay fever season. The theory is that your child will gradually build up a resistance to the pollen that might cause full-blown symptoms once the hay fever season gets underway.
Extracted from Immunity Foods for Healthy Kids by Lucy Burney, text © 2004, published by Duncan Baird Publishers, London.