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Hi Sandra, now that spring has sprung, the amount of pollen in the air is increasing, and so too is my hay fever. What natural remedies can I use to help cope with my allergies?

Hay fever, also called allergic rhinitis, is caused by an allergic response to outdoor or indoor allergens, such as pollen, grasses, dust mites and pet fur or feathers. The mucous membranes of the eyes and nose become inflamed, causing symptoms such as watery eyes, nasal congestion, sneezing, coughing, headaches and sinus pressure.

Some people find they become increasingly prone to respiratory and sinus infections, due to their immune system being compromised. Besides making you miserable, severe Hay fever can be debilitating, affecting performance at work or school and generally interfering with life.

While it is important to address the uncomfortable symptoms of a person's condition, often conventional hay fever treatment does only that. Natural medicine is a great complimentary approach because it provides us with the tools to address the underlying cause.

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Broadly, allergies are caused by an impaired immune system. The immune system of an allergy sufferer responds to a safe substance such as pollen as unsafe, and mounts an immune attack. Supporting and balancing the immune system can go a long way to reducing the frequency and severity of allergic reactions.

Plant medicine taken in the form of a medicinal tea is one of the best ways to begin supporting the immune system. Specific plants that are helpful for allergies include Linden Blossom (Tilia platyphyllos), Plantain (Plantago lanceolata), Elderflower (Sambucus nigra), Thyme (Thymus vulgaris) and Sage (Salvia officinalis).

These plants combine to support and enhance immunity whilst protecting your respiratory system against pathogens and air pollution that aggravate allergies. The added benefit of using medicinal tea for Hay fever is that it keeps the mucous membranes moist, as dried nasal passages are more prone to infection.

I recommend three cups daily for the relief of acute hay fever, and one cup daily as a preventative measure if symptoms are well controlled. It may be wise to start drinking the tea just prior to the season change if you know your hay fever begins to worsen at this time of year.

Another excellent anti-allergic herb is nettle (Urtica dioica/Urtica urens). There is now spring growth in the garden, and you can harvest young shoots and infuse them fresh in hot water as a tea, dry them to use the leaves for a medicinal tea later or strip the leaves and add them as a vegetable just like spinach.

The stings will disappear as soon as you have poured hot water over them. Make sure you identify the plant you want to harvest correctly first, and only harvest plants that have not been sprayed or exposed to car traffic.

Other supportive measures include eating plenty of fresh vegetables and fruit to support immunity. It can also help to keep a food and symptom diary for one to two weeks to see if anything you eat or drink makes the hay fever worse. Food can be a trigger for some people with hay fever, although the connection may have gone unnoticed for years.

If symptoms persist or worsen, please consult your lead healthcare professional.