Fighting Hay Fever… One Microbiome at a Time

A girl sitting by golden retriever dog blowing her nose due to hay fever symptoms

Summary

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Have you ever had your day turned upside down because of an unexpected hay fever attack? You're in good company. About 60 million Americans—26% of adults and 19% of kids—have seasonal allergic rhinitis. Otherwise known as hay fever, it’s a seasonal allergic condition that causes cold-like symptoms [1].

For those with severe and year-round allergies, it’s more complicated. Hay fever can increase the risk of conditions like asthma and sinus infections. From annoying symptoms to poor sleep to the high cost of treatment, hay fever is a quality of life kick in the pants. And since so much of our immune system is controlled and influenced by our gut microbiota, we’ll dive into how a healthier gut is a first-line defense for managing seasonal allergy symptoms.

If sneezing fits and itchy eyes are stealing joy from your time alfresco, we have a few hacks and natural ways to fight those allergy blues. Whether anecdotal or backed by science, our team swears by these holistic remedies. 

What triggers hay fever?

Allergic rhinitis happens when the immune system reacts to harmless airborne particles as if they were harmful—like pollen, spores, and pet dander [2]. When exposed, your immune system produces a protein (IgE antibody) that triggers your body to release inflammatory mediator molecules including histamine. Symptoms like a runny nose, itchy eyes, congestion, and sneezing follow. Many of these manifestations mimic the common cold. Some people suffer year-round and get worse in spring and summer. 

The instigators and their timelines

  • Tree pollen: early spring
  • Grass pollen: late spring and summer
  • Ragweed pollen: late summer and fall
  • Dust mites: year-round
  • Pet dander: year-round, but might worsen for those in colder-climate as we hunker down for winter in close quarters 
  • Spores: seasonal and year-round

Common hay fever symptoms

  • Sneezing
  • Runny nose and nasal stuffiness 
  • Watery, itchy, red eyes 
  • Itchy nose, roof of mouth or throat
  • Cough
  • Postnasal drip
  • Swollen, bruised-appearing skin under the eyes 
  • Extreme fatigue, often due to poor sleep

chart comparing hay fever and common cold symptoms, onset, and duration
While hay fever and the common cold have similar symptoms, it is helpful to know the differences between the two.

Hay fever usually manifests before the age of twenty [3]. Diagnoses are typically culled through symptom assessment, family history, and lab tests that detect allergen sensitivities. 

Beyond the discomfort of itchy eyes and a nose that runs all day (perhaps yours is on the Olympic track?), hay fever is part of the atopic march. The term refers to the progression of Ig-E-mediated allergic diseases: eczema, food allergies, and asthma/allergic rhinitis. This chronic condition cluster is linked to a baby's immune system and development.

How is hay fever linked to your microbiome?

It’s not intuitive. The role of the gut microbiome in allergic conditions isn’t part of mainstream discourse. But the science is there: early exposure to diverse microbes, facilitated by things like breastfeeding, vaginal birth, and limited antibiotic use, helps to strengthen the immune system in infants to help reduce sensitivity/reactions to allergens later in life [4]. 

The opposite is also true. Adults who suffer from hay fever often fall into the dysbiosis category on gut tests, meaning their microbes are out of balance and/or probably were early on [5]. Studies show that a child's diverse and balanced microbial profile protects them against developing allergies later in life [6].

It’s also worth noting there are no absolutes. Even if you nurture your baby’s beneficial microbes from the start—a vaginal birth, breastfeeding, and no exposure to antibiotics or environmental stressors—they can still develop/struggle with allergies. Maybe a great, great grandmother had hay fever. Allergies are understudied, so we don’t know what we don’t know. 

That’s why our Tiny Health team beats the drum about the first 1000 days of a baby’s life. Because a baby’s gut isn’t as diverse as a child’s in those first few years, it’s much easier to course-correct and sidestep the atopic march. Not sure if your little one’s microbiome needs TLC? Our Baby Gut Health Test can clue you in. (Don’t worry if results come back with troubling imbalances; our microbiome specialists provide a personalized Action Plan to help you course-correct.) 

Until science has that sorted, we have holistic remedies and tips that may help ease your symptoms. 

Favorite allies: supplements & lifestyle nods

Our team uses these natural remedies as part of their seasonal allergy routine. Boosting your immune system to help relieve allergy symptoms? We’re all in. 

  • Quercetin: A flavonoid in fruits, vegetables, and grains, it’s packed with antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties [7]. 
  • Bromelain: Extracted from pineapple juice and stems, bromelain is an enzyme known for its anti-inflammatory effects and digestive health benefits [8].
  • Stinging Nettles: Some evidence suggests that stinging nettle may inhibit inflammation and block histamine receptors, potentially reducing hay fever symptoms. However, more research is needed to confirm its efficacy [9].
  • Allergy Support Kit formulated by our medical advisor, Dr. Song, combines many of the above ingredients and is safe for all ages.
  • Xlear Nasal Spray with Xylitol - a nasal saline spray that aims to gently clean, decongest, and moisturize, helping reduce tissue swelling from allergens like pollen [10].

On the lifestyle front, here are other tips to help you manage your spring allergies:

  • Close your windows to keep pollen outside. (We’re all about bringing nature indoors, so this adjustment hits our biophilia-loving hearts hard.)
  • Use HEPA filters to capture indoor allergens.
  • Wash your bedding with hot water regularly to remove allergens like dust mites.
  • Stay indoors when pollen counts peak.
  • Bathe before bedtime to wash away allergens on your body.
  • Take off your shoes when you walk in the door to avoid carrying pollen inside.

So, if hay fever has been killing the vibe on your outdoor fun, we hope that understanding how your gut health impacts your allergies helps you take back the season. Be proactive. It’ll make a world of difference. 

Whether making simple adjustments—like trying natural remedies—or a life-changer like supporting your little one's gut health with a baseline test, start today. Your immune system will thank you. 

References

[1] Mayo Clinic, “Hay fever - Symptoms and causes.” https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/hay-fever/symptoms-causes/syc-20373039. [Accessed: 06-May-2024].

[2] S. Beard, "Rhinitis," Prim. Care, vol. 41, no. 1, pp. 33-46, Mar. 2014, doi: 10.1016/j.pop.2013.10.005. Epub Nov. 28, 2013. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24439879/

[3] D. M. Quillen and D. B. Feller, "Diagnosing rhinitis: allergic vs. nonallergic," Am. Fam. Physician, vol. 73, no. 9, pp. 1583-1590, 2006.

[4] Lynch, S. V., & Boushey, H. A. (2016). The microbiome and development of allergic disease. Current Opinion in Allergy and Clinical Immunology, 16(2), 165–171. https://doi.org/10.1097/ACI.0000000000000255

[5] A. M. Watts, N. P. West, P. Zhang, P. K. Smith, A. W. Cripps, and A. J. Cox, "The Gut Microbiome of Adults with Allergic Rhinitis Is Characterised by Reduced Diversity and an Altered Abundance of Key Microbial Taxa Compared to Controls," Int. Arch. Allergy Immunol., vol. 182, no. 2, pp. 94–105, 2021. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32971520/ 

[6] Augustine, T., Kumar, M., Al Khodor, S., & van Panhuys, N. (2023). Microbial Dysbiosis Tunes the Immune Response Towards Allergic Disease Outcomes. Clinical Reviews in Allergy & Immunology, 65(1), 43–71. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12016-022-08939-9

[7] J. Mlcek, T. Jurikova, S. Skrovankova, and J. Sochor, "Quercetin and Its Anti-Allergic Immune Response," Molecules, vol. 21, no. 5, Art. no. 623, May 2016. https://doi.org/10.3390/molecules21050623 

[8] Pavan, R., Jain, S., Shraddha, & Kumar, A. (2012). Properties and therapeutic application of bromelain: a review. Biotechnology Research International, 2012, 976203. https://doi.org/10.1155/2012/976203

[9] M. Bakhshaee, A. H. Mohammadpour, M. Esmaeili, F. Jabbari Azad, G. Alipour Talesh, M. Salehi, and M. N. Mohajer, "Efficacy of Supportive Therapy of Allergic Rhinitis by Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica) root extract: a Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo- Controlled, Clinical Trial," Iran J Pharm Res., vol. 16, suppl., pp. 112–118, Winter 2017. PMC5963652 PMID: 29844782.

[10] C. Cingi, L. Birdane, A. Ural, F. Oghan, and C. Bal, "Comparison of nasal hyperosmolar xylitol and xylometazoline solutions on quality of life in patients with inferior turbinate hypertrophy secondary to nonallergic rhinitis," Int Forum Allergy Rhinol., vol. 4, no. 6, pp. 475-479, Jun. 2014. doi: 10.1002/alr.21311. Epub Feb. 26, 2014. PMID: 24574278