It is not unusual to experience runny nose, itchy eyes, sneezing or even a blocked nose during the spring and sometimes even during early summer. Allergies to grass and tree pollen result in the discomforting symptoms of what we call ‘hay fever’. Allergy to dust, fumes, animal hair may also trigger uncomfortable respiratory symptoms similar to ‘hay fever’ although strictly speaking allergy this is called ‘allergic rhinitis’ and ‘hay fever’ is a term reserved for a pollen allergy. Although over the counter antihistamines as tablets or nasal sprays alleviate the symptoms, habitual use of these can weaken the immune system, therefore predisposing one to further allergies, therefore it might help to learn how to boost respiratory immunity using natural measures. Individuals who are prone to respiratory allergies when they come in contact with an allergy causing agent such as pollen, are feeling the effects as the lining of their nostrils become irritated and inflamed giving rise to further symptoms such as itching, watering red eyes and a runny nose.
If you have ever experienced respiratory allergies, I am sure you may have asked the question ‘why me’? However be assured you are not alone as every spring it is estimated that over 20% of the UK’s population suffer from hay fever. Fortunately unlike colds, respiratory allergies are not infectious so you will not pass this on, although you are more likely to suffer from respiratory allergies if there is a family history of allergies. It is also common amongst people who have Asthma or eczema. Although from a medical perspective, individuals who have atopic tendency, meaning certain types of people are prone to hay fever, eczema and asthma are the mostly likely people to suffer from respiratory allergies, Ayurveda links allergies to individuals with Vata and Kapha types so the questions you need to ask yourself are:
Am I a Vata type or Vata aggravated making me prone to allergies?
I may eat salads and cold food but I don’t digest these well. Instead my tummy feels better when I have warm food.
I am easily excitable and easily get exhausted.
My hands and feet generally tend to be cold.
I am more likely to have constipation than loose stools when my diet changes or when under stress.
I tend to worry or am more likely to be anxious about every day things.
I don’t mind extreme summers in comparison to very cold weather.
I tend to breathe from by chest more so than using my abdominal muscles.
I often suffer from poor sleep except when I am very exhausted.
My energy levels throughout the day can be highly variable or at least I have alternatively a good day and a bad day (in terms of my energy levels).
I like coffee but coffee doesn’t like me as in it makes me hyper or can’t sleep if I have more than a cup of coffee a day.
If you can relate to some or even all of the characteristics described above it may indicate you are a vata body type or at least highly vata aggravated due to your diet and lifestyle.
Or am I a Kapha type or Kapha aggravated making me prone to allergies?
I am not a ‘morning person’ as I love to spend time in bed in the morning.
I love warmth but can’t stand humidity.
I don’t feel hungry in the morning and can easily skip breakfast.
I can have coffee and it does not affect me negatively.
I feel heavy in my stomach when I eat pasta or cheese.
I like sweets but sweets don’t like me as in I gain weight relatively quickly.
I loose weight on the first few days of dieting and then my weight loss becomes very slow after that.
I don’t get stressed too easily if at all and I tend to become sad rather than anxious when stressed.
I can eat a lot of food but my digestion is slow.
I have suffered from respiratory infections needing antibiotics in the past.
Again if you can relate to some or even all of the characteristics described above it may indicate you are a kapha body type or at least kapha aggravated due to your diet or lifestyle.
Respiratory allergies; an ayurvedic perspective
Ayurvedically, the respiratory system is very closely linked to the health of the digestive system. If the gut is cold and damp, it puts pressure on the respiratory system and reduces respiratory immunity. When the gut is warm and devoid of dampness, it indirectly keeps the functions of the lungs and the entire respiratory system healthy. This is based on the concept that ‘bad digestion is the basis for most illnesses’. In practice, this makes total sense, as when one has a healthy digestion and absorption, we are more likely to be able to absorb the nutrients that are necessary for improving one’s immunity. When the digestion is poor either because of poor nutritional habits or due to poor gut environment, the enzymatic imbalances in the gut can lead to weakening of the immune system. Therefore, from an ayurvedic sense, maintaining good digestion and keeping the respiratory passage healthy must happen simultaneously to relieve allergies.
Help with respiratory allergies
All respiratory allergies must be diagnosed by a qualified health practitioner and then if you are interested in seeking Ayurveda as a complementary approach to conventional care, you would benefit from seeing a properly qualified ayurvedic practitioner in your locality. At the same time, you can do the following, which will not only improve your immunity for respiratory allergies but improve your digestive functions as well.
Consume diets high in fiber and whole foods, meaning avoid refined carbohydrates and highly processed foods.
Reduce the intake of sugars (preferably avoid).
Reduce the intake of dairy especially cow’s milk and cheese.
Drink at least 2 liters of water a day, preferably warm water. If you can add a few slices of fresh ginger to boiled water, store in a flask and sip through out the day, this can be of great help.
Avoid sugary fruit juices as they can result in damp gut and sugar can reduce your immune strength.
If you are not allergic to bee pollen, take ½ teaspoon of bee pollen a day, which will support your immunity.
Drink warm water with slices of ginger and a teaspoon of honey in the morning. Local honey seems better where available.
Use generous amounts of turmeric in your cooking. Turmeric is difficult to absorb and therefore cooking with it makes it easier to absorb, you will need about one to two teaspoons every day.
Make a warm drink with almond milk (watch out for added sugar), a teaspoon of turmeric, ½ teaspoon of dry ginger and ½ teaspoon of licorice. Drink this in the evening at least an hour before going to bed.
Breathe from your nose and try to keep the mouth closed when working, exercising or sleeping wherever possible.
Before you reach for the antihistamine, try a nasal wash with saline water as it will help remove the allergy causing agents from the nose therefore further preventing the symptoms from becoming even worse. You can buy saline packaged in squeezable bottles from the pharmacy, which can then be used for nasal washes. A nasal wash can be done every day throughout the allergy season as a preventative measure. If you are unsure of how to do this either see an ayurvedic practitioner or learn how to do ‘jala neti’ a nasal wash technique from the yoga tradition.
So the good news is there are natural alternatives to antihistamine nasal sprays and even if you need these initially, by following the tips in this article, you will slowly rebuild good mucosal membrane in the nose. Plus, when your digestive function improves you are less likely to suffer from severe respiratory allergies and will overall feel much better. For comprehensive assessment and advice always consult a qualified ayurvedic practitioner. www.apa.uk.com