A: Hayfever, or “seasonal allergic rhinitis,” is most common in the spring and fall, although it can occur at any time of year. The Willamette Valley is notorious for pollens and mold spores that affect many of its occupants. When these allergens are inhaled the body overreacts by releasing an internal cascade of chemicals that cause inflammation in the eyes, nose and throat.
Natural treatments can be just as effective for controlling symptoms and, unlike antihistamine drugs, can get to the root of the problem by stabilizing the membrane of cells that react to pollen and other irritants.

Quercetin
This bioflavonoid (plant pigment) is found in foods and beverages like apples, onions, dark berries, and tea and is a good preventive supplement for hay fever. It appears to reduce the body’s inflammatory response to allergens and lower the production and release of histamine. The recommended dose is 500 mg twice a day, between meals. For best results it should be started six to eight weeks before allergy season. Children under ten can half this dose. Quercetin is generally considered safe, but anyone at risk for low blood pressure or blood clotting problems should avoid high doses. It may inhibit the efficacy of quinolone antibiotics and should not be taken with Cisplatin, a chemotherapy agent. It is not recommended for pregnant or lactating women since long-term safety has not been determined.

Stinging Nettle
Unlike quercetin, which prevents symptoms, stinging nettle (Urtica Dioica) relieves them. Dr. Andrew Weil believes that this herb does a better job than anti-histamine drugs and has fewer side effects. Take one capsule every four to eight hours to control allergy symptoms. Children old enough to swallow capsules can take one capsule daily.

Butterbur
If symptoms persist, butterbur (Petasites Hybridus) may work as well as conventional antihistamines without drowsiness. The recommended dose is 50 mg two to three times a day for adults and children over age ten. Children aged six to nine can take 50 mg once a day. In its natural state, the herb contains pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PAs) that are toxic to the liver, so look for products labeled as PA-free butterbur extracts. One reliable brand is Petadolex, sold in gelcaps. Avoid butterbur if you’re pregnant or nursing.

If none of the above work, then over-the-counter Loratadine (Claritin/Alavert) provides the least drowsy antihistamine available.

I also suggest avoiding tobacco smoke, perfumes, cold air, and cleaning products, since hay fever sufferers are more sensitive to these chemicals.

Dr. Evelin Dacker is the physician/owner of Vida Family Medicine and Vida Aesthetic Medicine. She practices Integrative Medicine and has taken classes with Dr. Andrew Weil. Dr. Dacker is on the board of the Salem Cancer Institute and Integrative Mental Healthcare of Oregon.