Allergies – how & why they happen

by Daphne Lambert

There are many kinds of allergy, from food allergies like peanuts, soya or shellfish to perennial allergies like dust, mold or feathers. However, as we head through spring into the summer, it’s the seasonal allergies from tree, grass and weed pollen also known as hay fever or allergic rhinitis that are upon us. Sneezing, coughing, runny nose and itchy eyes, the classic symptoms of hay fever cause great discomfort and affect 10 million people in the UK.

What is an allergy?

Allergies set in when your immune system misjudges a harmless protein, interpreting it as a threat. The immune system studies the perceived threat, called an allergen, and in preparation for any further exposure develops antibodies, special cells designed to detect it. You are now "sensitized" to the mistaken allergen. Then, the next time you're exposed to this allergen, your immune system jumps into action. The antibodies pick up the allergen and deliver it to white blood cells (called mast cells), which trigger the release of chemicals like histamine and include the allergic symptoms of sneezing, itching, swelling and rashes.

The hygiene hypothesis

There are different theories as to why the immune system makes this mistake. 'The hygiene hypothesis' is an accepted theory that inadequate exposure to bacteria and viruses during early childhood results in an immune system that gets fewer opportunities to learn how to discriminate between dangerous pathogens and harmless things like pollen.

Allergy calendar

Here’s a list of potential allegories and when you’re most likely to experience them.

February – April: pollen of hazel, elm, willow, ash poplar, birch, oak and pine

May – June: grasses, oil seed rape, lime and plantain

July – September: mugwort, ragweed, nettle and chrysanthemum

Antioxidants to keep allergies at bay

Found in fruits, vegetables and other foods and beverages, antioxidants can help battle inflammation inside your body – a critical factor in controlling allergies. These foods and drinks are loaded with antioxidants, easy to incorporate into your daily diet and are particularly helpful at minimising the effects of seasonal allergies.

  • Asparagus – this fantastic spring food contains the antioxidant nutrients of vitamin C, beta-carotene, vitamin E and zinc, as well as a unique combination of powerful anti-inflammatory compounds
  • Avocado – many nutrients in avocados have been linked to anti-inflammatory action
  • Beetroot – an antioxidant rich food shown to have potent anti-inflammatory benefits
  • Garlic - the most researched compound in garlic, allicin, has been found to have many anti-inflammatory properties
  • Ginger – loaded with antioxidants and is a powerful anti-inflammatory
  • Green tea – antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-histamine properties
  • Lacto fermented vegetables – the seat of your immune system is located in your gut, so supporting your digestive health is an essential part of supporting your immune system, which protects us against all disease, including allergies
  • Nettle – another food arriving just at the right time to ease the discomfort of hay fever, nettles inhibit the body making histamine. Make a tea with the fresh leaves and add a slice of lemon to make it even more potent. For best results drink daily for 6 weeks before the pollen count rises. If you cannot source fresh nettles use the dried herb or take a tincture
  • Turmeric – curcumin in turmeric is a powerful anti-inflammatory the bio-availability of curcumin in fresh turmeric is limited so it may be worth considering a high potency curcumin supplement

Two especially important nutrients

Omega 3 fatty acids

Crucially important to overall health, Omega 3 helps fight inflammation and can be found in cold water fish, walnuts and flaxseed oil, as well as grass-fed meat and eggs.


A bioflavonoid found in a number of foods, Quercetin is a natural antioxidant and protects the body and helps it to mop up molecules called free radicals that can cause cell damage. Quercetin helps to stabilise mast cells and prevents them from releasing histamine. Foods high in quercetin include broccoli, citrus fruits, onions, apples, parsley, tomatoes & red wine.

Top 10 tips for surviving seasonal allergies

  1. Acupuncture can offer relief from allergy symptoms
  2. Flushing your nasal cavity with a neti pot helps flush out pollen
  3. Vacuum regularly to remove pollen from rugs and furniture
  4. Close windows and doors when the pollen count is high
  5. Wash any clothing that might have come into contact with pollen
  6. Avoid outside line drying that can result in pollen sticking to your clothes
  7. Do not wear outdoor shoes in the house
  8. Take a quick shower at bedtime to keep pollen out of your bed
  9. Avoid foods that you’re intolerant to as you become more sensitive to these foods when you are experiencing seasonal allergies
  10. Make sure you’re getting adequate vitamin D levels from safe sun exposure, oily fish, eggs and shiitake mushrooms