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Hay fever: a homeopathic view
by Jacqueline M Mardon
Far from bringing happiness, the innocuous-sounding hay fever (also known as seasonal allergic rhinitis) may cause many to dread the cheery spring and summer months. Never experiencing the joys of lying outdoors on a bed of grass, senses alert to the beauties of a summer’s day, the individual may mope wanly indoors and take elaborate and isolating precautions to remove themselves from as many potential triggers in the environment as possible.
The homeopathic practitioner seeks to render that unhappy and unwell person once more in connection with their greater surroundings. I have been thrilled when a patient tells me that after homeopathic treatment they were able to cycle a favourite country route once more. About 20 per cent of the population may suffer the condition, severity tending to peak in the 20s. There can be varying patterns though and, perhaps more commonly than classic hay fever, symptoms can be seen in people that are year-round, which would be known as perennial rhinitis. The homeopathic approach can be similar.
Early in the year, in January and February by preference, I like to see the return of patients to the allergy clinic who have recurrent symptoms of rhinitis which they link to the spring or summer months. The miseries of hay fever can be very troublesome as any sufferer knows! The individual can experience itchy, swollen and red eyes, sneezing bouts, running and itchy nose, even an itchiness inside the ears or throat. There can also be a great sense of heaviness and malaise associated with hay fever and a stuffiness or cotton wool sensation of the head. It can be really difficult to concentrate and it is little wonder that students who experience these symptoms have more to dread than some of their peers at exam times, as they wonder how this will affect their revision and performance.
There can be associated health problems which are provoked by the hay fever such as sore throat or sinusitis. There may also be other allergic conditions in the same person such as eczema, asthma or known food intolerances or allergies. This could point to “atopy” which is another way of expressing that someone has possibly a family tendency to be sensitive to “allergens”. These may be common things in their surroundings such as dusts or pollens, and this can cause problems for them. There could be a kind of allergic spectrum in the same person, such as they had some patches of dry and itchy skin as a child and they may have had hay fever in their teens, possibly with an increased chance of asthma at a later stage in their life.
Hay fever may just occur on its own, but I think the reasons it comes on at different times for different people is interesting and not really easily explained. For example, some women start to experience it at the menopause. It is not always possible to dismiss such phenomena as due to environmental changes or variations in pollen count. I think the condition is probably a lot more complex in the way it waxes and wanes and certainly lends scope to a look at the whole complexity of the person, as with a full homeopathic consultation. It is not always necessary to do this, though, and it can be possible to self-treat too.
Conventional treatment of the condition, which of course is very varied in the way the individual experiences it, in terms of particular focus of symptoms and in how severe it is, tends to be on the lines of antihistamine tablets or sprays to the nose or eyes, or by the use of corticosteroid sprays. In the past few years it has become as “normal” to many people to buy these over the counter as buying paracetamol, and this social acceptance of potentially harmful drugs does concern me. I really hope and expect to be able to offer a different approach, and certainly would aim to help minimise reliance on these drugs using a variety of methods. As this condition can affect all ages and last many, many seasons and years of life, I think it is reasonable to use alternatives. Also, I have to point out that the conventional approach to treatment does not necessarily bring relief to everyone and there are side-effects such as drowsiness with antihistamines which can curtail or limit their use. I would not claim homeopathy helps everyone, but it certainly deserves a try!
Causes: the history
The person attending the clinic has their own particular story to tell and as always with homeopathy, it is the individual experience which weighs the most. Some background knowledge about pollens and other triggers can be helpful in identifying what may be causing the symptoms. Classically, those sensitive to grass pollens have symptoms any time from May to September and, depending on weather conditions and early signs of spring that can burgeon in northern climes like Glasgow these days, the symptoms can start much earlier than this, certainly in April. Trees which have wind-borne pollen, that is, those with the characteristic, rather lovely catkins, can cause symptoms at varying times depending on their individual season for flowering, from February to June. Weed pollens or fungal spores can cause problems later in the year in the autumn.
Where rhinitis is year-round, consideration may be made of the possible contributory factor of dusts or house dust mite. The person may live beside a forest of birch or have particular triggers in their garden such as a shrub or flowers. There may be one picture superimposed on another, such as when an animal lover has sensitivity to their pet cat (year-round symptoms) but there is worsening when cutting the grass. It could be a very simple or complex story, but will reveal much to the attentive listener. As with other allergic complaints, the history offers the clues.
"I’m as restless as a willow in a windstorm,
I’m as jumpy as a puppet on a string
I’d say that I had spring fever, but I know it isn’t spring
I am starry-eyed and vaguely discontented,
like a nightingale without a song to sing
O why should I have spring fever, when it isn’t even spring"
(from It Might As Well Be Spring, lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, in the film State Fair 1945)
Multiple sensitivity: a case for a nosode?
In people with multiple sensitivities who demonstrate allergic reactions on many levels, such that their skin and breathing is affected, and who may have a history of family members affected by similar complaints, the practitioner may consider using a nosode and in fact this may be the preferred first option. In such a person, the choked up catarrh may be the tip of the iceberg, with much allergic disease underlying, particularly if there have been a lot of suppressing conventional treatments, such as steroid. I also sometimes regard the constantly running, inflamed nose as a sign of a sort of pressure valve for the person.
Homeopathy can treat the underlying imbalance and have a more lasting benefit. For example, a child who has had many courses of antibiotics for colds and chest infections and whose grandmother and uncle or cousins have “poor chests”, chronic bronchitis or asthma or other allergies, could benefit from a short course of Tuberculinum 30c, or 200c, three doses. If the indications for this remedy are strong, such as the child has a marked need to be outside, they may sweat easily at night or have unusual tastes for salami and smoked flavours, be real grumps when it is time to wake them in the morning and generally live-wires, always running about, then this may be enough treatment in itself.
In a young adult, who is rather restrained and fastidious, warm in their approach to others and extremely sensitive in their perceptions and sensitivities, both to allergic stimuli and also to the environment in an artistic appreciation, there could be consideration of the nosode Carcinosin. The person may feel drawn to the sea and particularly love chocolate. The history in the family of cancer, diabetes or tuberculosis in a close relative could be significant. Also, some sense of not pleasing a parent and having unreasonable demands made during childhood. They tend to be very conscientious and others rely on them. With their warm and sympathetic natures, they tend to do a lot for others, sometimes with scant regard for themselves.
With such a person who may present to the practitioner with severe illness and multiple allergic sensitivities, the relationship may be longer for therapeutic effect and a rewarding opening to the process can be with Carcinosin in a high potency such as 200c or 1M or perhaps LM as these individuals may particularly risk aggravation, a legacy of suppression I suspect.
Other nosodes can be helpful such as Psorinum in an extremely chilly person who is rather bleak in their outlook. There could be dryness of the nose rather than a discharge but unpleasant-smelling and sweaty feet or discharge from the ears. Probably this remedy would not be a first approach but helps if there is no progress. There might have been suppressive treatment with steroids of asthma or bronchitis and skin can appear unhealthy and somehow unwashed. Medorrhinum is worth considering in children who are a bit slow in their development, fearful of the dark and with a tendency to bite their nails, with a snuffly nose or perhaps with the sensation of it being blocked. They may have asthma and characteristically sleep on their tummies, maybe on their knees with face pushed into the pillow.
The option of Isopathy
The wide variety in the way the person can experience hay fever or allergic rhinitis ensures many diverse approaches to treatment. The simplest may be with isopathic remedies, which are made from the potentisation of pollens, dusts or other substances that the person may be sensitive to. The history alone may be the key here. The seasonal effects of grass pollens or trees may seem clear to the person by their own observation. It can be very specific, such as for the patient I had who was a beautiful singer, called to do solos at church weddings and funerals. Unfortunately, she was intolerant of the ebullient and heavily-scented lilies decorating these occasions. Another person from the east coast of Scotland may be affected by the acres of violently-hued yellow oilseed rape which is commonly grown there.
Testing with skin prick tests can help identify allergens and I do this commonly in my clinic, particularly where there are long-term symptoms with no clear pattern or the picture is changing all the time. The person has to stop their antihistamine treatment for two weeks before this test can be carried out. In allergic rhinitis, whether seasonal or perennial, I test with a wide range of house dust, house dust mite, pollens such as mixed grasses, flowers, weeds and mixed trees with sometimes individual pollens like birch or timothy grass, moulds, and animal fur or hair when appropriate. The results may sometimes be surprising and help to inform a treatment, which remains based on the history. There can also be a contributory effect from foods and these might be included with the tests if there is a suspicion of this.
This can be with a regime of three doses of a 200c or 30c preparation of mixed grass pollens, usually given in March in a preventative way for the season that year. Mixed tree pollens would tend to be given in February. An alternative is to take a month’s course of 30c strength, twice a day. The patient may get a feel for what kind of regime suits them best or which they prefer. Sometimes a boost of a further short course of mixed grass pollens in early June will be of benefit if they have had a worsening at that time the previous year.
With treating this condition, there can be an improvement the first year, with a stronger improvement expected in subsequent years, working to a progressive cure. If there are multiple sensitivities to allergens, confirmed on investigations, I would consider combining the nosode with a constitutional approach and limit isopathy to the two or three strongest reactions on skin prick testing. I also prefer to space isopathy at least a month apart. If isopathy works well for that individual, then they may only need to plan their remedies early in the year. Of course, those fortunate to go abroad chasing the sun in winter may need their preventive treatment then.
This can be a mainstay of treatment for hay fever and rhinitis in general and I use it commonly with more complex cases of allergy. Remedy pictures can come to mind and patients to illustrate this. Natrum muriaticum, for example, describes aggravation with heat and the sunshine, with protecting of the eyes, perhaps with headache. The nose may run profusely and non-stop, with blisters around the nose and lips, often cold sores. The person may seem rather guarded but very agreeable. They may crave salt. Someone for whom Arsenicum album may be helpful could be extremely chilly, tidy and perhaps a bit anxious, with burning, watery discharge from the nose, the skin about it very raw, including the top lip. With Lycopodium, there could be an unpleasant sensation of the nose blocking at night, possibly with catarrh dripping down the throat, which may be sore. There could be abdominal bloating and a certain stiffness in demeanour, with underlying confidence actually low.
The use of low potency remedies to help with symptom relief, as an alternative to conventional antihistamine use, can be very supportive for example as back-up or while waiting for prophylaxis to take effect, and may be how many try to self-treat their hay fever symptoms. Proprietary mixes do seem beneficial to some. Similarly topical preparations of Euphrasia as eye drops can be soothing where the eyes are stinging and running, the lids may be swollen and itchy. Euphrasia (6c, 12c) in sub-lingual form can be taken too, and the nasal discharge is typically not burning or uncomfortable, although there can be lots of it. Where sneezing just doesn’t seem to stop, Sabadilla can be an aid. There may be nose bleeds too and watering of the nose, with itchiness inside, the smell of flowers or cut grass seeming to aggravate. The eyes can be red and burning and there can be a strange improvement from being in a warm room, whilst being outside makes the person worse. Allium cepa, a remedy from red onion, can have the opposite symptoms of being better in the open and worse in warm indoors. The eyes run and the nose runs and burns. There can be a heaviness and dullness, with the person finding it difficult to concentrate.
Homeopathy, as the above shows, has much to offer the hay fever sufferer, but to lift the spirits as the season approaches, I would like to end with a song:
“I haven’t seen a crocus or a rosebud,
or a robin on the wing
But I feel so gay in a melancholy way,
that it might as well be spring
It might as well be spring.”
(Oscar Hammerstein II as previous page)
Jacqueline M Mardon MB BS MRCGP MPhil MFHom works at Glasgow Homeopathic Hospital as a specialist in homeopathic medicine. She also runs the allergy clinic and uses homeopathy for many people with multiple allergic-type problems.