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Pollen Allergy

Willow Catkin
Willow Catkin ©Christa Richert

Millions of Americans, over 20% of the population myself included, suffer from pollen allergy beginning every spring and usually lasting until early fall. The common symptoms of itchy and watery eyes can range from annoying to debilitating.

Some people are affected only by certain types of tree pollen and others by certain types of grass pollen and the unfortunate, like me, are seemingly affected by all pollen.

Pollen release by plants and trees do not happen all at once, rather they are staggered according to different release time of plants and trees, hence the long duration of the allergy season. From my experience in Eastern Washington State, trees are the first to release pollen and affect me the worst. Alder, aspen, birch, cottonwood and willow tree pollen release are the first major episodes here beginning by mid April.

Lawn Grass
Lawn Grass  ©Kiel Latham

Usually the male species of these trees form catkins, dangling flower clusters, where pollen is produced and released. The famous cottonwood cotton, when released appears like fluffy snow, is the seed released by female cottonwood and is not allergenic as commonly believed. People suffer due to invisible grass pollen that is released at about the same time and mistakenly blame the cotton.

Contrary to popular belief, lawn grass mowed often and short produces more pollen than ones allowed to grow a little high. This is because mowing stresses the grass and accelerates pollen production out of self preservation. Plenty of water for a lush grass also reduces grass stress and pollen.

Pine tree pollen is another major allergen in our region that take place a little later. Their release is an amazing sight to behold. I saw it once driving on a warm afternoon with still winds and when the lighting was just right. Every pine tree looked like it was smoking with a large column of pollen rising straight up. The mountains looked like they were smoldering, an amazing amount of pollen. Driving with the windows rolled up and the air conditioner turned on is a good way to minimize pollen contact while on the road.

Itchy Eyes Irritated Eye
What to do to ease the itchy, watery eyes has been my concern every spring for years. My allergic reaction to pollen was severe to the point of debilitating. I could not sleep well at night for the constant itchy eyes and the extreme watering of the eyes impaired my vision to the point where I could not drive. The constant itch became very stressful and combined with the almost involuntary eye rubbing and lack of sleep made me look like a tired raccoon.

Every year there seem to be better, newer allergy drugs to add to the myriads of prescription and over the counter drugs already on the market. This year I tried Zaditor eye drops. It did give relief but I was not satisfied. It had to be applied every 8-12 hrs continuously, it was expensive and the relief seem to lesson over time. The problem was that there was a warning on the label not to use it more than twice a day and not more than one drop per application. In short it became useless in about three weeks. It was as though the eyes became addicted to the drug and needed more and more.

For me after years of trials, pharmaceutical drugs were not the answer. I turned to the so called alternative medicine solutions. I never discounted them but rather had this mistaken belief that it was something that if it worked took a very long time. I always wanted relief now.

Chrysanthemum ©Cumhur K.

Herbal eye wash is what I tried and I was amazed with the dramatic relief it provided immediately. Chrysanthemum flower tea was recommended to drink and to use as an eye wash. It is part of the ancient Chinese herbal medicine to help eye problems. It also is a popular tea served in Chinese restaurants and drunk as a light and fragrant summer tea. It has become my favorite tea. I buy it in dried bulk form, the prices range anywhere from $1 to $3 oz. What worked even better for me was eyebright eye wash.

Eyebright is a remedy for eye and related conditions used by both ancient Greek and Chinese. All parts of the plant are used, flower, stem and leaves to apply topically and to take internally. Today it can be obtained in dried bulk form, tinctures, powder and capsules. For eye wash and tea, dried bulk form would be best, prices range from $1 to $3 oz. I use 1 teaspoon of dried bulk form in a cup, add boiling water and cover till cooled. Covering is important as essential oils will escape with steam if not covered. I strain it to another cup and splash a handful to each eye, making sure it gets in the eye. I repeat as necessary but usually once in the morning and once before bed. If I have been outside for a length of time, then anytime the eyes feel irritated. It is important to keep everything clean, including hands and always brew a new batch daily. In warm weather refrigerate the solution rather than let it stand in room temperature for any length of time. You don’t want to take any chance of splashing bacteria into your eyes.

Eyebright contains flavanoids and volatile oils that are anti-inflammatory and stabilizes mast cells, the tissues of the eye responsible for triggering itchy and watery eyes. When pollen comes in contact with the body, the body reacts in a false immune or defense action by producing tears to wash away the invading toxins, in this case pollen and inflammation by rushing blood and white cells to defend the affected area. This results in even more sensitivity to pollen which in turn causes more inflammation and tears. Eyebright can break this cycle with its unique properties. Commercial pharmaceuticals also aim to stabilize mast cells by using synthetic chemical compounds that are really a big mystery as to its effects over time in regard to safety. Just reading their disclaimers as to possible side effects is a discomforting clue.

I drink chrysanthemum tea and apply eyebright eye wash daily and they have given better results than all the drugs I have tried over the years. Also, these herbs are just a fraction of the cost of pharmaceuticals, benign without the possibility of dire side effects, non-addictive and ingredients you can actually pronounce and spell. The simple fact that they have been in use for a thousand years or more should be an indication as more than mere folklore or old wife’s tale. However caution is advised when putting anything in contact with eyes as an allergic reation is possible. Start with a small amount, a drop or two at the most and be ready to rinse with water if needed.

A good friend of mine suffered from an itchy rash in the upper chest and back area that would not go away. The severity of the itch became debilitating. The doctors didn't have any answers and she was reduced to just trying to treat the symptom and not the cause. Al the various topical applications only provided temporary relief that eventually stopped working altogether.

Being a smart person and after furious research she came upon Lactobacillus acidophilus. One of the good (probiotic) bacterium that normally reside in people's digestive tracts that among other benefits promotes a boost for the body's immune system. Since allergies are immune system problems she decided to try it. For her the effect was miraculous, after taking it for a week the rash went away.

Acidophilus is a natural ingredient of cultured yogurt, cheese and dairy products but are sold in capsule form in most health food and drug stores as dietary supplement mainly used to replenish the good bacterium after taking antibiotics. I had known about acidophilus in that light but not the connection to the immune system health.

Now I've started taking acidophilus in an effort to at least slow down my yearly allergy attacks. How it can help makes sense to me. The acidophilus kills harmful bacterium and helps the body get rid of toxins in the digestive tracts which takes a load off the immune system's work. So far it appears to be working, I don't have the symptoms which usually begins by late May. I'm keeping my fingers crossed. It would be a wonderful solution to the cause of allergies.


Clear Eye
Experts offer sneeze-free gardening advice:
Herbal Hay Fever Solutions:
Chrysanthemum flower tea: Acupuncture Today
Chrysanthemum tea: Soup Queen
Eyebright: Wikipedia
Probiotics .Wikipedia

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