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 ©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.
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
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
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.
Experts offer sneeze-free gardening advice: MedicineNet.com
Herbal Hay Fever Solutions:
Chrysanthemum flower tea: Acupuncture
Chrysanthemum tea: Soup