Here in Germany, it is starting to look like spring! (Besides the sudden snow storms we had last week…) Yet, even as we are saying goodbye to the flu season, the constant runny noses and sore throats will continue as hay fever hits the unlucky people who have pollen allergies.
I was always the first person to turn towards medication to get rid of any symptoms of any inconvenience I had: painkillers for headaches, multivitamins for health, antibiotics for infections… However I realised how used I had become to turning to over-the-counter tablets whenever my body felt a little bit uncomfortable, when actually I am lucky enough to have a strong, in-built immune system that can fight infections and allergies, and get all of my nutrients from just eating healthily. And for every tablet you consume, there is a small chunk of plastic going into the rubbish bin, and eventually into the oceans. That might not seem like a lot, but when you think about how many people take medications and vitamins and tablets every day, it adds up to a huge amount of unnecessary plastic which I would like to avoid.
Hay fever has hit me pretty hard this year, but I plan to take on the spring with no hay fever medication, just with plastic-free counter-measures and a little common sense.
Disclaimer: I do not promote that you do not take medication necessary for your health. Living plastic-free is a wonderful act for the environment, but you need to be healthy to do that. Life quality-improving medication that is essential for healthy living should always be taken as prescribed by your doctor.
What is hay fever?
Hay fever, or allergic rhinitis, is caused when the body is exposed to an allergen, which triggers an allergic reaction from the immune system. Internally, there is inflammation of membranes inside your nose, which results in the external symptoms of a blocked runny nose, and lots of sneezing!
Different people can react to all sorts of allergens from different sources, for example cat and dog hair, mould spores, or dust mites. Hay fever is an allergic response to pollen, which can be from trees, grass or flowers depending on the time of the year. Hay fever affects people of all ages and ethnicities, and can range in its intensity, from dry eyes to extremely congested airways. All in all, it can be pretty tough to get through hay fever season without any sort of medication or aids to battle the symptoms.
What can you do?
For those of you who don’t want to be trapped inside for the next few months, here are some suggestions to support you through the hay fever season without having to turn to plastic-covered medication.
1) Drink ginger and lemon tea.
This is my go-to solution for when I am feeling under the weather with allergies or flu symptoms. Both ginger and lemons are great boosts for your immune system. Ginger helps to reduce the inflammatory response of your lymphocytes to allergens, reducing the congested feeling in your nose. Lemons on the other hand contain a lot of vitamin C, which has been shown to improve antimicrobial and killer cell activities against antigens and pathogens.
However, it should be mentioned that if you are eating a well-balanced diet every day, then you should be getting all of the nutrients from lemon and ginger naturally from other sources. This is just a top up!
Just take a cup of hot water, and cut a chunk of ginger and a wedge of lemon into it. I tend to reuse the ginger and lemon for the whole day to get as much out of it as I can, then I add the ginger to my veggie scraps bag and save the lemon for cleaning the bath!
2) Try a homemade cooling gel.
One of the worse symptoms of hay fever for me is dry, itchy eyes. Not only do your eyes feel grainy and constantly irritated, but they go all puffy and ugly and can physically hinder your work.
If drinking lots of water does not help enough, I suggest some sort of cooling ointment you can rub or spray onto your eyelids. These can be pretty difficult to find without plastic, so I prefer to make my own. I quite like the following recipe below that I found from the excellent book Homemade Beauty:
Blend half a cucumber, ¼ cup of aloe vera gel and 5 drops of Vitamin E oil until smooth. Refrigerate for two hours, then you can rub it around your eyes. It can keep up to three weeks.
I can’t find vitamin E oil here but the other two products are easy to find plastic-free. Instead I make sure I moisturise around my eyes afterwards. It is great for cooling down your eyes and stop them from itching so much.
3) Sleep enough.
Tiredness is a less-talked about symptom of hay fever. When your body detects allergens, it overreacts and goes into defence mode by triggering inflammation and production of mucus. This is not only uncomfortable for you, but it also means your body is working around the clock to fight this perceived attack. This uses up energy, leading to you feeling more weary throughout the day. Thus it is important to rest when you can!
4) Put vaseline around your nostrils.
Pollen enters the body through the nasal passages, hence your nose is the greatest sufferer during the hay fever season. A good way to trap this pollen before it reaches your membrane lining is to rub petroleum jelly around your nostrils before you head outside. The allergens stick to the jelly and so do not get sucked up into your nose, and instead can be wiped away! Although I would suggest refreshing the jelly regularly so there isn’t a build-up of pollen over time.
5) Remove external allergens.
I am allergic to a lot of stuff: tree and grass pollen, mould spores, cat and dog hairs as well as bees and wasps! Many of these culprits stick onto your clothes, hair and shoes, and so even when you go inside, the hay fever symptoms continue as you are still surrounded by the antigens.
The best way to get rid of these therefore is to vacuum/sweep your room every day during hay fever season, and to brush down your clothes before you enter the house. Even better, have a shower whenever you return from outdoors, and put your outside clothes straight into the washing basket to avoid contamination in your home.
In general, this should reduce your hayfever symptoms at home, allowing you to get some sleep!
6) Use cloth handkerchiefs.
Having a runny nose is also a crappy hay fever symptom, which results in hundreds of single use tissues ending up in the trash. Of course, the tissues themselves may not be plastic, but think about their production: hundreds of trees are cut down, transported back and forth across the country (if not continent) as they get chopped, processed, mixed with other chemicals, bleached, piled up and then wrapped up in a layer of plastic packaging, which itself has gone through its own lengthy chain of processes in order to be created and branded. All of this production for the convenience of blowing your nose for five seconds before throwing the tissue away, where it ends up in landfill and in the oceans.
It is far better to use reusable cloth handkerchiefs that you can use and then wash when they are too dirty. Though these require an initial investment (unless you get hand-me-downs like I did from my father!), you will probably end up saving money on buying countless packs of tissues in the long run.
7. Apply menthol products.
Sometimes hankies are not enough, and you need some extra help to clear your nasal passageways. Medicinal products for this are very difficult to come by plastic-free, thus I still use packaged materials, in particular eucalyptus oil for inhaling, and Vicks for rubbing on my back and chest. Both of these really help when I cannot breathe through the night, and the eucalyptus oil is great to carry around on a handkerchief during the day.
Even though products like these are plastic, I think I would rather use them than individually wrapped hay fever tablets, as at least I can reuse the pots and bottles I accumulate, and in my experience they last a much longer time than a packet of tablets.
I hope these ideas help you get through the allergy season! If you have more ideas, I would love to hear from you, so comment below or send me a message. Otherwise, enjoy the beautiful spring!