With the hayfever season approaching, sufferers are keen to find safe ways to prevent their annual bout of this troublesome condition. Happily, alternative medicine offers a wealth of possibilities.

In one study of 174 hayfever sufferers, acupuncture (nine sessions over three weeks) and laser acupuncture (15 sessions) were both shown to have significant effects over placebo procedures (Zeitschr Allg Med, 1998; 74: 45-6).

In herbal medicine, stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) can offer improvement even after just one week, according to a double-blind randomised controlled trial (Planta Med, 1990; 56: 44-7).

Ephedra sinica (known as ma huang gen in Chinese herbal medicine) has been used for more than 5000 years for allergic respiratory conditions in the Far East – and without significant side-effects. Indeed, based on studies of the herb in the 1920s, the pharmaceutical company Merck produced and marketed the synthetic alkaloid ephedrine. This was soon widely used in orthodox medicine for all kinds of allergic respiratory problems, including asthma.

However, after this active synthetic was linked with severe hypertension, glaucoma, hyperthyroidism and coronary thrombosis, the use of Ephedra was restricted in most Western countries.

Nevertheless, these problems were not caused by the use of the whole herb, but only by the isolated ephedrine. Apparently, the six or so constituents contained in the plant buffered the action of the ephedrine. One of these, called pseudoephedrine, for instance, reduces heart rate and lowers blood pressure. Consequently, this medicinal plant has been widely used for thousands of years, with no undesirable side-effects.

Despite this, the plant remedy has largely remained ‘restricted’ in the West (Richard Mabey, The Complete New Herbal, London: Penguin Books, 1991, pp 56, 188; British Herbal Pharmacopoeia, Part II, Cowling, West Yorkshire: British Herbal Medicine Association, 1979, pp 75-7).

Ephedra herbs should never be taken together with monoamine-oxidase inhibitors.

Homoeopathy has shown success in treating hayfever, as have two derivative versions of it: homotoxicology (using human toxins or ‘homotoxons’ to neutralise and eliminate human toxins) and isopathy (using preparations based on the causal agent). In a double-blind, randomised, controlled trial involving 146 hayfever sufferers, the homotoxicological nasal spray Luffa comp-Heel was just as effective as an orthodox nasal spray containing cromolyn sodium (Forsch Komplementärmed, 1999; 6: 142-8).

Likewise, another double-blind, randomised, placebo-controlled trial found that when sufferers were given homoeopathic dilutions of specific isopathic antigens – individually determined for each patient by prior skin tests – they had less need for antihistamines and their symptom scores were significantly reduced (Lancet, 1986; 2: 881-6).

The UK Pollination Calendar could be used instead of skin tests to determine the specific pollen(s) causing an individual’s seasonal hayfever. Having this information allows the appropriate isopathic remedy to be prepared.

A review of seven separately conducted, randomised, placebo-controlled trials, involving 752 patients in total, found Galphimia Glauca to be effective in 79 per cent of hayfever cases, eliminating or improving eye and nose irritations as effectively as did orthodox treatments (Forsch Komplementärmed, 1996; 3: 230-4).

Harald Gaier is a registered homoeopath, naturopath and osteopath.

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Written by What Doctors Don't Tell You

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