Some thoughts on hay fever and gluten

I don’t want to add to the mountain of anecdotal coincidences that already muddle the health-matters domain when they are treated as “fact” but I want to share these observations about my own hay fever symptoms in relation to gluten consumption in case they hold any substance.

As celebrated in one of my earlier posts this year, this spring was my first without any of my early symptoms of hay fever arriving in March or even late Feb in over 35 years. Excepting a moment’s tickle in the throat one day and some mild sinus pressure early in the mornings until I became vertical again, I felt completely symptom-free and it was a miracle to me. Hay fever has plagued my life since puberty and would, typically, start in early spring and last until the mould spores of early autumn had faded away, peaking with a midsummer monster like a heavy head cold combined with burning red eyes, itchy throat and ears, wheezing and even occasional asthma.

Come to think of fit, I hadn’t had these symptoms anywhere nearly as bad for about the last couple of years. So what else has been different? The obvious thing has been my diet. I had eliminated milk and gone virtually gluten-free since the summer’s of 2013 and 2015 respectively (and fully plant-based since 2012). The things that I had done even more differently, this year, were that I went fully gluten free last June, egg and dairy free (excepting a period of experimentation with sheep’s cheese for three months from Nov until February) and had been diligently following the Medical Medium’s diet advice since February. Because of that, I’ve been drinking celery juice every morning since that time…and had noticed that celery contains quercetin; a natural hay fever remedy that I used to take in capsule form all the time. In fact, I was back to eating plenty of onions and garlic, both big sources of quercetin, and had got over my fear of the sugar in fruit to have daily smoothies, snacks made with dates and plenty of arctic blueberries. As the body clears out and stops reacting to diet, it becomes a solid foundation for the reduction or even the end of all over-reactions, including seasonal allergies. This, surely, had to be why I was having my best-ever pollen season since puberty.

But then, had I spoken too soon because, very suddenly last week, I was plagued with the worse hay fever since the very earliest years of it, when I was a teenager and in frequent agony with conjunctival eyes so sore I could hardly see my school books. Other symptoms have really come on too; a whole lot of sneezing, itchy throat, stuffy head…but the eye burn is something else, in fact I don’t remember it ever having been as severe as this before, or at least not since I was that teenager in the earliest days of my allergies.

It was a couple of days into this, wracking my brain as to why this had happened (was I allergic to June…) that I remembered the meal we had eaten on Thursday night, the evening it all started by bedtime. I’ve got into the habit of allowing one “ready-meal” per week but my supermarket delivery had included a substitution for the vegan Thai meal we had had several times before. Without my glasses on, stood on my doorstep, I had done my best to check the packet to make sure it was still vegan and made of minimal, good-quality ingredients (yes) and, being tired that day, I had accepted the substitute and served it up for dinner. Retrieving the pot from the recycling, I now discover that somewhere in what was basically a load of veg and coconut, the manufacturers saw fit to add gluten into the mix!

Was this the reason for the very sudden and severe return of my allergies; another cursory tale as to what happens when you allow your attention to lapse, even for a moment? What else could it be? Well, it could be that June has released a whole other set of pollen spores to which I’m particularly sensitive (but why is this worse than last year or the year before or the year before that..?) or that I’m feeling particularly run down (well, I am..now). Could it be because I always experience the weeks leading up to Summer Solstice as especially intense and, often, painful? Could it be the fact I’m going through a major hormone transition, the reverse of what I was going through at puberty when hay fever first came along? What was that other thing in common with when I was 13 or 14 and had terribly burning eyes? Oh yes, that was when I first started eating commercial bread because, although my mother always baked her own artisan bread, I wanted to be “the same” as all my friends. I can’t seem to get out of my mind that this first dose of gluten in a year is what set off such severe and dramatic symptoms or, at least allowed, them to gain a foothold because of the shock-factor of gluten suddenly reintroduced to my system. The words of a gluten expert I saw last year rang in my mind; he told me that it can take 6 months to get over the tiniest amount of gluten (he was holding two fingers very close together at this point…) in the sensitive gut. Its been exactly a year, this month, since I turned what was previously “avoidance” of gluten into total abstention (one of the two good things, along with giving up dairy and eggs, that came out of my IgG test results). I could have kicked myself for not reading that packet more thoroughly…which is what happens when you allow other people to cook for you, be that manufacturers through shops, restaurants or even family and friends. All of this is fine, we can’t cook for ourselves all of the time and everyone is allowed a night off…but this is a reminder to myself that I have to check check check what’s in it, and not get complacent, when food is my medicine.

On this topic, though the gluten was an easy mistake, I did that other careless thing on Monday, which was to give in to some sugary cake…only to regret that too. Well, it was my husband’s birthday and we were on a day out and there was this gluten and dairy free chocolate cake staring at me (and I knew, for sure, he would be having some) so I relented…and felt fine, until the journey home. By then, I could just tell I had made a mistake but still hoped it would pass if I was careful…but my nervous system seems to grab onto cane sugar and do its worse, every time. Since waking with excruciating head pain, head tone and flashing lights  (and, at the same time, burning eyes!) in the middle of Monday night, I’ve had the worst all-over migraine of the year (in fact, one of the worst in over 18 months) and its spiralled into so much tenderness and inflammation in the neck, back and muscles. Added to the return of such severe hay fever symptoms, its fair to say I’ve been feeling pretty miserable all week. Still, when these things happen, there’s only one way to go…forgive yourself, learn from it and do what you can to mitigate the effects. Upping my fruit consumption (I’m with the Medical Medium on this since more fructose actually seems to help the nervous system and, particulalrly, the brain to choose the natural alternative and, I suspect, to eliminate the remnants of chemical sugar out of the blood stream) and drinking plenty of lemon water to quench the relentless thirst, along with lemon balm, raspberry leaf and liquorice teas has been my way and I’m slowly, but surely, coming out of the pain zone. Its all just part of the endless learning curve. As for the relationship between gluten and hay fever, I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusion but if this helps you to make sense of a similar circumstance then my post is worthwhile.

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