Can menopause cause hay fever? We explain what you need to know
If you’re going through menopause and also experiencing hay fever symptoms for the first time, don’t panic. It may be that your hormones are impacting your body’s immune response to airborne allergens.
According to Asthma and Lung UK, tree pollen (which commonly strikes around March to mid-May), impacts around 20% of people with hay fever every year. Grass pollen affects 95% of people with hay fever from the months of mid-May to July. The menopause can cause huge fluctuations in our hormone levels. As a result, some women find that they develop hay fever or that their existing hay fever symptoms worsen during this time.
We chat to a team of allergen experts to understand how menopause can impact hay fever and – perhaps most importantly – what we can do to ease symptoms.
How our hormones impact hay fever
While research on the effects that the menopause has on allergens is limited, current evidence suggests that menopause impacts histamine production in the body.
According to Asthma + Lung UK, it’s not uncommon for women with asthma to become more sensitive to allergen triggers. This is because of the fluctuations in female hormones. Research from the Journal of Current Opinion in Allergy and Clinical Immunology also suggests that oestrogen can skew the body’s immune responses toward allergies.
“There are allergic genes in the body that can be activated by hormonal changes causing increased sensitivity to existing allergies or the development of new ones,” says pharmacist Abbas Kanani. “An increase in histamine production is caused by oestrogen, while progesterone promotes myelination, which is one of the ways the body breaks down histamine. So, when there are fluctuating levels of oestrogen, the body will produce more histamine than normal and cause more severe allergic reactions.”
However, any sudden development of hay fever symptoms or suspected histamine intolerance during midlife should be investigated by your GP.
“Hay fever generally affects teenagers and young people,” says Dr Samantha Walker, respiratory expert and Director of Research and Innovation at Asthma + Lung UK. “If someone approaching the menopause or during menopause is experiencing hay fever-like symptoms, such as breathlessness, sneezing a lot, coughing, blocked nose or sudden worsening of asthma symptoms, they should speak to a doctor to check they don’t have another lung condition with similar symptoms.”
How to reduce hay fever symptoms
Take a look at quercetin
Quercetin is a plant pigment and flavonol found in fruits, vegetables, grains and leaves. It’s also a naturally occurring antihistamine. It can help stop swelling in allergic reactions and relieve some of the more persitent symptoms of hay fever.
Liz loves the Quercetin supplements from Biocare, which also contain vitamin C for immune and antioxidant support. You can save 15% off your order at Biocare with the code LIZLOVES23.
It’s worth noting that we don’t want to suppress this response all year round. The long term use of antihistamines can actually increase histamine production. We also don’t want to be too low in histamine as it can cause low mood and anxiety. Quercetin taken all year round can also affect how we methylate, something we need ample B-complex vitamins for. So if you are supplementing with quercetin, be sure you’re getting enough B vitamins and folate too, and just stick to the months when you need it.
Drink plenty of water
Hydration is key at any age, but plays a particular role during menopause. Keeping water levels topped up can help to keep the mucus membranes in your nose moist. A reduction in oestrogen impacts these membranes, causing further risk of hay fever symptoms.
“As a result of hormonal changes, the mucous membranes become thinner and are often no longer as well supplied with blood as before,” explains Alison Cullen, a nutritional therapist. “Mucous membranes in the nose and throat are the first line of defence to keep pathogens and irritants out. If these are weakened, they make it much easier for germs to pass into the body and for airborne irritants to affect the nasal mucosa.
“Aim for two litres of water a day – still water or fruit teas are best for optimum hydration.”
Invest in a humidifer
“If you’re suffering with hay fever symptoms, dry room air should be avoided if possible,” says Alison. “A humidifier can help with this.”
Air purifiers can also be a useful tool. Make sure to check the clean air delivery rate (CADR) to ensure it’s powerful enough for the room.
Use sunflower oil
Hay fever symptoms can range from watery eyes to excessive sneezing and a runny nose. But a quick fix could be lying in your kitchen cupboard.
“Sunflower oil can help if the nose is very dry and irritated,” explains Alison. “To apply, put a drop on your finger and dab the inside of your nostrils with it.”
Try hay fever remedies
“Regular nasal rinses with an isotonic saline solution can help prevent hay fever from worsening,” says Alison. “This removes pathogens and cares for the delicate skin.
“Pollinosan Hay Fever tablets are suitable to be taken before hay fever season kicks in, or once you have started getting symptoms. They can be taken alongside any other medication, including other hay fever medication or antihistamines.”
If you’re struggling with menopause symptoms, it might be worth considering Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT). To find out more about the benefits of HRT, read Liz’s guide, The Truth about HRT.