Ah, summer. All those lovely flowers flowering, seeds seeding and pollen, um, pollening. If you suffer from allergies, there are certain times of year when you expect your symptoms to naturally get worse. And if moving to the South Pole isn’t an option for you, then chances are you’ll be upping your game against the allergens – staying indoors more, running an air purifier, washing your hair before bed… you know the drill.
But guess what? There are certain times of the month when you may feel more affected, too, so there are some days in your cycle when you need to step up your anti-allergy game accordingly. In the same way that your menstrual cycle can make migraines worse than usual, the menstrual cycle can cause allergies to be even more troublesome for some women. Hormonal changes can exacerbate conditions such as asthma, and seasonal allergies such as a runny nose and itchy eyes. Some skin conditions, including eczema and hives, can also get worse.
Several studies have shown that seasonal allergy symptoms tend to get more bothersome during the end of week two of your cycle – the days leading up to and including ovulation. Who’d have thought? Those same high oestrogen levels that give you a pep in your step, can at the same time render your immune system more sensitive to allergens, causing a more noticeable reaction. (This increased sensitivity is thought to be one of the reasons some women develop hay fever during pregnancy.)
And recent US research into estrogen’s role in allergic disease throws up some further nuggets of interest. First, women who started their periods at age 11 or younger are more likely to suffer from seasonal allergies; and women who have an index finger that’s significantly longer than their ring finger are nearly twice as likely to experience hay fever than women with fingers that are closer in length. Why? It could indicate that you were exposed to more estrogen in utero, which has a knock-on effect on the immune system.
The good news in all this for allergy sufferers is that forewarned is forearmed! If you know when it’s going to happen, you can prepare for the fight before these days roll around, doubling down on your defences and potentially increasing any treatments around this time. Also of help may be taking certain probiotics, drinking ginger tea and wearing sunglasses. Talk to your GP for some proper medical advice.