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Allergy UK estimates that approximately 18 million people suffer with hay fever in the UK. The increasingly common allergy is most prevalent in children and teenagers, but can affect all ages.
Itchy eyes and sneezing are typical symptoms which can make the spring and summer months incredibly tiresome. Relief for most comes in the form of antihistamines, but these over-the-counter drugs can leave some sufferers feeling drowsy and overuse can lead to dependency.
However, many recent trials have found that probiotics may be able to alleviate the severity of hay fever symptoms. Some scientists believe that many allergies are caused by a lack of bacterial diversity in our gut due to the over-emphasis on hygiene in western societies. In fact, hay fever is a largely western phenomenon.
Recently, a team at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine reviewed 23 studies involving 1,900 participants and found evidence that probiotics can decrease the severity of hay fever symptoms. Scientists think that by restoring, or increasing, the diversity of bacteria in the gut can have a positive effect on the immune system and lessen the impact of allergies.
Most pollens contains proteins that can cause irritation to the nose, eyes, throat and cause sinuses to swell. Western societies seem to suffer with the allergy in far larger numbers than the rest of the world which has led to scientists believing that the 'hygiene hypothesis' is one of the main causes. This hypothesis suggests that our increasingly hygiene-focused lifestyles, removed from bacteria we would be normally be exposed to in nature, has decreased the diversity of bacteria found in our gut and microbiome. This has implications for our immune system which can be unnecessarily sent into overdrive by allergens such as dust mites, animal hair and / or pollen.
Other studies have also noted that probiotics can have beneficial effects on other non-communicable chronic diseases, which are almost exclusive to western societies, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), inflammatory bowel disease, and skin conditions such as eczema and acne. The study authors concluded by saying:
"Positive outcomes were reported in a majority of studies with no significant adverse effects. Much about the role of probiotics in the human response remains poorly understood and additional translational studies will likely be needed to clarify this in the future."
This blog was last updated on 22/09/20.
1. Turner, J. H. et al. (2015) A systematic review and meta-analysis of probiotics for the treatment of allergic rhinitis. International Forum of Allergy & Rhinology. Published online ahead of print.