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‘Snot Fair! Hayfever and Mucus

Screen Shot 2017-03-30 at 11.21.45 AMSpring is here! However for the one in five Australians according to the Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy (ASCIA) who suffer from hay fever, this season is certainlyone to dread.

For most, hay fever (also known as allergic rhinitis), is seasonal because spring time means an increase in pollen from trees, grasses and weeds.

It is the pollen produced by Northern Hemisphere grasses, trees and plants that cause worse hay fever symptoms than Australian varieties, according to ASCIA.

The worst plants are: pellitory weed, Paterson’s curse, ragweed and parthenium weed.

White cypress pine is the only Australian tree that produces highly allergenic pollen, but casuarina or Australian oaks may also cause issues.

(Know how to identify these so you can avoid them and choose low-allergen plants for your garden!)

One of the most annoying symptoms of hay fever is the seemingly unending production of mucus.

Is there anything in the diet that influences the production of such an annoying and often times embarrassing secretion?


Breaking Down Mucus 

Mucus is produced by different mucus cells in our body and organs that include the nose and intestines. It is a thick fluid that coats organ membranes to protect the organs from invading pollutants.

Mucus is one of our body’s defence mechanisms that can protect us by trapping and filtering viruses, bacteria and pollutants like cigarette smoke, pollen and dander from entering our body.

Mucus is 95% water, 3% proteins (including mucin and antibodies), 1% salt and other substances. Mucin droplets absorb water and swell several hundred times in volume within three seconds of release from mucus glands.

Sinuses are lined with mucus membranes that are easily irritated. When they’re irritated with pollen in the hay fever season, they swell and begin to produce excessive amounts of mucus.

Mucus strands form cross links, producing a sticky, elastic gel which can be extremely hard to expel from the sinuses and nasal cavity.


Why the Mucus?

The most common substances reacted to by the mucus cells are grass pollen, milk, wheat and sugar.

It is interesting to consider that all these dietary substances were originally grass products.

  • We breathe in pollen.
  • Cows eat grass and make milk.
  • We eat grains.
  • Sugar is derived from cane – a true grass.

For those with a pollen allergy there is an 80% chance that there is also a food allergy. Wheat, dairy and sugar are the obvious initial considerations.

Cows milk, wheat and sugar are relatively new additions to our diet – we only first consumed milk and wheat for example about 10,000 years ago.

Our consumption of sugar has skyrocketed over the past century. From an evolutionary standpoint this is mere seconds for our species to adapt.

Hay fever sufferers have become hypersensitised to proteins that are common to grains, grasses and milk.

Many hayfever sufferers have found great relief by avoiding or minimising their intake of wheat, sugar and dairy products.

If you would like a comprehensive list of foods that you may be sensitive to, Emed offers a food allergy test that tests for 93 different food intolerances.


Dairy – The Primary Bad Guy

The immune system for individuals with a dairy allergy, is hypersensitive to the proteins whey and casein found in cows milk.

While these proteins are safe for human consumption, the immune system mistakes them for dangerous substances.

The body reacts by creating immunoglobulin E, (IgE) antibodies, to fight off the proteins. The production of IgE antibodies causes mast cells to create histamine.

Histamine is released in soft tissue throughout the body, which leads to inflammation, swelling and irritation. Increased histamine in the nasal passages triggers mucus production and congestion.

To avoid this reaction, limit or avoid cow’s milk and other dairy products as they can increase the production of mucus in the respiratory tract and exacerbate hay fever nasal congestion.

Alternative foods to try instead include: goats, sheep, oat rice, almond, quinoa, soy  and coconut milks.


wheatWheat and/ or Gluten

Wheat, oats, rye, barley and spelt also contain gluten, a sticky and tough mixture of the plant proteins gliadin and glutenin. Undigested gluten acts as an irritant to the digestive tract, increasing mucus production and resulting in nasal congestion.

Some people find that avoiding wheat and wheat products during the hayfever season helps to alleviate symptoms.

Others may need to avoid wheat and/or gluten altogether.

Gluten free cereals include amaranth, buckwheat, chia seed, quinoa, corn, rice and  sorghum.



Foods high in sugar upset the crucial balance of good and bad bacteria in the gut. An individual who has developed problems with sugar metabolism is not breaking down and digesting carbohydrates into simple sugars which can foster the overgrowth of the wrong type of bacteria and yeast.

Overgrowth can occur in the digestive tract and can lead to invasion of the pelvic organs, leading to vaginal candida in girls and grown women as well as contributing to excessive upper respiratory mucous.

As 70-80% of the immune system is found in the gut, sugar intake can cause immune system issues, which in  turn will exacerbate hay fever symptoms.

Additionally sugar is pro-inflammatory, worsening mucus production.


Final Word

Three key aims to reduce hay fever symptoms are:

Read ¬†Your Hay Fever Prevention Kit¬†and¬†Ah-Choo! The Best Way to Manage Hay Fever This Spring¬†for Emed’s key tips to reduce the impact of hay fever for the 20% of us who dread the onset of Spring.

If you suffer from hay fever and have excessive mucus production, why don’t you try eliminating dairy, wheat and /or sugar from your diet for one week.

You may be surprised at the impact this has on mucus production, especially during hay fever season.

You have nothing to lose – except the mucus!


Further Reading


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