Dr. Joseph Cheng, ND

Hey there ‘Hay Fever’

One in four Canadians suffers from ‘hay fever’, or allergic rhinitis. Yet, as common as that sounds, experts say that allergic rhinitis is likely under diagnosed, underrated, and underestimated.

Allergic rhinitis, aka ‘hay fever’, is the most common allergic condition, as well as one of the most difficult to manage. It causes cold-like symptoms such as runny nose, itchy eyes, congestion, sneezing and sinus pressure. Common allergens involved in ‘hay fever’ are pollens, mold, dust mites, and pet danders. Chronic allergic rhinitis can lead to other more serious complications, such as recurrent sinusitis and otitis media.

Allergy Misunderstanding

Many people have a misunderstanding that having allergies means the immune system is strong and working. However, from an immunologic point of view, it’s the opposite. Imagine a platoon of troops without discipline; they just attack whenever they sense threats, uncoordinated, and without the ability to discern between friends and foes – that’s an allergic reaction. Your immune should be disciplined and only attack invading pathogens when the right signals are given.

‘Hayfever’ is More Than an Immune Disorder

From a naturopathic point of view, ‘hay fever’ is not only an immunologic problem, but also indicative of digestive and adrenal problems.

Our digestive tract, often described as an ‘internal’ organ, is actually the extension of our skin folding into our body to form a tube. It essentially creates a barrier that prevents the intestinal contents (ingested food, microbes, toxins, wastes) from entering our system while only allowing desired nutrients to pass through. However, when the linings of our digestive tract are inflamed or damaged due to things like chronic infections or exposure to toxins, they will become ‘porous’ or ‘leaky’. This ‘leaky gut’ then permits unwanted things, such as bacteria, fungi, and even undigested food particles, to enter our bloodstream and trigger a cascade of unwanted immune responses. Consequently, the chronic exposure to outside particles will cause systemic inflammation in our body, wreaking havoc in our immune system, and ‘prime’ the allergic reactions.

Cortisol Connection

Our adrenals secrete ‘cortisol’, which helps our body cope with all sources of stress, physical or mental. Cortisol is a potent anti-inflammatory agent and modulates our immune response. However, when we are under chronic stress, our cortisol output becomes diminished making us more susceptible to out-of-control allergic reactions. Also, cortisol secretion follows circadian rhythm (ie. levels go up in the morning, and come down at night); however, under chronic stress, this rhythm can be disrupted, causing fatigue in the morning (cortisol not high enough), and restless sleep at night (cortisol not low enough). Over time, sleep deprivation would heavily impact our immune system as well.

Therefore, to really help treat ‘hay fever’ once and for all, we need to start with maintaining our digestive health and adrenal function.

Here  are the Top 5 Natural Ways to Prepare for Allergy Season

1. Anti-inflammatory Diet

You should consume mostly cooked foods. While raw foods retain more of certain nutrients, they often contain toxins, especially plants, as their self-defense mechanism. Nonetheless, many of these toxins can actually be easily inactivated by heat. For instance, raw celery contains psoralens that make our skin more sensitive to UV radiation; raw button mushrooms contain natural carcinogens and raw alfalfa contains toxins (ie. canavanine) that may trigger autoimmune responses. Moreover, cooked foods are easier for our digestive system to process.

  • Avoid foods that trigger adverse reactions including, but not limited to, skin rash, headache/sinusitis, mucus production (ie. Sputum, sneezing), foggy brain, joint pain. These are all signs of food allergies. Common pro-inflammatory, pro-allergic foods to start avoiding would be the following: dairy, wheat, sugar, and peanuts.

2. Manage Your Stress

Start with breathing exercises, it can be as simple as 5 deep breaths every 30 minutes at work and before bedtime. The key is to be mindful of each one of your breaths. Also, create an exercise you enjoy and start a routine, whether it’s weekly or not is up to you, simply designate when you will do it and stick to it.  Research has shown that meditation and exercise increase our endorphin (the happy hormone) secretion and optimize our cortisol circadian rhythm which serves to help us cope with stress much more effectively.

3. Immune Boosting Broth

Medicinal mushrooms & organic bone broth. Medicinal mushrooms, such as shiitake and enoki, (not button mushrooms) are rich in polysaccharides, which work to strengthen (or discipline) our immune system so that it won’t aggressively react to environmental allergens. Bone broth is rich in L-glutamine, an amino acid essential for gut lining integrity to help heal the ‘leaky gut’.

4. Reduce Toxic Overload

Choose organic produce from the Dirty Dozen, and avoid alcohol & caffeine as much as possible because these substances require our liver to metabolize them for excretion. Overloading the liver will compromise its ability to detoxify and consequently allow immune-disrupting toxins (eg. PCBs, benzenes, formaldehyde, heavy metals) to cause havoc in your immune system.

5. Hydrotherapy

Hydrotherapy works by improving your circulation, which, in turn, removes the waste in your tissues. And as previously mentioned, when we reduce the toxic load in our system, our immune system works more efficiently. You may start with cold sock hydrotherapy.

If All Else Fails Try SLIT Therapy

If you have been doing all of the above, and are still not satisfied with the progress of your improvement, you may consider ‘SLIT’ therapy (sublingual immunotherapy). SLIT is an allergy treatment using small amounts of allergens to desensitize your immune reaction to those allergens.

Before starting SLIT, a doctor must first use allergy testing (blood IgE test or Skin Prick Test) to confirm your sensitivities. Research over the past 20 years has shown that SLIT is safe and effective for treating allergic rhinitis, as well as asthma and atopic dermatitis caused by allergies to dust mites, grass, ragweed, cat dander, and tree pollens.

Dr. Joseph Cheng currently practices at Inspirit Health Group in Downtown Vancouver, BC


Hello, I am Dr. Joseph Cheng. I am a Naturopathic Physician practicing at Inspirit Health Group, Vancouver, BC. While I provide various strategies for many acute and chronic conditions, my passion is working with people suffering from Pain and Digestive Issues. I’ve developed dynamic patient-centered, Pain-Free & Healthy Gut programs to help people attain their health goals.  Common dis-eases I help resolve are headaches, lower back pain, neck pain, arthritis, as well as gut issues such as IBS, allergies, acid reflux, and SIBO.  I practice an evidence-based approach to health where I combine the traditional essence of Naturopathic Medicine with my background in Biochemistry and utilize the best of both worlds to help patients.

I also believe in individualized medicine where each patient is evaluated with careful history intake, diagnostic testing, nutritional assessment, and physical exams. My treatments will be tailored to provide the best outcome. 

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