I have suffered from hayfever for as long as I can remember. Each year, pollen season arrives alongside a snotty nose, sneezing attacks and a scratchy throat. I have trouble breathing and my eyes become a pair of bloodshot nightmares. My only refuge comes from locking myself indoors until the air clears – hardly an ideal situation.

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So you can imagine my curiosity when I heard about a hayfever trial run by RMIT University in Melbourne. It involved ear acupressure, also known as auricular therapy – a therapeutic remedy founded by Frenchman Dr Paul Nogier in the 1940s. Given that I’d tried numerous other treatments that had failed to offer even the slightest relief, I was keen to give it a go.

 

Medical intervention

I booked in for a physical examination and skin prick test to see if I was eligible. As it turned out, the swelling of my skin revealed a severe allergic reaction to rye and grass. I was a perfect candidate for the trial, so I signed up.

Over the next two months I attended weekly appointments, where five metal pellets were attached to specific parts of my ear. It was my job to press each pellet for five seconds, three times a day, as well as any time I started to experience hayfever symptoms.

To my amazement I got through spring without so much as the occasional sneeze and only slight eye irritation. This minor discomfort was nothing compared to the debilitating symptoms that would confine me to indoor activities and waste away my sick days. I was spending plenty of time in the great outdoors alongside my worst enemy (pollen), without suffering the consequences.

 

The theory behind acupressure

In auricular therapy the ear is seen as a miniature map of the human body, with each part corresponding to a different part of the body. Stimulating key points regulates the flow of energy through invisible energy channels in the body called meridians.

The ear is sensitive so there is a strong release of endorphins and serotonin (the body’s natural painkillers) when you apply pressure. It triggers a euphoric effect and you feel better straight away. Given its widespread use in Europe, auricular therapy is now accepted by the World Health Organisation as a safe and effective method of hayfever therapy.

RMIT researcher Clair Zhang says there are around 100 acupoints on the surface of the ear, which can be treated with acupuncture, laser therapy or by taping small stainless steel pellets to the ear.

“Attaching pellets to the ear instead of needling is less invasive and reduces the potential for skin infection,” she says. “When attached with skin tape, the pellets constantly stimulate the ear points.”

Zhang says ear acupressure has been well researched and clinically practised intensively over the past half century.

“Previous randomised controlled clinical trials conducted on ear acupressure in the management of hayfever reported it as being effective and safe for hay fever symptom relief,” she says.

 

Added benefits of ear acupressure

The DIY aspect of acupressure is one of its greatest strengths, making it extremely cost effective. Once you understand the process, you can use acupressure at home by applying firm pressure with your thumb or fingertips until you feel a little discomfort. If it feels tender, that’s a good indication you’ve found the right spot.

What’s more, ear acupressure not only helps with hayfever. Zhang says it can be used to ease headaches, nausea, digestive upsets, anxiety and stress, insomnia, arthritis, high blood pressure, cramps, asthma, eczema and general pain.

“In Western societies it is commonly used in the treatment of drug addictions, and can even help people give up smoking or lose weight,” she says.

 

Other natural alternatives

If you’re keen to find relief with other natural remedies, ginger is a great option. A cup of ginger tea or juice strengthens the immune system and acts like an expectorant (a medication that dissolves mucus).

A cup of chamomile tea is also a great hayfever remedy, as is putting a few drops of chamomile and lemon essential oils on a tissue, and inhaling regularly.

Steam inhalations can help clear out nasal passages, so try adding a few drops of eucalyptus oil to a bowl of steaming hot water, and inhale the steam with a towel over your head. This can be done a few times a day and provides instant relief while removing congestion.

Dose up on vitamin C, as it’s a natural antihistamine. You can buy vitamin C supplements in tablet form or tuck into some parsley, which is high in the vitamin. You’ll also get plenty of vitamin C from oranges, lemons and grapefruits in the rind and pulp.

Natural practitioners recommend honey, which eases hayfever symptoms by clearing the sinuses and helping to control puffy, itchy eyes. Experts believe honey works because it contains traces of pollen, encouraging the body to build up a natural immunity. Try consuming a daily dose of organic honey.

To clear up clogged sinuses, warm up a small amount of organic sesame oil and, using your fingers, massage it along the top of your cheekbones and across your forehead. The massage should last a few minutes or until you feel relief. You can also use sesame oil to swab your nostrils, as it is extremely soothing to an inflamed nasal lining.

 

 

Hayfever explained

Hayfever (also known as allergic rhinitis) is an allergy to pollen, which explains why it’s so common in spring. Up to 40 per cent of Australians experience the telltale itchy, puffy, watery eyes and red, stuffy nose that signals a change in season.

Symptoms are similar to a cold and can also include headaches and fatigue. Some sufferers may experience hives or rashes. Hayfever has also been linked to sleeping problems, ear conditions and even learning problems.

As with all allergies, the symptoms occur as a result of your immune system overreacting to a normally harmless substance. When the body comes into contact with pollen, cells in the lining of your nose, mouth and eyes release a chemical called histamine that triggers the symptoms of an allergic reaction.

Seasonal hayfever is prevalent during pollen season and doesn’t usually develop until a child is at least six years old. However, perennial hayfever occurs throughout the year and is common among younger children.

 

 

DIY acupressure

 

  • With the thumb and fingers of your right hand, grab the meaty part of your left hand between the thumb and fingers. Apply firm pressure for one minute, pushing toward the bone of the hand.
  • Press your fingertips to the side of the nose, slightly above the nostrils, for about a minute at a time. Do the same to your sinuses slightly above each eyebrow.
  • Press the hollow above the centre of your upper lip.