About 15 million people in Britain suffer from hay fever, an oversensitivity to pollen, spores and moulds.

Symptoms range from violent sneezing, stuffy, itchy, runny noses and sometimes sore throat, ears, eyes and head.

The culprit is histamine, a natural chemical released by body cells in a frantic attempt to get rid of normally harmless foreign substances.

The result is inflammation, swelling and fluid build-up in the nose and sinuses.

Conventional treatments include antihistamines and steroid sprays which block the action of histamine or suppress initial allergic reactions.

Few people realise that natural alternatives also reduce symptoms while strengthening immunity at the same time.

Vitamin C, for example, has potent anti-histamine qualities. It is very effective at reducing allergic-type reactions when combined with anti-inflammatory bioflavonoids such as quercetin.

Another useful supplement is MSM, a form of organic sulphur - it prevents mucous membranes from being overly sensitive to histamine. Ask your nutritionist for advice on individual dosages.

Hay fever sufferers often have food sensitivities.

Generally, it is a good idea to drink plenty of water and eat nuts, seeds, fresh fruit including blue and purple berries and three to five portions of fresh vegetables per day.

These provide anti-inflammatory nutrients such as the flavonoids, fatty acids and plenty of fibre to reduce toxicity.

Stay clear of any known allergens, mucus-forming foods such as dairy and wheat products, excessive red meat, sugar, caffeine and alcohol.

Foods containing histamine (tomatoes, oranges, cheese, red wine and chocolate) are best avoided, at least during the hay fever season.

After extolling the virtues of garlic in a recent column, I was interested to hear about a recent pilot study using garlic capsules to treat hay fever.

A product called Allimax containing the active constituent of garlic in a stabilised form (100 per cent allicin powder) was chosen by the College of Phytotherapy for this study.

Following recruitment through BBC Southern Counties Radio, 29 hay fever sufferers were asked to take two capsules of Allimax each day with food.

They were allowed to revert back to drug treatment if necessary and recorded their findings in a diary.

After only 35 days, results were impressive: More than 80 per cent reported a significant reduction in hay fever symptoms with no side-effects and no garlic smell.

Only two of the volunteers needed to resort to drug treatment for a hay fever attack.

Zoe Moody from Crawley said she was able to enjoy the countryside and smell flowers for the first time in years without suffering itchy eyes and a runny nose. She recommends starting treatment as early as possible and continuing throughout the hay fever season for best results.

Allimax by Health Perceptions is available from leading health stores and chemists at £6.99 for 30 capsules.

For most, spring and summer are the worst months but as the weather in the UK has been much warmer recently, flowering times for plants and therefore onset of symptoms have altered, starting earlier than usual.

All the more reason to build up your nutritional defences against high pollen counts.