by Katherine Willow ND

Q:  My son is 12 years old and gets terrible headaches from spring until fall that our doctor attributes to “hay fever”.  When I give him Clariton the headaches and runny nose stop.  However, I am not comfortable giving him drugs everyday for six months.  What do you suggest?   Jim R.

A:  I’ll answer your question in three categories: structure, congestion and emotions.

First let’s look at structure.  I usually get structure checked right away for most conditions, because if that is the main cause, it’s often the easiest and quickest to find and fix.  Professionals I refer to for assessing structure include craniosacral therapists, osteopaths, chiropractors, massage therapists and other naturopaths who specialize in structural therapies and depending on the symptom, patient preference and proximity to an office.

Structural problems for headaches include jammed cranial (skull) bones from a hard labour or bad fall to the head, tight muscles in the head and/or neck and bones out of alignment in the neck or skull.  Even though the seasonal nature of the condition points to allergies, there may still be a pre-existing problem in the muscles, bones and joints of the head and neck.  Upon releasing these  physical blocks, any other therapies that may be needed will work much more easily.

Next let’s consider congestion leading to allergies, which sounds like the most likely aggravating cause because of the associated runny nose.  There are three organs that I usually assess for allergies — liver, pancreas and adrenal glands.

The liver is our main blood filter and when it gets plugged full of irritants will lead to several symptoms such as irritability and even aggression, difficulty waking up in the morning, picky eating from lack of appetite with cravings for sugar and junk food,  pale stools and digestive upset from eating fatty foods.  The tongue will be purplish in colour and may have a green or yellow coating, especially in the mornings.

The treatment is to clean up the diet and take some liver herbs, preferably in homeopathic form if it is for a child — they are milder with fewer side-effects from their cleansing action.  Bowels need to be regular before using them.

If the pancreas is the main culprit, there will be chronic gassiness and bloating and the tongue will typically be swollen with teeth marks on the edges.  Treatment is to again clean up the diet, learn how to eat in a relaxed manner and add in digestive enzymes to support the person making more of their own.  Also important is to only sip ½ cup room temperature or warmer water with meals, eat moderate amounts and leave enough room between meals for digestion to take place before adding more food.

When the adrenals are the weakest link, there will be chronic fatigue, especially around 4pm, cravings for sugar, salt and caffeine and the blood pressure will drop when the person sits up from lying, resulting in dizziness.  Treatment involves getting enough sleep, especially early in the night, stress management and adrenal support via glandulars and/or a host of available herbs.  It is most beneficial to eliminate caffeine, excess salt and excess animal protein in order to stop over stimulating the adrenals and give them a chance to recharge.  Yin yoga can be very helpful too, if your son is willing.

Finally, there is the emotional piece, which is usually the core cause.  Sometimes allergies are triggered by association.  In other words, when there is a trauma that took place during a certain time of year or eating a specific food, then being exposed to that season or food can lead to symptoms.  Exposing and resolving the trauma leads to “growing out of” the allergies.

A runny nose according to German New Medicine, which links conditions with corresponding shocks, would mean there is a “stink complex” or a stinky situation that is chronically coming and going, trying to heal (runny phase) or being retriggered (non-runny phase).  Usually this is stress in a family and can be difficult to deal with as our family dysfunctions tend to run rather deep (speaking for myself!).

The liver and pancreas are emotionally associated with territorial anger (someone bugging you in your space) and the adrenals are related to anxiety, feeling overwhelmed or being on the wrong path.  These connections are just as or more important than the lifestyle components and counselling may be required.

In conclusion, in the first visit I would refer for a structural analysis, determine which organ was most problematic and ask questions about stress at home or school.  I would look at the diet and other lifestyle factors and see how motivated the person is to change in order to create a treatment program that matches their levels of enthusiasm — or lack thereof!

Dietary factors can be challenging for young people who are at school and with friends where unhelpful foods abound.  When there are too many barriers in the daily life, I will often resort to constitutional homeopathy, which reaches in to a deep level to help symptoms.  Once there are results, there is a level of trust established that can aid in coaching the trickier lifestyle factors.  Patience and humour from both practitioner and parents are essential. . .

Usually we (naturopaths) would see progress in 1-3 months in kids like this unless there is a deep cause that is difficult to address, in which case we need to point that out and work more slowly and gently with the person and often the family.

Hope that helps and you are welcome to contact me for referrals in your area.

Katherine Willow N.D. is a fourth generation registered naturopathic doctor with over three decades of experience.  She is founder and director of Carp Ridge EcoWellness Centre (  and has a specific interest in German New Medicine and how emotions relate to disease, about which she is currently writing an introductory book.  She can be reached at