If you suffer from seasonal allergies, you’ve probably got a love/hate relationship with spring. It’s tough to go outside and smell the roses when you’re snuffy and sneezy. The birds might be singing, but your sinuses are screaming for relief.
Oftentimes, people reach for over-the-counter antihistamines to lessen the severity of their allergic symptoms and they can be effective. These drugs block the chemical histamine which the immune system produces when a person is exposed to an allergen. The production of histamine can cause runny nose, watery eyes, itching, swelling, and other symptoms. While it would make sense to lean on antihistamines to relieve the sniffles, medicines like these can also have negative side effects such as drowsiness, fatigue, headache, and nausea.
“It’s not necessarily good for the brain,” says Dr. Julie A. Wendt, MD, an allergist-immunologist from the Relieve Allergy, Asthma and Hives Clinic in Scottsdale, AZ. “Histamine is an important brain chemical for memories and sleep. These drugs can increase the risk of dementia over time.”
Some people also use nasal corticosteroids, but these can leave the nose feeling dry and irritated.
Because of this, many allergy-sufferers are searching for more natural ways to treat their symptoms like using herbs, eating certain foods, and immunotherapy. Not all homeopathic treatments are equally useful, however, and everybody reacts differently to treatments. You should consult your doctor before you try any of these remedies. In fact, for some of these options, you’ll need an MD to administer them anyway.
But if you’re not sure what to ask your physician about, we’ve listed the safest, and most-studied natural allergy remedies out there so you can begin to discover your best path to relief.
For these treatments, you must go see an allergist to receive the proper dosage. When administered properly, research says these treatments can significantly reduce (if not eliminate) your sensitivity to allergy triggers and provide long-term relief. Note: These not considered medication.
Allergy Shots (Subcutaneous Immunotherapy)
Subcutaneous immunotherapy (or SCIT) works like a vaccine. It is a form of exposure therapy that helps patients to become desensitized or more tolerant towards their allergen. For example, if someone is allergic to ragweed, an allergist would initially concoct a sub-allergic dosage of ragweed pollen and inject it (usually) in the upper arm. When this small amount enters your body, your immune system creates antibodies to stop symptoms from occurring.
In the first phase of SCIT, a patient receives these shots from a health care provider one to three times a week. The doctor then increases the dosage as the patient’s tolerance builds. In phase two of SCIT, patients only need to see their physician once a month for the next three to five years. It’s definitely a commitment, but if a person responds well to the treatment and keeps following through on their appointments, they can experience significant relief for several years or more.
Sublingual Allergy Drops and Tablets
If you hate shots, SCIT may not be the best avenue. On top of that, some people don’t enjoy the inconvenience of having to schlep to their allergist so frequently, while others are bothered by the swelling and itchiness that can occur around the injection site.
Fortunately, there is a method that can solve many of these issues: sublingual immunotherapy (SLIT). It’s another form of desensitization, except instead of getting a prick to the arm every month, you’ll receive prescribed liquid drops or tablets you can take daily — kind of like a vitamin.
“We make up the dosing that’s appropriate for you and you do these drops under the tongue at home, ” says Dr. Dean Mitchell, the author of . “It’s very safe. There’s no long-term side effects. It’s extremely effective and it’s probably as natural as you can get.”
Research suggests that SLIT is just as effective as SCIT when it comes to dampening allergic reactions.
Currently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved four allergy tablet products that treat five kinds of northern grass pollen, timothy grass pollen, short ragweed, and dust mite allergies. Liquid products have yet to be approved since more research needs to be conducted to confirm their safety and efficacy. But some physicians still use them as off-label treatments.
At-Home Herbal and Food Remedies
While many allergist haven’t seen much success in using herbs and other homeopathic methods to get rid of allergies themselves, there is some research suggesting that these treatments may help lessen allergic symptoms such as inflammation.
Butterbur is a shrub that grows in wet, marshy ground. Butterbur extract is mostly praised for its ability to reduce the frequency of migraines. And there are a few studies that show that butterbur may be helpful for those suffering from hay fever (allergic rhinitis). A 2002 randomized study, which featured 131 subjects, concluded that butterbur tablets can be just as effective as an oral antihistamine. More research needs to be done to confirm the shrub’s effectiveness, however. So far it has not been proven to help allergic skin reactions or asthma.
Because unprocessed honey contains small amounts of pollen, there’s a common belief that eating locally harvested honey will help them tolerate the pollen circulating in their area. But it might not be as helpful as you think, says Dr. Wendt.
“In low doses it may work for mild allergies, but I typically like to dispel that because bees don’t harvest honey on a time that is consistent with allergy,” she says. “In other words, by the time [the honey] is harvested and comes back to us, it’s past our seasons.”
Plus the pollen that is found in honey comes from flowers, not trees, grasses, or weeds which are the main culprits of causing allergies, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology.
So for severe allergies, eating honey is more of a sweet treat than an actual treatment. Still, honey can have anti-inflammatory effects that can soothe conditions like eczema, adds Dr. Wendt, which in most cases is not an allergic reaction.
When it comes to allergies, some naturopaths tout garlic as one of the best natural allergy remedies because it contains the antioxidant quercitin. Quercitin has the capacity to inhibit the release of histamines. To see if it helps, you can spice up your food with garlic. Many people also take quercitin supplements, but Dr. Mitchell says he’s “seen minimal benefit with those things.”
Rosemary not only tastes good on your steak, it contains rosmarinic acid, which has been shown to have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects. Some small studies have found that it may help relieve asthmatic symptoms. One study discovered that rosmarinic acid can also suppress allergic immunoglobulin, however more extensive research needs to be conducted to confirm its efficacy. If you do try taking a rosmarinic acid supplement, experts advise taking it with meals to avoid an upset stomach.
The most active ingredient in this yellow spice is a compound called curcumin. Curcumin, some researchers claim, has promising anti-inflammatory abilities. A pilot study conducted in 2016 with 241 patients found that those who took a turmeric supplement over the course of two months saw a reduction in symptoms from allergic rhinitis. They had less nasal congestion and less nasal airway resistance. It’s important to note, though, that there isn’t a lot of research that points towards turmeric as being an effective spice for allergy relief.
While nasal rinses won’t eliminate your allergic reactions, they can certainly provide some temporary relief from all the sniffles and congestion.
The classic neti pot is great to flush out debris and mucus from your nasal cavity. Just fill it up with lukewarm water — make sure the water is distilled or sterilized — and add some salt to make your own salt water solution. Tilt your head sideways over the sink and have the spout of the pot pour the solution through your nose. It’s a little messy, but it may do the trick. Another alternative to the neti pot is a nasal squeeze bottle.
Nävage Nasal Irrigation
If you want something that’s less messy, a Nävage nose cleaner might be a better experience for you. Instead of pushing saline solution up your nose, this machine “pulls” it through one nostril, through the back of your nose and out the other nostril to flush and collect all of the yuck.
The bottom line:
Many over-the-counter allergy relief drugs have negative side effects and only provide temporary relief, which is why many people are searching for natural remedies that are healthier and longer-lasting. While there are some who have seen some success using herbal and food remedies to lessen their symptoms, most allergists say that doctor-administered immunotherapy is the best way to nip allergies in the butt. No matter which remedy you decide to try, always make sure to consult your physician to make sure that it’s safe and convenient for you.