According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, nasal allergies are estimated to affect approximately 50 million people in the United States and their rate among both children and adults is only increasing.1 To make matters worse, a new study has revealed a correlation between climate change, specifically warming temperatures, and a longer ragweed pollen season, which for many with seasonal outdoor allergies means more suffering, more medication, or both.2 So what’s going on?
What Are Allergies and Hay Fever?
Simply put, allergies are exaggerated reactions of your immune system in response to contact with allergens. These reactions are generally unwarranted as the allergen itself (such as pollen, dust, mold, and pet dander) is actually harmless. Let’s take allergies to pollen, or hay fever, as an example. First, imagine an airborne grain of pollen – or more likely, quite a few – entering your nose as you breathe. The pollen, an otherwise harmless substance, then attaches itself to the soft mucous membranes of your nasal passage.
Here Come the Histamines…
The mucous membranes that line the respiratory tract are always prepped and ready for intruders like bacteria, viruses, and otherwise harmful substances. In fact, the membranes contain immune cells called mast cells, which are loaded with histamines, the chemical behind the immune system’s inflammatory response. While this inflammatory response is extremely important to healthy immune system function, it is much less welcome when triggered by otherwise innocuous substances because the symptoms are unpleasant. We’re talking itchiness, swelling, rash, cough, excess mucous, and overall irritation of the respiratory system. These symptoms may sound familiar to sufferers of hay fever and allergic rhinitis.
But back to the pollen. When the pollen lands upon the receptors in the mucous membranes, it triggers the mast cells to respond with a release of chemicals, including histamine. The histamine goes to work, launching that series of physical reactions aimed at ridding the intruder (that’s the sneezing, coughing, and watery eyes). For people with asthma, these reactions can include more serious inflammation and swelling of the bronchial tubes which makes it difficult to breathe.
When Histamines Go into Overdrive
While these immune reactions are natural, they are not a sign of a healthy, balanced body when constantly and unnecessarily triggered. In fact, from a naturopathic viewpoint, allergies are often associated with weak adrenal, immune, and digestive system functions,3 a relationship that is not all that surprising when you consider that the immune and digestive systems are so closely related (but more on that later). While scientists agree that there is a genetic component to the experience of allergies (children born to parents who suffer from allergies are more likely to suffer as well), it is also understood that there must be an environmental trigger.
So before you reach for the aptly named anti-histamine drugs between seasonal sneezes, take a look at these proven natural home remedies for allergies.
Home Remedies for Allergies and Hay Fever
For those who suffer from severe seasonal allergies or hay fever, it may feel like a vicious cycle of allergy symptoms, daily allergy medications, and unnecessary side effects. For some, allergies and allergic rhinitis are a chronic problem, which means being on medications for the foreseeable future or suffering with the symptoms. But typical OTC drugs are not the only option as pharmaceutical companies would have you believe.
Remedy 1: Butterbur (Petasites hybridus)
Butterbur is a herbaceous perennial plant native to Europe and Northern Asia that has a long history of use in traditional medicines for the treatment of infections and flu. Butterbur has also been used successfully as a natural remedy for migraines. But this herbal home remedy is not a thing of the past. In fact, there have been several scientific studies on butterbur as a natural treatment for allergies and hay fever.
A recent study published in the British Medical Journal concluded that taking just one 32 mg tablet of butterbur extract four times a day was as effective as a popular antihistamine drug in controlling the symptoms of hay fever. Even better, its efficacy did not come with the drowsiness that is typical of many pharmaceutical options. Another study, the findings from which were presented at the 60th Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (AAAAI), found that butterbur was also effective in alleviating symptoms of grass allergy. In yet another study, butterbur extract in the form of Petasol butenoate complex (specifically Ze 339™) was found to be as effective for treating allergic rhinitis (hay fever) as four common allergy drugs.4, 5
How to Use
Based upon scientific study findings, butterbur can be used as a natural remedy for allergy relief by taking a 32 mg tablet of Ze 339™ (a specific brand of standardized butterbur extract) four times a day or by taking 50 mg of whole butterbur root extract such as this brand twice a day.6 Whichever supplement you choose, be sure that it is free from the potentially dangerous chemicals known as pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PAs).
As a natural remedy for allergies, butterbur has history and science on its side, but there are a couple of things to keep in mind when considering its use. The first is that the plant is a member of the same family as ragweed, meaning that while it can be a very effective natural treatment for hay fever, it can also worsen allergy symptoms in some. So if your allergy symptoms worsen while taking butterbur, discontinue use. The second word of caution is that studies of the use of butterbur for allergies have only determined safety and efficacy for short-term use, not long-term or continuous use.
Remedy 2: Quercetin
Quercetin is an antioxidant that belongs to a family of water-soluble plant compounds called flavonoids, which are naturally occurring in many common foods like onions (including scallions and the red, sweet, and white varieties), apples, berries, leafy greens, and even green tea. Quercetin is said to assist in stabilizing mast cells to stop them from releasing histamine and prompting the immune system reaction that causes allergy and hay fever symptoms. An added bonus, the antioxidant is also known to help reduce inflammation.
How to Use
Quercetin is best used as a preventative remedy for allergies starting 4-6 weeks before the start of allergy season. Like many allergy medications, it is most effective against allergy symptoms once it has built up in your system, so don’t let allergy season sneak up on you!
Though you can incorporate quercetin naturally into your diet (and you likely already do), it is difficult to consume the amount recommended to relieve allergies through food alone. Luckily, quercetin is also available in dietary supplements like this brand, which includes bromelain, an enzyme that also supports healthy immune system function. Though some practitioners say that a typical dose for hay fever is 200-400 mg per day, others recommend up to 400 mg twice a day between meals.7
Quercetin supplements are not recommended for people with liver disease and most practitioners caution pregnant women and nursing mothers against its use.8
Remedy 3: Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica)
Despite its reputation as a backyard week, stinging nettle has many natural medicinal applications. Much like quercetin, the leaves of stinging nettle contain a natural antihistamine with allergy-fighting properties. Working in a similar fashion to common allergy drugs, nettle helps to naturally block the release of histamine but without common side effects like dry mouth and drowsiness.
How to Use
Stinging nettle leaves can be made into a tincture or consumed as a tea, but for long-term natural allergy relief, we find that the most practical form is a capsule, which generally contains the freeze-dried extract from the herb. Studies have shown that 300 mg of stinging nettle extract a day will offer allergy symptom relief for most, but many practitioners recommend up to 500 mg daily. We like this brand, which includes nothing but 300 mg of raw, freeze-dried nettle leaf in a vegetarian capsule.
If you are currently taking medications for diabetes, anxiety, insomnia, or high blood pressure, consult your physician before beginning a regimen of stinging nettle.9 But unlike quercetin, there are no safety concerns surrounding the use of stinging nettles during pregnancy or when nursing, making it a good natural option.10
Remedy 4: Saline Sinus Rinse (Neti Pot)
There are many advocates of regular saline sinus rinsing for overall nasal and sinus health. Among those advocates are conventional physicians and MDs of varied backgrounds, and of course, much of the alternative and natural medical community. Among the many benefits of saline rinses, the theory behind using it as a natural home remedy for allergies is that it will safely flush out the nasal passages and sinuses of allergens (like those pesky pollen particles), excess mucous, and other irritants.
While using a saline rinse may not entirely alleviate the need for medications or other home remedies for allergies, it will likely reduce your need for drugs and may alleviate some of the less-than-pleasant allergy symptoms. For instance, in one study participants who used a saline rinse twice a day for 3-6 weeks reported less congestion that those who did not.
How to Use
Even as saline rinses have gained popularity, there are still many who are frightened by the process or simply dislike the sensation. We admit that it takes some getting used to. Many are familiar with the teapot-like Neti Pot like this one, but in our experience, we have found that this sinus rinse bottle is the most gentle and easy to use.
When preparing a saline rinse, always use lukewarm (not hot or cold) distilled water or water that has been previously boiled and cooled or filtered through filter with an absolute pore size of 1 micron or smaller. While you can find recipes for making your own saline solution, we suggest using the pre-mixed packets that come with the system as they guarantee the correct ratio and pH balance which ensure a comfortable experience (plain water can cause a burning sensation).
We suggest using a saline rinse twice a day during allergy season: once in the morning and once in the late afternoon or evening. But avoid rinsing an hour before bedtime or laying down as you are more likely to experience post-nasal drip. Always be sure to follow the instructions for use that come with your system.
Though there are very few risks and side effects of using a saline sinus rinse when used properly, do not use if you are experiencing major congestion and blockage or have a sinus infection. If you have previously undergone sinus or ear surgery or are prone to fluid buildup in the ears, consult your physician before use. Be sure to clean your Neti Pot or sinus rinse bottle thoroughly and allow to dry. We use this drying stand to ensure our system dries completely between uses.
Remedy 5: Probiotics
Probiotics have become a major player in naturally managing health as more and more research links common ailments with the digestive system. Today is it known that when your inner “ecosystem” is in balance it is full of beneficial microflora like bacteria and yeast that keep both your digestive and immune systems functioning properly. Unfortunately, our Standard American Diet (SAD) of processed foods, the overload of environmental toxins and chemicals, the overuse of antibiotics, and even the rise in the rate of C-sections has lead to an upset of this ecosystem for much of the population (infants and adults alike) which has considerable consequences.
Given that a majority of the antibody producing cells reside in the intestines, the gut is the human body’s largest immune system organ. But it has only recently been recognized that a major function of the intestinal microflora many of us are sorely lacking is to stimulate and support the immune system.11 It is not surprising then that relatively recent research has linked the presence of a large number of diverse and beneficial bacteria in the intestine with a reduced incidence of allergies, including food allergies and allergic skin disorders like eczema, particularly in infants.12
How to Use
While there are many reasons to incorporate natural sources of healthy bacteria into your diet like yogurt, kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut, and kimchi, many of us require a little extra boost periodically to ensure that we replenish our system with as much biodiversity as possible. When a probiotic supplement is called for, we like this brand because it contains small, once daily capsules with an extremely high number of colony-forming units (CFUs) and a diverse combination of 34 raw (not processed) probiotic strains. The capsules also include prebiotics to support the live strains in their new environment.
Remedy 6: Local Honey
Perhaps one of the most well-known home remedies for allergies, many people swear by local honey as a natural means of fortifying your system against pollen allergens. The theory behind using local honey for allergies is that consuming the honey, which contains pollens from local flowering plants, will help your body adapt to the allergen before triggering a major allergic immune response. Many think of their daily dose of honey as a natural allergy shot.
The use of honey as a home remedy for allergies has been the subject of limited studies. In one study, researchers found that consuming preseasonal birch pollen honey (taken before the beginning of allergy season) reduced birch pollen allergy symptoms.13 Though this study focused solely on birch pollen allergies and the use of birch pollen honey, the mechanism behind the findings appears to hold for many other pollen allergies. This theory relies on the “hygiene hypothesis,” which holds that childhood exposure to germs aids in developing a healthy, functioning immune system with a diverse range of antibodies to those germs. In this case, the exposure is to pollen allergens to build up immunity to allergic responses to the pollen.
How to Use
Unless you know that your allergy symptoms are linked to a specific flowering plant, we suggest looking for a raw, unfiltered local wildflower honey at your local farmer’s market to ensure that you are getting a blend of possible plant allergens in your area. To begin your local honey regimen, start with a small daily serving of honey prior to the start of allergy season, gradually increasing the amount up to 1 tablespoon a day. You can add the honey to your morning cup of coffee or tea, spread it on some fresh fruit, or simply take the spoonful straight for a sweet treat.
While there is an abundance of anecdotal evidence for the use of local honey as an effective natural remedy for allergies and hay fever, some argue that most seasonal allergies are triggered by airborne pollens, which by nature would not be found in local honey as their plants do not rely on bees to pollenate (but rather, the wind). We would be remiss not to mention that the use of local honey will only protect you from your local seasonal allergens. Should you find yourself on a trip to another area with different local allergens, you may find yourself suffering from your allergy symptoms. So be prepared with a backup plan.
Remedy 7: Vitamins and Nutrients
There are a few vitamins and nutrients that can support home remedies for allergies and are associated with natural allergy relief. As always, when considering the use of dietary supplements, consider your current diet and supplement regimen (and be sure to check out this natural supplement guide). For instance, if you already take a multi-vitamin, you may already be getting the suggested amount of these vitamins for natural allergy relief and support.
In one study, people with allergy symptoms who took 800 IU of vitamin E in addition to their regular allergy medication reported a reduced need for the medication, particularly to treat allergy symptoms like congestion and stuffiness. Nutritionists recommend getting at least 400 IU of the recommended 800 IU from foods high in vitamin E, which include wheat germ, pistachios, almonds, hazelnuts, and peanuts. The remaining 400 IU can be made up with a daily supplement like this one, which contains a mix of the tocopherols in their natural form and no additives or soy products.
Vitamin B9 (Folate)
In one study of the diets of more than 8,000 Americans, it was observed that those with the least folate in their diets were also the most likely to have high levels of antibodies to pollen, dust mites, pet dander, and a higher occurrence of wheezing problems (which is commonly associated with asthma). Folate, also known as folic acid, is essential in DNA synthesis and repair as well as healthy cell growth, which explains its use in prenatal vitamin supplements. You can increase your daily intake naturally by incorporating foods high in folic acid like beans, lentils, leafy greens, asparagus, and broccoli or by taking a multi-vitamin supplement that includes folate or a vitamin B complex. We like this one because the doses are nutritionally balanced and sourced from whole foods to ensure that each nutrient is in its most bioavailable form.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
While foods high in omega-6 fatty acids like corn oil, safflower oil, margarine, mayonnaise, and many processed foods can make inflammatory diseases and asthmatic symptoms worse, omega-3 fatty acids do the very opposite. Though not a vitamin, omega-3 fatty acids support an incredible number of bodily functions. As with any essential nutrient, you can increase your intake by eating foods high omega-3’s like cold-water fish, leafy greens, and flaxseed. But you can also take a fish oil supplement like this one, which contains both crucial fats, EPA and DHA, in addition to ALA.
Diet, Food Sensitivities, and Seasonal Allergies
In addition to trying our natural home remedies for allergies this season, you may also want to consider what you eat. Food sensitivities and intolerances may be more intertwined with seasonal allergies than most of us realize.
According to Mary Hardy, MD, director of integrative medicine at Cedars Sinai Medical Center, when it comes to natural allergy relief, you may have to closely examine and ultimately cut out foods that seem to provoke even a mild sensitivity or reaction in your body. When you are responsive to your system’s sensitivities, you reduce the burden on your digestive and immune systems, which may help reduce the impact and severity of seasonal allergens.
You may consider trying an elimination diet with the support of your physician to help determine the foods that have negative impacts on your body. Though there are practically an unlimited number of possible food sensitivities, many find their allergy culprits to include dairy, grains, and refined sugar. For a comprehensive guide, check out the Institute for Functional Medicine’s elimination diet resources.
Oral Allergy Syndrome
Beyond simply lessening the load on the immune system, there is evidence that many hay fever sufferers also suffer from oral allergy syndrome, a cross-reactivity between foods with proteins similar to those of the pollen allergen. So pay attention to itching or hives in and around the mouth when eating foods that are known to cross-react with your allergy. For a list of foods and their related allergies, check out this list.
Common Sense Cautions for Using Home Remedies for Allergies
In addition to the home remedy-specific common cautions, we always want to remind our savvy readers to consult a physician when treating an ailment with natural options like the home remedies for allergies we discuss here. It is particularly important not to mix alternative treatments like these with traditional allergy drugs or decongestant medications without first discussing them with your doctor. So if you’re already taking an OTC or prescription antihistamine, be sure to talk to your doctor.
Did your seasonal allergies sneak up on you this year? While you wait for you allergy home remedies to get to work, check out these natural remedies for congestion to help ease your worse symptoms.
- Allergy Facts – http://acaai.org/news/facts-statistics/allergies ↩
- Recent warming by latitude associated with increased length of ragweed pollen season in central North America – http://www.pnas.org/content/108/10/4248.abstract ↩
- Natural Treatments for Your Seasonal Allergies – http://www.naturopathic.org/content.asp?contentid=117 ↩
- Petasol butenoate complex (Ze 339) relieves allergic rhinitis–induced nasal obstruction more effectively than desloratadine – http://www.jacionline.org/article/S0091-6749(11)00426-X/abstract ↩
- Efficacy and safety of butterbur herbal extract Ze 339 in seasonal allergic rhinitis: postmarketing surveillance study – http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16751170 ↩
- http://www.webmd.com/vitamins-supplements/ingredientmono-649-butterbur.aspx?activeingredientid=649&activeingredientname=butterbur ↩
- http://www.drweil.com/drw/u/id/QAA158469 ↩
- Maternal quercetin intake during pregnancy results in an adapted iron homeostasis at adulthood – http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22064046 ↩
- Graedon, Joe, and Teresa Graedon. “Home Remedies on Hand.” Complete Guide to Natural Home Remedies. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic Society, 2012. 61. ↩
- http://www.drweil.com/drw/u/id/QAA158469 ↩
- Antiallergic Effects of Probiotics – http://jn.nutrition.org/content/137/3/794S.full ↩
- Probiotics and allergy – http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16313688 ↩
- Birch pollen honey for birch pollen allergy–a randomized controlled pilot study – http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21196761 ↩