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If you have any medical questions or concerns, please talk to your healthcare provider. The articles on Health Guide are underpinned by peer-reviewed research and information drawn from medical societies and governmental agencies. However, they are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.
Hay fever, seasonal allergies, allergic rhinitis. Whatever you want to call it, a stuffy nose and itchy eyes can be downright debilitating. And when spring has sprung, all the dander and pollen in the air once has many of us scrambling for solutions (and a box of Kleenex).
If that sounds familiar, you’re not alone. Roughly 30% of American adults have reported seasonal allergy symptoms at some point in the year (Nathan, 2008). There are plenty of allergy treatments available, however, some require prescriptions and others have bothersome side effects. That’s where essential oils come in.
Can essential oils treat allergies?
The use of essential oils as medical treatments isn’t witchcraft or magic. It’s science. Many compounds in essential oils naturally occur as antibacterial agents to protect plants against foreign invaders (Ruiz, 2016).
Of course, scientists wondered if these remarkable protective effects would work for humans. Could essential oils alleviate symptoms of seasonal allergies? Maybe, but the research is scarce.
Most allergies result from an overactive immune response to things our bodies perceive as invaders, even though they’re probably harmless. An example of this is dust or pollen. When a person with allergies is exposed to a trigger like this, their immune system starts releasing what’s called histamine into the blood and tissues. Histamine is what causes symptoms associated with allergies, such as a runny nose, cough, itchy or watery eyes, and scratchy throat.
Essential oils for reducing anxiety
While there’s little research showing that essential oils can cure allergies, there is evidence that certain ones can alleviate pesky symptoms. One study found inhaling essential oil vapors infused with sandalwood, geranium, and ravensara improved symptoms of participants with allergic rhinitis (Choi, 2016).
Here’s more on common essential oils sought out for allergy relief.
Scientists have found that chamomile extract can block an initial histamine release––which causes allergy symptoms to begin with––in rats (Chandrashekhar, 2011). Similarly, lavender essential oil has been shown to reduce airway inflammation in mice, but there are no reports in humans (Ueno-Iio, 2014).
If you’ve been told that peppermint oil is the way to go—steer clear. Not only has peppermint oil not been proven to alleviate allergies, but it can induce an allergic reaction in some people.
Eucalyptus contains an anti-inflammatory compound called eucalyptol, which has been researched as a potential asthma treatment (Juergens, 2003). One small study found that using a eucalyptus essential oil in aromatherapy improved allergic rhinitis symptoms like sneezing, congestion, and itching of the eyes, nose, and throat (Song, 2014).
But much like peppermint, eucalyptus oil should be used with caution as it has caused allergic reactions in some people (Kartal, 2016).
Lemon essential oils may help with seasonal allergy symptoms, however, more research is needed. One small study found that a nasal spray containing lemon peel eased nasal congestion and breathing issues in participants with allergic rhinitis. The researchers also noted fewer signs of nasal inflammation in those who used this spray (Ferrara, 2012).
Tea tree oil
Tea tree oil is a great option for alleviating an itchy scalp and itching from acne. There is promising research examining whether tea tree oil may be effective for treating allergic skin reactions, but there’s no evidence supporting it as a treatment for seasonal allergies (Koh, 2002).
Treating seasonal allergy symptoms: medications that help
How to use essential oils
Whether it’s for getting allergy relief or to soothe stress, it’s important to use essential oils properly. Not all oils are created equal, so it’s important to purchase a brand you trust.
There are several ways you can integrate essential oils into your routine. You can spray or diffuse oils in the air for aromatherapy. Alternatively, you can use them in topical treatments like lotions.
Make sure to use a carrier oil to dilute essential oils if you’re going to put them on your body. Neutral oils often used in skincare products—like coconut oil, jojoba oil, and almond oil—work well. Make sure to patch test these mixtures before applying them to large portions of your skin.
Focus on identifying virgin oils, a term that describes oils that are extracted without added chemicals or additives. Other essential oils, like those extracted using steam or other techniques, often contain additives that can irritate your skin (NEA, 2018).
Never consume essential oils. Ingesting them enhances absorption, which can increase the risk of an adverse reaction with any medications you’re taking. This is especially dangerous for children, who are more vulnerable to bad reactions from skin exposure to essential oils (Smith, 2016).
If you’re pregnant, talk to a healthcare provider about whether using essential oils is safe and how they should be used.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate essential oils before they hit the market, so do some research beforehand to make sure you’re buying high-quality products from a place you trust (FDA, 2020).
What’s the best way to treat seasonal allergies?
The best way to avoid allergy symptoms is to avoid what caused your symptoms in the first place.
Of course, this isn’t always possible. If there’s no avoiding the culprit of your itchy eyes and runny nose, allergy medications like antihistamines are commonly used as a first-line treatment (Hossenbaccus, 2020).
Types of allergy tests: which is best?
Nasal sprays that use corticosteroids are another good option since they quell inflammation related to allergy symptoms (Canonica, 2009). If you have mild symptoms that mostly affect the eyes, eye drops may be enough.
Prescription options are available for those with severe seasonal allergy symptoms. These medications can bring down inflammation around your sinuses and nose.
Changes to how you clean and what products you use can also help you manage allergies caused by dust or mold. Washing your linens more frequently, swiftly dealing with wet spots where mold can form, and staying away from known triggers like cigarette smoke, dust, and pet dander are all tips for reducing allergens.
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Yael Cooperman is a physician and works as a Senior Manager, Medical Content & Education at Ro.