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In an era of hype around eating clean and living green, it can be tempting to look for natural remedies for common health issues. One of the most common and annoying health conditions is seasonal allergies. Many people believe that eating local honey can soothe allergy symptoms—a folk remedy handed down for countless generations. But does honey really work for seasonal allergies? Here’s the theory and what the science says.
Prescription allergy relief, without the waiting room
Finding the right allergy treatment shouldn’t be a guessing game. Talk with a healthcare provider.
What are seasonal allergies?
Seasonal allergies can be a source of misery for the 30% of children and adults in the U.S. who are affected by allergic rhinitis every year. Also referred to as “hay fever,” seasonal allergies can cause allergic rhinitis or inflammation in the nasal passages. That’s what produces the classic allergy symptoms of sneezing, a runny nose, itchy or watery eyes, and coughing (Akhouri, 2021).
We tend to think allergy season begins in the spring when pollen from blooming trees and flowering plants peaks. (In fact, hay fever got its name from the hay-cutting season, which would cause some farmers to have an allergic reaction). But seasonal allergies can surface year-round, not just in peak seasons like the spring and fall. Indoor allergens (dust, mold) and outdoor allergens can produce similar symptoms and have sufferers looking for relief.
Existing treatments for seasonal allergies include over-the-counter and prescription medications, such as antihistamines, corticosteroids, decongestants, nasal sprays, and eye drops. Allergy shots are a form of immunotherapy. Regular injections of tiny amounts of allergens aim to acclimate the immune system and curtail the allergic reaction.
Treating seasonal allergy symptoms: medications that help
Some people pursue natural remedies for their seasonal allergies. One of the most commonly mentioned in recent years is local honey.
Can honey help relieve seasonal allergies?
The idea behind eating local honey (generally, raw honey or unprocessed honey) as a remedy for seasonal allergies is that it might work similarly to an allergy shot. When bees produce honey, it contains small amounts of pollen from nearby flowers. Consuming that honey—and therefore the pollen—may combat pollen allergies in a certain location. Ingesting flower pollen from a certain region, the thinking goes, may make you less sensitive to it.
It’s an interesting idea, but unfortunately, it isn’t proven. Research is scant and inconclusive. One small study in Malaysia found that honey consumption was beneficial to allergic rhinitis. But an earlier, small study at the University of Connecticut found no benefit in allergy sufferers who consumed local honey, commercially processed honey, or placebo (Asha’ari, 2013; Rajan, 2002).
There’s a fundamental weakness in eating honey as an allergy remedy: The amount of pollen that bees deposit into honey can vary widely. So there’s no standard for how much pollen you’re consuming. It might not even be the kind that causes your allergy symptoms. Relying on honey to assuage your hay fever is a shot in the dark.
To put it simply: “There is no scientific proof that eating local honey will improve seasonal allergies,” says the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (ACAAI, n.d.).
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Health benefits of honey
Although there’s no proof that honey can help with allergies, there’s no denying its potential health benefits. It is a natural medicinal compound with several potential health benefits like anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial, anti-cancer, and wound healing properties (Aw Yong, 2020).
Potential risks of local honey as an allergy treatment
Using local honey as an allergy remedy comes with risks. Honey may trigger anaphylaxis (a life-threatening allergic reaction in which the throat and mouth swell, impairing breathing) in people with severe allergies. Also, consuming local honey is not safe for infants, as raw honey can contain spores of the bacterium that causes botulism.
Even processed store-bought honey can contain harmful spores, so the CDC recommends that children under the age of twelve months should not be given honey at all (CDC, 2021).
- Asha’ari, Z. A., Ahmad, M. Z., Jihan, W. S., Che, C. M., & Leman, I. (2013). Ingestion of honey improves the symptoms of allergic rhinitis: evidence from a randomized placebo-controlled trial in the East coast of Peninsular Malaysia. Annals of Saudi Medicine, 33(5), 469–475. doi: 10.5144/0256-4947.2013.469. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24188941/
Aw Yong, P. Y., Islam, F., Harith, H. H., Israf, D. A., Tan, J. W., & Tham, C. L. (2021). The potential use of honey as a remedy for allergic diseases: a mini review. Frontiers in Pharmacology, 11, 599080. doi: 10.3389/fphar.2020.599080. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33574752/
Rajan, T. V., Tennen, H., Lindquist, R. L., Cohen, L., & Clive, J. (2002). Effect of ingestion of honey on symptoms of rhinoconjunctivitis. Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology : Official Publication of the American College of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology, 88(2), 198–203. doi: 10.1016/S1081-1206(10)61996-5. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11868925/
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Botulism-prevention. (2021, Jun). Retrieved June 28, 2021 from https://www.cdc.gov/botulism/prevention.html
American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (ACAAI). (n.d.). Will honey relieve my seasonal allergies? Retrieved on June 28, 2021 from https://acaai.org/resource/nasal-symptoms/
Dr. Chimene Richa is a board-certified Ophthalmologist and Senior Medical Writer/Reviewer at Ro.