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Allergies are no fun—sneezing, itching, watery eyes, etc. People often look for natural remedies for their allergy symptoms, perhaps because they’re hesitant to use medications or need additional ways to improve their symptoms. Several natural remedies have become popular, and some of them even have data supporting their benefit for allergy sufferers. Keep reading to find out more.
What are allergies?
Allergies can happen in response to an airborne allergen (like pollen) or certain foods (like peanuts). For whatever reason, some people’s immune systems overreact to otherwise harmless substances around us (called allergens), causing allergy symptoms. Common allergens include pollen, dust, mold, animal dander, and foods (like peanuts or shellfish).
A common reaction to inhaled allergens is allergic rhinitis, or hay fever, which affects up to 30% of children and adults in the U.S. (Akhouri, 2021). You may only have allergic rhinitis at certain times of the year, like spring and/or fall—this is called seasonal allergies. Seasonal allergies are most often due to pollen, ragweed, grasses, etc. However, some people’s allergies are triggered year-round, also known as perennial allergies. These are usually due to allergens around all the time, like dust, pet dander, etc.
The most common symptoms of seasonal allergies include (Akhouri, 2021):
- Watery or itchy eyes
- Sneezing or a runny nose
- Itchy throat or frequent throat clearing
- Postnasal drip
- Nasal, ear, or sinus congestion
- Dark circles under the eyes (allergic shiners)
11 natural remedies for allergy symptoms
If you need to take something for your allergy symptoms, medications are most likely to help improve your symptoms. Several drug classes work to relieve allergy symptoms, including antihistamines, decongestants, and glucocorticoids—these have the best evidence of effectiveness in clinical trials.
With that said, there are alternative treatments and natural allergy remedies you can consider. While some of these things have some supporting evidence and/or studies that show efficacy, it’s hard to say 100% whether they will actually work.
Compounds in butterbur may help decrease the immune response in allergies, but scientists don’t really know the exact mechanisms. Clinical trials show conflicting evidence regarding whether this medicinal plant works as well as prescription medication (Man, 2009).
Some butterbur products contain chemicals (called pyrrolizidine alkaloids or PAs) that may damage your liver or lungs and possibly cause cancer. Another risk is that butterbur may cause allergic reactions in people who are already allergic to certain plants like ragweed, chrysanthemums, marigolds, and daisies (Wu, 2020).
2. Vitamin C
Some studies suggest that vitamin C, a powerful antioxidant, might slow down histamine production and thus be helpful to people with allergies when given in high doses via intravenous infusions (Volbracht, 2018).
3. Saline nasal irrigation
Rinsing your nose with over-the-counter saline (often done with a device called a Neti pot) may help flush out allergens and mucus. Some studies suggest that this may provide some allergy relief, but the data is limited (Head, 2018).
But you need to be very careful with this allergy remedy—the FDA warns that using tap water for saline nasal irrigation can be fatal. Tap water contains low levels of organisms, like bacteria and amoebas, that can stay alive in your nasal passages and cause serious, even fatal, infections. Only use distilled, sterile, or previously boiled water for your rinses (FDA, 2017).
Bromelain is a natural enzyme derived from pineapple that may have anti-inflammatory properties and the ability to make mucus thinner. However, the scientific data on this is limited. Children and pregnant women should avoid using bromelain because of the potential risk of bleeding. Also, avoid bromelain if you are allergic to pineapples (Wu, 2020).
Probiotics have had varying degrees of success in improving allergy symptoms. Fortunately, they have few side effects and are a relatively safe option to try. Probiotics are available in milk, yogurt, powders, capsules, etc. (Wise, 2018).
Quercetin occurs naturally in certain foods like onions, capers, apples, berries, tea (especially green tea), tomatoes, grapes, and red wine. Studies suggest that this antioxidant has anti-inflammatory and antihistamine effects, making it a potential natural allergy remedy (Jafarinia, 2020).
7. HEPA filters
Using air purifiers and vacuums with HEPA filters may help your allergy symptoms if you’re bothered by indoor allergens. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), HEPA (which stands for high-efficiency particulate air) filters remove 99.97% of dust, pollen, mold, and bacteria, among other tiny particles (EPA, 2021).
A HEPA air purifier will remove irritants from the air; a vacuum with a HEPA filter will trap dust and allergens, preventing them from being expelled in the exhaust. Most experts agree that HEPA filters are a good option for people suffering from allergies. Still, there is limited data on them (Wise, 2018).
Since ancient times, people have been using honey for its medicinal benefits, including its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Some studies have found that consuming local honey improves the symptoms of allergic rhinitis, while others have found that it does not. More research is needed in this area (Pellow, 2020). Never give honey to infants under 12 months old because of the potential for botulism from bacterial toxins.
Honey for allergies: does it work?
9. Peppermint oil
Peppermint oil is purported to have natural anti-inflammatory and decongestant effects. It may help with some of the symptoms of your allergies. However, it is an allergen for some people, and peppermint oil may lead to contact dermatitis (skin rash) and other allergic symptoms (Herro, 2010).
10. Stinging nettle
In the laboratory, stinging nettle appears to act against the release of histamine and other pathways of allergic reactions. However, the clinical data on stinging nettle’s ability to reduce allergy symptoms is conflicting and inconclusive (Wise, 2020).
This blue-green algae has been found to have anti-inflammatory properties. Studies have found that spirulina may improve allergic rhinitis symptoms like sneezing, runny nose, nasal congestion, and itching (Wise, 2020).
Potential side effects of natural allergy remedies
Several natural remedies for allergies can cause allergic reactions themselves, especially honey, peppermint oil, bromelain, and butterbur.
They also might not be safe for you to take because of your overall health or other medications or supplements you may be taking. You should always consult a healthcare provider before starting any new supplement.
Additional treatment options for your allergies
Some people find that medications, such as over-the-counter antihistamines, decongestants, corticosteroids, or eye drops, relieve their allergy symptoms. Others may need prescription allergy medications that are stronger and effectively reduce inflammation in the nose and sinuses.
Your healthcare provider may recommend allergy shots. These are a form of immunotherapy that helps your immune system get used to the allergens that are bothering you, but these injections can take months or years to work.
- Akhouri S, House SA. (2021) Allergic rhinitis. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2021 Jan-. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK538186/.
Head, K., Snidvongs, K., Glew, S., Scadding, G., Schilder, A. G., Philpott, C., et al. (2018). Saline irrigation for allergic rhinitis. The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 6(6), CD012597. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD012597.pub2. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29932206.
Herro, E. & Jacob, S. E. (2010). Mentha piperita (peppermint). Dermatitis: Contact, Atopic, Occupational, Drug, 21(6), 327–329. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21144345.
Jafarinia, M., Sadat Hosseini, M., Kasiri, N., Fazel, N., Fathi, F., Ganjalikhani Hakemi, M., et al. (2020). Quercetin with the potential effect on allergic diseases. Allergy, Asthma, and Clinical Immunology: Official Journal of the Canadian Society of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, 16, 36. doi: 10.1186/s13223-020-00434-0. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32467711/.
Man, L. (2009). Complementary and alternative medicine for allergic rhinitis. Current Opinion in Otolaryngology & Head and Neck Surgery, 17(3), 226–231. doi: 10.1097/MOO.0b013e3283295791. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19262383/.
Pellow, J., Nolte, A., Temane, A., & Solomon, E. M. (2020). Health supplements for allergic rhinitis: A mixed-methods systematic review. Complementary Therapies in Medicine, 102425. doi: 10.1016/j.ctim.2020.102425. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32507438/.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). (2021). Indoor air quality: what is a HEPA filter? Retrieved on May 21, 2021 from https://www.epa.gov/indoor-air-quality-iaq/what-hepa-filter
U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). (2017). Is rinsing your sinuses with Neti pots safe?. Retrieved on May 21, 2021 from https://www.fda.gov/consumers/consumer-updates/rinsing-your-sinuses-neti-pots-safe.
Vollbracht, C., Raithel, M., Krick, B., Kraft, K., & Hagel, A. F. (2018). Intravenous vitamin C in the treatment of allergies: an interim subgroup analysis of a long-term observational study. The Journal of International Medical Research, 46(9), 3640–3655. doi: 10.1177/0300060518777044. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29950123.
Wise, S. K., Lin, S. Y., Toskala, E., Orlandi, R. R., Akdis, C. A., Alt, J. A., et al. (2018). International consensus statement on allergy and rhinology: allergic rhinitis. International Forum of Allergy & Rhinology, 8(2), 108–352. doi: 10.1002/alr.22073. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29438602/.
Wu, A. W., Gettelfinger, J. D., Ting, J. Y., Mort, C., & Higgins, T. S. (2020). Alternative therapies for sinusitis and rhinitis: a systematic review utilizing a modified Delphi method. International Forum of Allergy & Rhinology, 10(4), 496–504. doi: 10.1002/alr.22488. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32104974/.
Dr. Mike is a licensed physician and the Director, Medical Content & Education at Ro.