Allergies are an overreaction of your immune system to substances which are usually not considered harmful. A very common type of allergy is allergic rhinitis, which is a hyper-reaction of the immune system to airborne particles. These include pollen, dust, dander or mold, and can result in sneezing, congestion, and itchiness among other symptoms. Another form of allergy, often called hay fever, is to plant pollen, which affects an estimated 40 million people per year nationwide.
While food and skin allergies are equally common among Americans, all allergies produce similar symptoms. Whether you only get allergies at certain times of year, or if you have a few regular triggers that set you off on a ricochet of sneezes, there are natural ways to treat your symptoms. These symptoms (in case you aren’t familiar) include:
- Watery eyes
- Postnasal drip
- Facial pressure or pain
- Itchy eyes, nose, and/or throat
As someone who is prone to allergies and not fond of the cost and effects of over-the-counter medications, I highly recommend trying some natural methods. Mine are perhaps not as severe as others, and I’ve only tried the local honey plus vitamin C solution thus far, but it worked pretty well. Here are a few ideas I haven’t yet tried, but through clinical trials and naturopathic support, it seems they are becoming more legitimate solutions for allergy relief.
How to Treat Allergies at Home
An herb that’s getting quite a bit of press these days, butterbur comes from Europe and has been successful in many studies for controlling hay fever symptoms, as well as grass allergy symptoms. The hay fever study showed that taking four tablets per day of butterbur worked just as well as the popular antihistamine, Allegra, while excluding the common side effect of drowsiness. Butterbur effectively reduces sneezing, itchy eyes, nasal congestion, and other hay fever symptoms.
However, butterbur has its own potential downsides. Side effects may include headache, indigestion, fatigue, nausea, constipation, vomiting, or diarrhea. Additionally, it is not recommended for pregnant women, children, or anyone with kidney or liver disease. As a part of the ragweed family, butterbur is not suggested for people who are allergic to ragweed, marigold, chrysanthemum, or daisy.
It can be taken as a tea, capsule, or extract, though you should stay away from the raw herb, as it contains pyrrolizidine alkaloids that can damage the liver and kidneys, and potentially increase your risk of cancer. Be careful with the butterbur, in other words.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Though there have been no randomized controlled trials to prove the effectiveness of omega-3 fatty acids, one study in Germany of 568 people discovered that those with a large quantity of omega-3 fatty acids in the diet or red blood cells correlated with a lower risk of hay fever. While this may be a stretch, you can give it a try. Omega-3s have various other health benefits, as well. It can be found in fish oil, flaxsaeed oil, and walnuts, among other sources.
In the antioxidant family, quercetin is a flavonoid compound that has been increasing in popularity for treatment of allergy symptoms. Quercetin is found naturally in many foods, including red grapes, black tea, capers, red onions, apples (with skin), and berries, and can also be found in supplement form. According to James Dillard, MD, clinical advisor to Columbia University’s Rosenthal Center for Contemporary and Alternative Medicine, quercetin is especially helpful for lowering allergy symptoms when combined with vitamin C. Dillard says, “There is even some evidence that quercetin may control the release of histamine and other chemicals that help initiate the allergic response.” Quercetin is usually dosed for allergies at 200 to 400 mg, three times per day.
Clearing your nasal passages using a neti pot or a saline squeeze bottle can also help alleviate allergy symptoms. Using warm salt water, you can flush one nostril at a time by tipping your head and pouring water in one nostril and allowing the opposite side to be emptied of mucus. You can find neti pots at most retail drug stores, natural food stores, and many places online. According to research, it can be just as effective for people with allergies as those with a cold or any other congestion-causing illness.
Freeze-dried nettles can also help allergies, according to Mary Hardy, MD director of integrative medicine at Cedars Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. Hardy recommends this herbal remedy, extracted from the stinging nettle bush, used as a tonic. Multiple studies have been performed using nettles as a treatment for allergies, showing that sneezing, itching, and nasal congestion can be potentially alleviated by lowering inflammation.
For seasonal allergies and airborne allergies, raw, local honey is highly recommended for reducing symptoms. Before your symptoms start, preferably two weeks in advance, eat raw honey produced as close to your city or town as possible to acclimate your body to the pollen that will be stirred up. Find out more about the benefits of honey.
If you have severe allergies, or these treatments do not help your symptoms, see a physician or allergist to help you get well. Always consult your doctor before you embark on a new kind of treatment.
2. About.com Alternative Medicine. Best Remedies for Hay Fever and Allergies.
3. Image: Wikimedia commons.