For many people, seasonal allergies are an unpleasant and unavoidable part of spring. While most may instinctively head straight to the medicine cabinet, those who are unwilling or unable to turn to allergy medicine are left to search for alternative methods to alleviate their allergy symptoms. There is no shortage of online suggestions for natural remedies to treat allergies. However, many options lack the scientific evidence to back up claims of their effectiveness. Can natural remedies really help relieve seasonal allergy symptoms? If so, how can you tell whether an alternative treatment is worth trying?
Types of seasonal allergies
If your allergy symptoms are more severe during certain parts of the year, such as springtime, you may be affected by seasonal allergy triggers. These airborne allergens are especially potent on windy days, and can include mold spores and pollen. While mold growth is more severe during periods of high heat and humidity, pollen-producers—such as ragweed, sagebrush, mugwort and other trees and grasses—thrive in the late summer and early autumn months, when nights are cool and days are warm. Pollen counts tend to be higher during morning hours and on warm, windy days. Though rain can help wash pollen away, it also helps plants produce more pollen, which is why pollen counts are typically higher after a rainfall. Fortunately, your well-being does not have to be completely at the mercy of the weather conditions.
Do natural home remedies help allergy symptoms?
A quick internet search will turn up a seemingly endless list of at-home solutions for allergy symptoms. How do you know which methods actually work and which are simply old wives’ tales? The best way is to look for scientific evidence supporting or refuting each specific claim. For example, here are the facts on dietary supplements and alternative treatments that are often touted for allergy relief:
Probiotics — Some studies have found that probiotics may help reduce the severity of allergy symptoms, though the exact makeup of probiotics used across different scientific studies varies. In 2015, a systematic review of randomized controlled trials found that probiotics may benefit the overall quality of life and decrease nasal symptoms of patients, but there was not enough evidence to support probiotics as a choice to improve allergy symptoms specifically (Peng, et. al, 2015). Another systematic review and meta-analysis from the same year concluded that probiotics could be a potential tool for improving seasonal symptoms and overall quality of life for patients with allergies (Zagac, et. al, 2015). Both reviews note that more studies with standardized probiotics are needed before probiotics can be recommended as a treatment for allergy symptoms.
Butterbur — Butterbur is a popularly recommended at-home treatment for allergy symptoms, though people with allergies to ragweed, mugwort, chrysanthemums, marigolds and daisies may be allergic to it. It may be effective for relieving allergy symptoms, but much of the scientific evidence in favor of the herb’s effectiveness comes from studies funded by butterbur manufacturers (Guo, et. al, 2017). In a 2003 review of alternative methods for allergy relief, one study found that butterbur was as effective as an oral antihistamine for itchy eyes, though the study notes that further research is needed to establish usage guidelines for alternative treatment methods (Bielory & Heimall, 2003). Note that raw butterbur extracts have alkaloids, which can cause liver damage and cancer and have not been safety tested for long-term use, according to the NIH.
Honey — Many people automatically turn to honey when their allergy symptoms flare up, especially at the onset of a sore, scratchy throat. However, the 2003 review listed above concluded that honey was no more effective than a placebo at relieving allergy symptoms. Though there is no scientific evidence to support that honey can relieve seasonal allergies, many people still turn to this substance because they of its perceived soothing effects. Children under one year of age should not consume honey, and people who are allergic to pollen may be allergic to honey.
Acupuncture — Findings from randomized controlled trials suggest that acupuncture may be effective in improving allergy symptoms, as well as overall quality of life. For example, the 2015 clinical practice guidelines issued by the American Academy of Otolaryngology allow clinicians to recommend acupuncture as a nonpharmacologic allergy treatment. Additionally, a 2015 review and meta-analysis of 13 studies suggested that acupuncture could be recommended as a safe, effective treatment for allergy symptoms, and that it can also improve overall quality of life (Feng, et. al, 2015).
Other herbs and dietary supplements — According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), natural products such as astragalus, capsaicin, grape seed extract, omega-3 fatty acids, pycnogenol, quercetin, spirulina, stinging nettle and tinospora have been studied for their effects on allergy symptoms, but the evidence was too inconsistent or limited to determine whether they are a viable treatment option for allergy symptoms.
Though many non-medicine alternative treatments may not have scientific evidence to back up their allergy-relief capabilities, that does not necessarily mean that they cannot help you feel better. The term “placebo effect” can sometimes have a negative connotation, but the results are valid and should be considered. Sometimes a home remedy can have physical benefits that cannot be attributed to the treatment itself, but are caused by a person’s belief in the effectiveness of the treatment. Ultimately, any home remedy that helps an individual feel better is not by definition a bad thing, as long as it is safe. Physicians recommend that you talk to them about the best way to manage your allergy symptoms, especially before deciding on a dietary supplement.
Tips for at-home allergy treatment
Whether it is you or your child that is experiencing unpleasant and even painful allergy symptoms, there are at-home solutions that you can turn to aside from the natural remedies discussed in the previous section. One of the biggest things that can help you deal with seasonal allergies is to know what triggers them. Once you have found out, you can decide which days these home remedies will be more appropriate. It may seem counterintuitive, but sometimes your allergies could be worse indoors than outdoors.
Avoiding allergen exposure
Adults and children can avoid indoor exposure to allergens by:
- Closing the windows to keep pollen out (if you need to cool your home, consider using an air conditioner instead).
- Wash your clothes and shower after spending time outside (especially before bedtime). For this method to be most effective, everyone in the house should do this, not just those with allergies.
- Wash pets regularly after time outdoors to decrease the amount of allergens that they bring into the home.
Additionally, you can reduce your exposure to outdoor allergens by:
- Tracking pollen counts and scheduling outdoor activities accordingly.
- Wearing a protective mask while gardening.
- Going outside in the afternoons and evenings, when pollen counts are typically lower than in the mornings.
Another popular solution for persistent allergy symptoms is nasal irrigation. Saline nasal washes, sprays and drops can be helpful in relieving nasal irrigation. Using a saline nasal irrigation regularly over a period of up to seven weeks has been found to relieve allergy-related nasal symptoms and medicine consumption and improve the overall quality of life in patients with allergic rhinitis (Hermelingmeier, et. al 2012). According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, neti pots and other nasal irrigation devices should be cleaned regularly and only used with filtered, distilled or boiled and cooled water.
Allergy symptom home remedies for children
Though you may cringe at the idea of trying to get your young child to use a saline nasal wash, there are plenty of other alternative allergy-relief methods that you can try at home to reduce and relieve your children’s allergy symptoms. For example:
- Be mindful about outdoor time. According to Harvard Health, you do not have to keep your children indoors all spring, but you can check the pollen count before planning outdoor activities. Dry, windy days are worse for allergies, as are locations with lots of plant life.
- Keeping pollen out of your child’s bedroom can help prevent allergies that get worse at night. If possible, try to move your child’s favorite activities out of the bedroom so that they stay out of there during the day, and wash them before they go into their bedroom at night. This will keep pollen from accumulating in their bedroom and help them get a better night’s sleep.
- Cold compresses can give relief to sore, itchy eyes and hot compresses can help clear a stuffy nose. The steam from warm showers and baths can also help clear sinus congestion.
- To help soothe a runny nose, try switching to tissues with aloe or lotion. You can also use vaseline to help heal a dry, red nose.
Can improving indoor air quality give seasonal allergy relief?
Seasonal allergy symptoms caused by contact with airborne allergens such as pollen and mold spores may be reduced by adding an air purifier to your home, especially if you place it in the bedroom. Different air purifier technologies filter out different types and sizes of pollutants from the air, so it is important to look at an air purifier’s specifications before purchasing to make sure that it is capable of removing allergens from your indoor air.
Our solution, the Molekule air purifier, contains a revolutionary technology called Photo Electrochemical Oxidation (PECO) that goes beyond what traditional air filters can do. Instead of simply trapping pollen or mold particles on filters, PECO destroys them. The allergen destruction process becomes especially important when you consider what triggers allergy symptoms in the first place – tiny protein particles that are not always captured by regular air filters. The Molekule air purifier is different and can break down tiny allergens at the molecular level.
This allergy season, you may not have to rely on allergy medication to protect you and your family from airborne allergens. Regardless of why you are searching for alternative remedies for seasonal allergies, you can take advantage of the above preventative measures and treatment options to help minimize symptoms and stay healthy.