Honey for Allergies and Asthma

Around 20% of the world's population experiences allergic diseases, including asthma, eczema, and hay fever (allergic rhinitis)—three diseases that commonly occur together.

Although research is limited with regard to the anti-allergic properties of honey, many people believe honey can be ingested, sprayed into the nose (intranasal), or applied to the skin to relieve or even cure allergy symptoms.

This article explores the therapeutic effects of honey and discusses the evidence for and against its use in treating various types of allergies.

Woman pouring honey on a piece of bread
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Therapeutic Effects of Honey

Honey is a byproduct of flower nectar that has passed through the honey bee's upper digestive tract. Praised for its antioxidant, antibacterial, and anti-inflammatory properties, honey has been used medicinally for thousands of years.

Some of these therapeutic effects have been proven by scientific studies. For example, according to a 2016 review in the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture, bee products like honey show "promising" health benefits, particularly for wound healing.

There is also evidence that bee pollen, which contains honey, could have an immune-enhancing effect. This is important considering that allergic reactions are your immune system's defense against bacteria, viruses, pollutants, dust mites, and other microorganisms that invade your body.

Honey and Your Allergies

Proponents of using honey to treat allergies claim that, in addition to being a cough suppressant, honey's anti-inflammatory effects can soothe irritation in the skin and throat.

If that is true, honey could be used to:

Scientific research into the anti-allergic effects of honey are conflicting, with some research even suggesting that honey could make allergy symptoms worse.

The following is a brief review of what the studies say.

Allergic Rhinitis

For a 2010 study in Malaysia, researchers divided a selection of people with allergic rhinitis into two groups. Group one was asked to take a high dose of honey each day. Group two was asked to take the same amount of corn syrup each day as a sham treatment, or placebo. Both groups also took a daily dose of an antihistamine called loratadine.

While both groups showed a similar improvement in symptoms during the initial four weeks of treatment, only the honey group saw a continued improvement in their symptoms one month after stopping their honey and loratadine treatments.

These results suggest that honey, when taken alongside an antihistamine, may help with such allergic rhinitis symptoms as sore throat, itchy eyes, runny nose, and allergic asthma.

It should be noted that individuals in the honey treatment group saw results after ingesting one gram of honey per kilogram of body weight every day for four weeks. That is approximately three spoonfuls of honey for a 140-pound person each day—an unrealistic amount for some people, especially those watching their sugar intake.

In 2016, researchers also studied the effects of intranasal honey spray on allergic rhinitis symptoms, particularly sneezing, stuffiness, and runny nose.

Study participants were divided into two groups and given medications. Both groups took a daily antihistamine or intranasal corticosteroid spray, but only one group also took the intranasal honey spray as a daily complementary therapy.

At the end of six-week study, researchers saw a much greater improvement in allergic rhinitis symptoms among those who used the intranasal honey spray. The researchers state that honey spray acts as a protective layer that coats the inside of the nasal passage, preventing allergens from attaching to nasal mucous.

Honey, when used alongside an antihistamine or corticosteroid, may help relieve allergic rhinitis symptoms. However, there is little evidence that honey is effective enough as a standalone treatment for allergic rhinitis.

Allergic Asthma

For many people with asthma, being exposed to an allergen can cause them to cough, wheeze, and have difficulty breathing as their airways swell up.

One theory is that honey could protect people with asthma by lubricating their airways. In turn, this would prevent allergens from irritating their airways and triggering inflammation.

For a 2021 study, researchers divided 52 people with asthma into two groups to find out how propolis—a component of honey—may be used to treat asthma symptoms like shortness of breath and airway inflammation.

What Is Propolis?

Propolis is a sticky resin found in honey that bees gather from plants and use to glue their hives together. It is commonly used in folk medicine to treat asthma due to its antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties.

One group was asked to take 75 milligrams (mg) of propolis each day, while the other group took a placebo.

The results of this study are promising: Researchers found that people who ingested propolis showed significant improvements in their asthma symptoms, especially the amount of air they were able to inhale and exhale. They also found that people who took propolis had reduced inflammation in their respiratory system.

Overall, there is evidence that honey can help relieve asthma symptoms, but once again, that is only when honey is used alongside traditional asthma medications like oral corticosteroids and asthma inhalers.

Eczema

Honey's therapeutic properties have led scientists to study it as a potential topical treatment for eczema rashes and sores. Proponents believe honey could be applied to eczema-affected areas of the skin to soothe itching, reduce inflammation, and prevent infection.

To test this theory, researchers brought together a small group of adults with eczema sores. Every night for one week, each adult applied a layer of honey over certain sores before wrapping them in gauze for the night. Researchers asked them to leave other sores untreated for comparison, although they were allowed to moisturize.

After one week, it was clear that the sores treated with honey were significantly less irritated and inflamed. However, when researchers tested the sores for bacteria concentration, they found that some sores treated with honey had attracted more bacteria than the untreated sores, possibly due to honey's sugar content.

The researchers note that their study was small and that more extensive studies with larger groups of people are needed. Additionally, the researchers state that different types of honey should be studied to uncover exactly how honey could aid people with eczema.

Recap

Honey does seem to have therapeutic properties, and it may help some people manage their allergy symptoms when used alongside allergy medicines. More research is needed before honey can be recommended as a standalone allergy treatment.

Using Local Honey to Relieve Allergies

One of the most effective, long-term treatments for allergies is allergen immunotherapy. A doctor injects you with gradually increased doses of a specific allergen. By doing this with controlled doses, immunotherapy helps you build tolerance against the allergen.

Allergen immunotherapy has proven to be successful for relieving symptoms triggered by environmental allergens, such as mold, dust mites, and local plant pollen.

Since the pollen you breathe in and that bees in your area use to make honey are one and the same, it would make sense that consuming locally-produced honey could help you build a tolerance if you have a pollen allergy.

Scientific studies have yet to back this theory up, though. And furthermore, many experts warn that people with pollen allergies should be extremely cautious about consuming honey altogether.

Cautions

Based on the studies above, it could be argued that, even if honey doesn't cure your allergies, it still can't hurt to give it a try. However, it's very important to remember that exposing yourself to an allergen without your doctor's supervision can lead to a severe and life-threatening allergic reaction known as anaphylaxis.

If you would like to try using honey as a form of allergen immunotherapy, talk to your doctor to see if it's right for you. Your doctor may recommend against it or they may schedule a time for you to try honey at their office, where they can be on standby in case you have an allergic reaction.

Summary

Honey has been used for medicinal purposes in cultures across the world for thousands of years due to its many therapeutic properties.

But while research shows that honey may help some people manage their allergy symptoms, it probably won't be effective enough to replace antihistamines and other allergy medicines entirely.

If you are allergic to pollen or have unidentified environmental allergies, you should only consume honey if your doctor gives you the OK.

A Word From Verywell

While it's true that most food allergies begin in childhood, you can develop new allergies of any kind at any point in your life. This can happen due to changes in your immune system or exposure to allergens that your immune system never encountered before.

Keep this in mind if you suddenly develop rashes or cold-like symptoms; if your symptoms keep returning, you should see your doctor for allergy testing.

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