Natural Remedies for Allergies

There is an array of natural remedies for allergies, many of which may help alleviate the severity of symptoms. While most have only anecdotal support, limited scientific research indicates that some—such as acupuncture, nasal irrigation, exercise, and certain herbs—may help either reduce allergy attacks or provide some relief from allergy symptoms.

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Given the impact on the quality of life that allergies can have, it's understandable you might be interested in any treatment that could help reduce your symptoms. But if you're considering a natural remedy, it's best to run the idea by your doctor first, as some may pose notable risks, and never reduce or discontinue your allergy medication unless directed by your physician.

No natural remedy is effective in the event of an allergic emergency such as anaphylaxis.

Exercise

Getting regular exercise and physical activity can help alleviate allergic reactions, including respiratory allergies, although it isn't quite clear why. In moderation, exercise is not harmful to people who have allergies and, of course, offers many health benefits.

What the Research Shows

One study looking at the effects of exercise on adults with respiratory allergies found participants who took part in winter exercises in moderately cold alpine conditions, such as a four-hour hiking/snowshoeing tour or a day of skiing, experienced diminished allergy symptoms, an improvement in breathing tests, and a decrease in inflammatory allergy markers both the day after exercise and 60 days later.

How It's Used

People with allergies can follow the exercise recommendations for the general population. This includes at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity, or a combination. These activities can include walking, running, cycling, treadmill exercise, swimming, and more.

Warnings and Side Effects

Discuss your exercise plans with your doctor (especially if you also have asthma or exercise-induced asthma) and adhere to any medical restrictions you may have. It's wise to gradually increase your exercise as you build your endurance.

Also, if you have pollen allergies, take note of pollen levels before heading outside.

Nasal Irrigation

Nasal irrigation, also called nasal rinse or saline lavage, is often used by people who have allergies with respiratory symptoms. It is an at-home remedy that involves using sterile saltwater to clear nasal passages.

What the Research Shows

Research suggests nasal irrigation can help reduce allergy symptoms, facilitating breathing and sleep.

How It's Used

You can perform nasal irrigation daily, or even several times a day, to relieve symptoms of congestion. You can try a nasal rinse by purchasing a kit and following instructions.

One method is to use a neti pot with a saline solution. You pour the solution from the pot in one nostril and the solution drains from the other nostril. A squeeze bottle or bulb syringe can also be used.

In some situations, a nasal rinse may be performed in the hospital during an inpatient admission, especially for young children with severe respiratory reactions.

Warnings and Side Effects

Only use distilled water or boiled water for nasal irrigation. There have been cases of amoeba infection due to contaminated tap water. Also be sure to clean the device after each use. It's best to wait an hour or more after nasal irrigation before going to bed, to be sure the saline has drained completely from your sinuses and to prevent cough.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to allergies, including allergic rhinitis, allergic asthma, eczema, and anaphylaxis. This vitamin has a role in regulating immune system cells and the release of chemicals that can produce allergy symptoms.

What the Research Shows

Several studies suggest supplementation may reduce inflammation and allergic reactions. In particular, a small study showed that vitamin D-deficient participants who took vitamin D supplements along with antihistamines experienced an improvement of allergy symptoms after eight weeks.

There is no evidence, however, that taking vitamin D alone without medication would have the same effect. And it isn't clear whether taking supplements is helpful for people who already have optimal levels of vitamin D.

Another study found that response to allergy immunotherapy in relieving allergic rhinitis was better in subjects with optimal vitamin D levels, and worse in those who were deficient in vitamin D.

How It's Used

If you have been diagnosed as being deficient in vitamin D, your doctor will recommend appropriate supplementation. Each person has different needs, in part based on skin color and amount of sun exposure.

If you are not deficient in vitamin D, the general recommendations from the Institute of Medicine for most people betwwen 1 and 70 is 600 international units (IUs) of vitamin D daily and 800 IUs of vitamin D daily after age 70.

Warnings and Side Effects

It is possible to take too much vitamin D, which raises the blood levels of calcium and can result in kidney stones and calcium deposits in the heart and other organs. Exposure to sunlight raises vitamin D levels, but precautions should be taken to avoid lengthy exposure that can lead to skin cancer or sunburn.

Acupuncture

The American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery Foundation recommends acupuncture for those who want a nonpharmacological treatment for allergic rhinitis.

Acupuncture is a healing practice that originated in China over 5,000 years ago. It involves stimulating meridian points on the body with needles, pressure, or electrical probes. This is believed to direct energy within the body.

What the Research Shows

Although acupuncture has been used to treat allergies, there have been no large, randomized controlled trials to verify its efficacy for this purpose.

However, a large systematic review consolidated the results of several studies that assessed the effects of acupuncture on allergic rhinitis. The results suggested acupuncture can improve the quality of life for people who have allergies, but the mechanism for the overall improvement is not clear. The procedure was found to be safe, without adverse effects.

How It's Used

Acupuncture is often used in addition to other forms of allergy treatment, as a complementary therapy. In visiting an acupuncturist, a person would get a series of weekly or twice-weekly treatments for several weeks, and then follow-up treatments as needed.

Warnings and Side Effects

Acupuncture is generally regarded as safe and side effects are not expected. However, it is best to look for a practitioner who is licensed, certified, or registered as required by your state.

Butterbur

The herb butterbur (Petasites hybridus) is a shrub-like plant that grows in northern Asia, Europe, and parts of North America. Extracts made from the herb have been used in folk medicine for ailments such as migraine headache, stomach cramps, cough, allergic rhinitis, and asthma.

What the Research Shows

The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health notes that some studies suggest that root or leaf extracts of butterbur may help relieve allergic rhinitis (hay fever), but it has not been found to be useful for asthma or allergic skin reactions.

How It's Used

Commercial butterbur extracts, made from the roots or leaves, are available in capsule or table form to be taken by mouth. The supplement typically is taken two to four times a day for a week or longer, especially during allergy season.

Warnings and Side Effects

Side effects of butterbur may include indigestion, headache, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and constipation. Butterbur is in the ragweed plant family, so people who are allergic to ragweed, marigold, daisy, or chrysanthemum should avoid butterbur and products that contain it.

Do not take the raw butterbur herb on its own or as a tea, extract, or capsule: It contains substances called pyrrolizidine alkaloids that can be toxic to the liver and kidneys and may cause cancer.

Women who are pregnant or nursing, children, and people with kidney or liver disease should not take butterbur in any form.

Quercetin

Quercetin is an antioxidant shown to reduce inflammatory cells and proteins, especially in skin. It is found naturally in foods such as apples (with the skin on), berries, red grapes, red onions, capers, and black tea. It is also available in supplement form. Some people use it for allergic rhinitis, atopic dermatitis, and asthma.

What the Research Shows

In the lab, quercetin inhibits the release of histamine, a major component of allergic reactions. It can also inhibit the formation of IgE antibodies, another component of the allergic response. It is chemically related to existing anti-allergy drug cromolyn sodium.

Although quercetin has potential for development for allergy and asthma therapy, research has largely been limited to its effects in the test tube or in animal studies, without clinical studies of humans.It may help reduce the effects of allergies that manifest with skin reactions, such as atopic dermatitis.

How It's Used

There are numerous dietary sources of quercetin. Quercetin is also available as a nutritional supplement in tablet or capsule form. A typical dose for allergies and hay fever is between 200 milligrams (mg) and 400 mg three times a day.

Warnings and Side Effects

At doses above 1 gram per day, there is a risk of kidney damage. Quercetin should be avoided by people with kidney disease, as well as people who are pregnant or breastfeeding.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are an essential fats found in a variety of foods. Research suggests that omega-3 fatty acids may reduce the production of inflammatory chemicals in the body.

What the Research Shows

Omega-3 fatty acid supplements have been shown in research to reduce some of the effects of asthma and atopic dermatitis, although many studies are on animal models or in the test tube.

Another area of research is in whether maternal prenatal supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids (especially fish oil supplements) can reduce atopic dermatitis and food allergies in infants. There have been some positive findings, but this is still very preliminary.

How It's Used

Sources of omega-3 fatty acids include:

  • Flaxseed oil: 1 tablespoon two to three times a day
  • Walnuts: 1 ounce (14 halves) a day
  • Fish oil capsules: 1 to 1.2 grams of EPA and DHA per day

Warnings and Side Effects

Side effects of fish oil may include indigestion and a fishy aftertaste. Fish oil has a mild "blood-thinning" effect. If you are taking Coumadin (warfarin) or heparin, or are at risk of bleeding complications, do not take fish oil without consulting a doctor. Fish oil should not be taken two weeks before or after surgery.

Stinging Nettle

Stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) is an herb that may reduce the symptoms of allergic rhinitis.

What the Research Shows

One randomized double-blind clinical trial found that stinging nettle seemed to reduce symptoms, and there were some changes in clinical measures such as eosinophil counts (a type of white blood cell involved in allergic reactions) of nasal smears. However, these are very preliminary findings and more study is needed.

How It's Used

Stinging nettle can be used as a tea. Extracts may be found in a variety of supplements for allergy support.

Warnings and Side Effects

As stinging nettle has diuretic properties, it should not be used unless you consult your doctor, especially if you are taking diuretics for fluid retention.

Probiotics and Prebiotics

Probiotics are live organisms that colonize the gastrointestinal system and modulate digestion and the immune response. Prebiotics are non-digestible oligosaccharides that encourage the growth of probiotic bacteria. Added to infant formula, they may help modulate immune responses.

Research has been conducted as to whether maternal supplementation with probiotics during pregnancy and breastfeeding can reduce the risk of eczema (atopic dermatitis) in infants who are most at risk for this allergic condition.

What the Research Shows

The World Allergy Organization (WAO) notes that although the evidence is of low quality, they recommend probiotic use by pregnant or breastfeeding women whose infant would be at high risk of developing an allergy, as well as by those infants.

The WAO found that the evidence for using prebiotics is of low quality, but for infants who are not exclusively breastfed, supplementing with prebiotics may be considered. They note that there are no studies of supplementing pregnant or breastfeeding women, so they make no recommendation of maternal use of prebiotics.

How It's Used

Probiotics are available in a variety of forms, including supplemental drinks, kefir, yogurt, and capsules. Prebiotics are found in fermented foods. They are also available in tablets, capsules, and chewable products.

Warnings and Side Effects

Probiotics and prebiotics are generally safe. But if you are sensitive to dairy products or other possible ingredients, check for sources that are safest for you.

Black Cumin Seed Oil

Black cumin seed oil (Nigella sativa) has several active chemical compounds, including thymoquinone. One use has been in relieving symptoms of allergic rhinitis.

What the Research Shows

Research in animals has shown that black cumin seed oil extract can inhibit the degranulation of mast cells, which release inflammatory compounds that drive allergic reactions.

Further research has been done with human subjects. In one study of people with allergic rhinitis, exposure to black cumin seed oil by smelling it or rubbing it on the forehead was useful in reducing nasal mucosal congestion, nasal itching, runny nose, and sneezing attacks.

Another study used black seed oil in the form of nasal drops to treat allergic rhinitis. A six-week treatment course showed good results in relieving symptoms.

How It's Used

Black cumin seed oil is as capsules as well as in bulk oil form. It can be taken as a supplement once or twice a day. Or, as in the studies of rhinitis, it can be rubbed on the skin, smelled, or applied as nose drops.

Warnings and Side Effects

Studies have found no significant side effects for black seed oil. However, there is always the possibility of a skin reaction when applied topically.

Supplement Safety

Supplements aren't always tested for safety and are largely unregulated, so the content of a product may differ from what's listed on its label. Safety for certain individuals (e.g., nursing mothers, those taking medications, etc.) is also not established.

Always talk to your doctor before taking a supplement for allergies or any other concern, and learn how to choose and use supplements wisely.

A Word From Verywell

Don't forget about the most effective natural allergy remedy of all—steering clear of your allergens (harmless substances that induce the inflammatory response of an allergy attack)—whenever possible. While this may seem obvious and (in many cases) relatively simple, the effect of your efforts can be tremendous if you know what your allergens are.

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