Natural Remedies for Allergies

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Natural remedies for allergies have been considered possible approaches for alleviating the severity of symptoms. While most have only anecdotal support, limited scientific research indicates that some—such as acupuncture, nasal irrigation, and exercise—may help either reduce allergy attacks or provide some relief from allergy symptoms.

Given the impact on quality of life that allergies can have, it's understandable that you might be interested in any treatment that could help reduce your symptoms. But if you're considering a natural remedy, it's always best to run the idea by your doctor first, as some may pose notable risks.

You should never reduce or discontinue your allergy medication unless directed by your physician. (Note: No natural remedy is effective in the event of an allergic emergency.)

Exercise

Getting regular exercise and physical activity can help reduce your allergic reactions, although it isn't quite clear why this effect occurs. One study that looked at the effects of exercise in adults with allergies showed that participants who took part in winter exercises, such as a four-hour hiking tour, experienced diminished allergy symptoms, an improvement in breathing tests, and a decrease in inflammatory allergy markers.

In moderation, exercise is not harmful to people who have allergies; it, of course, also boasts many other health benefits. But it is important that you discuss your exercise plans with your doctor (especially if you also have asthma) and adhere to any medical restrictions that you may have. It can also help to gradually increase your exercise as you build your endurance.

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.

Research suggests that nasal irrigation can help reduce allergy symptoms, helping with breathing and sleep.

You can try a nasal rinse by purchasing a kit and following instructions. In some situations, it may be used in the hospital during an inpatient admission, especially for young children with severe respiratory reactions.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to allergies. Several studies suggest that supplementation may reduce inflammation and allergic reactions. In particular, a small study showed that 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.

Acupuncture

Acupuncture is a healing practice that originated in China over 5,000 years ago. Although acupuncture has been used for the management of allergies, there haven't been large, randomized controlled trials to verify its efficacy for this purpose.

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

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 migraines, stomach cramps, coughs, allergies, and asthma.

Butterbur has not been shown to have reliable clinical effects on allergy symptoms, but, Petatewalide B, a specific component of the herb, may reduce the activity of macrophages, eosinophils, and lymphocytes—inflammatory cells involved in allergic reactions.

Side effects of butterbur may include indigestion, headache, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or constipation.

Butterbur Warnings

The raw herb, on its own or in tea, extract, or capsule form, should not be used. It contains substances called pyrrolizidine alkaloids that can be toxic to the liver and kidneys and may cause cancer.

Pregnant or nursing women, children, or people with kidney or liver disease should not take butterbur.

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.

Quercetin

Quercetin is a type of antioxidant that has been shown to reduce inflammatory cells and proteins, especially in skin cells. Quercetin is found naturally in certain foods such as apples (with the skin on), berries, red grapes, red onions, capers, and black tea. It is also available in supplement form.

It may help reduce the effects of allergies that manifest with skin reactions, such as atopic dermatitis. A typical dose for allergies and hay fever is between 200 and 400 milligrams (mg) three times a day.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3s are a type of essential fatty acid found in a variety of foods. Research suggests that these fatty acids may reduce the production of inflammatory chemicals in the body.

This type of natural supplement has been shown in research studies to reduce some of the effects of asthma and atopic dermatitis.

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 (providing 1 to 1.2 grams of EPA and DHA per day): Side effects of fish oil may include indigestion and a fishy aftertaste.

Omega-3 Warnings

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.

Supplement Safety

Supplements aren't always tested for safety and they are largely unregulated, so the content of a product may differ from what's specified on its label. Safety in 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

Herbs and other plant-derived substances with little evidence to support efficacy for allergies include: Curcuma longa, Zingiber officinale, Rosmarinus officinalis, Borago officinalis, stinging nettle (Urtica dioica), Uncaria tomentosa, Vaccinium myrtillus, Olea europaea, and grapeseed extracts.

The natural remedies featured here are better options to try, so long as you have your doctor's OK. But don't forget about the most effective natural allergy remedy of all: steering clear of 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.

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