8 Natural Remedies for Allergies

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Allergies are exaggerated immune responses to substances that are generally not considered harmful. There are many different types, such as food and skin allergies. Allergic rhinitis is a type of allergy that occurs when your immune system overreacts to airborne particles such as dust, dander, or pollen, causing symptoms such as a runny or itchy nose and sneezing.

Allergy to plant pollen is commonly called hay fever and affects approximately 40 million people each year in the United States.

Symptoms of Allergy

  • Runny nose, nasal congestion
  • Sneezing
  • Watery eyes
  • Itchy, watery eyes, nose, or throat
  • Coughing
  • Postnasal drip
  • Fatigue
  • Facial pressure or pain

So far, scientific support for the claim that any remedy can treat allergies is fairly lacking, but the following are natural alternatives that may provide some relief for your symptoms. 


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

Butterbur is being studied as a natural allergy remedy. Although how butterbur works is still not known, it is thought to work in a similar way to allergy medications by blocking the action of histamine and leukotrienes, inflammatory chemicals involved in allergic reactions.

In a study involving 186 people with hay fever, participants took a higher dose of butterbur (one tablet three times a day), a lower dose (one tablet two times a day) or a placebo. After two weeks, both the higher and lower dose relieved allergy symptoms compared to the placebo, but there were significantly greater benefits seen with the higher dose.

In another study, 330 people with hay fever were given a butterbur extract (one tablet three times a day), the antihistamine drug fexofenadine (Allegra), or a placebo. Butterbur was as effective as fexofenadine at relieving sneezing, nasal congestion, itchy eyes, and other hay fever symptoms, and both treatments were more effective than the placebo.

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

The raw herb as well as teas, extracts, and capsules made from the raw herb should not be used because they contain substances called pyrrolizidine alkaloids that can be toxic to the liver and kidneys and may cause cancer.

It is possible to remove the pyrrolizidine alkaloids from butterbur products. For example, in Germany, there is a safety limit to the level of pyrrolizidine alkaloids allowed in butterbur products. The daily recommended dose cannot exceed 1 microgram per day.


Quercetin is a type of antioxidant called a flavonoid. Although there still isn't enough research to conclude that quercetin is an effective allergy remedy, it is thought to prevent the release of histamine, an inflammatory chemical involved in allergy symptoms such as sneezing and itching.

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. A typical dose for allergies and hay fever is between 200 and 400 milligrams three times a day.


Carotenoids are a family of plant pigments, the most popular being beta-carotene. Although no randomized controlled trials show that carotenoids are effective remedies for allergies, a lack of carotenoids in the diet is thought to promote inflammation in your airways.

There are no guidelines or research that suggests a certain target intake for hay fever. Many people don't even get one serving of carotenoid-rich foods a day. If this is you, consider striving for one to two servings a day to up your intake.

Good sources of carotenoids include apricots, carrots, pumpkin, sweet potato, spinach, kale, butternut squash, and collard greens.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of essential fatty acid that we must obtain through our diet. Research suggests that they may reduce the production of inflammatory chemicals in the body (prostaglandin E2 and inflammatory cytokines).

Although there are no randomized controlled trials showing that omega-3 fatty acids are effective allergy remedies, a German study involving 568 people found that a high content of omega-3 fatty acids in red blood cells or in the diet was associated with a decreased risk of hay fever.

Good sources of omega-3 fatty acids are:

  • 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. Fish oil has a mild "blood-thinning" effect. If taking warfarin (Coumadin) 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.
  • Flaxseed oil: 1 tablespoon two to three times a day.
  • Walnuts: 1 ounce (14 halves) a day

At the same time, reducing foods rich in arachidonic acid might be wise. One study found an association between arachidonic acid and hay fever. Although arachidonic acid is essential for health, too much has been found to worsen inflammation. This means reducing intake of egg yolks, red meat, and shellfish.

Identifying Food Sensitivities

Just like we can have allergies to airborne substances, some people with allergies and hay fever may react to certain foods. Our diet tends to follow the seasons, so if there are foods you eat more of in the spring, you may wish to note if your symptoms get worse after you eat them and bring them to your doctor's attention.

People with lactose intolerance may notice that they feel more congested after consuming dairy products. Preliminary studies suggest that some people with allergies to grass pollens may also react to tomatoes, peanuts, wheat, apple, carrot, celery, peach, melon, eggs and pork, and that people with ragweed allergies may also react to foods in the Cucurbitaceae family, such as cucumber and melon.

An elimination-and-challenge diet is usually conducted to identify any food sensitivities. It involves the removal of suspected foods from the diet for at least a week, followed by the systematic re-introduction of these foods to isolate any foods that may be aggravating hay fever symptoms. Known food allergies and sensitivities are not tested. It should be done under the guidance of a health professional.


Nettle is a herbal remedy derived from the stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) bush. A number of studies suggest that nettle may help with allergy symptoms such as sneezing, nasal congestion, and itchiness, possibly by reducing inflammation. 

Nasal Irrigation

nasal irrigation, or nasal rinse, is often touted as a remedy for allergies or hay fever. It is an at-home remedy that involves using salt water to clear nasal passages. Research suggests that it may be helpful for people with allergies. 

Acupuncture for Allergies

Acupuncture is a healing practice that originated in China over 5,000 years ago. Although studies have examined acupuncture for allergies, there haven't been large, randomized controlled trials.

In a German study published in the journal Allergy, 52 people with hay fever received acupuncture (once a week) and a Chinese herbal tea designed to address allergic symptoms (three times a day) or sham acupuncture and a regular herbal tea. After six weeks, people who received the acupuncture and herbal treatment noticed an 85 percent improvement on a "global assessment of change" scale compared to 40 percent in the control group. They also noticed a significant improvement in the quality of life questionnaire. There was no difference however in symptoms.

In another study, 72 children with hay fever received either acupuncture (twice a week) or sham acupuncture. After eight weeks, the real acupuncture was more effective at improving symptoms and was associated with more symptom-free days compared to sham acupuncture.

Due to a lack of supporting research, it's too soon to recommend any remedy for the treatment of allergies. Supplements haven't been tested for safety and due to the fact that dietary supplements are largely unregulated, the content of some products may differ from what is specified on the product label.

Also, keep in mind that the safety of supplements in pregnant women, nursing mothers, children, and those with medical conditions or who are taking medications has not been established. You can get tips on using supplements here, but if you're considering the use of alternative medicine, talk with your primary care provider first. Self-treating a condition and avoiding or delaying standard care may have serious consequences.

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