Natural Remedies for Allergies

There is an array of natural remedies for allergies, many of which may help ease symptoms. Most have only anecdotal support. However, limited scientific research indicates that some may help reduce allergy attacks or provide relief from allergy symptoms. These include acupuncture, nasal irrigation, exercise, and certain herbs.

natural remedies for allergies

Verywell / Ellen Lindner

Since allergies can impact your quality of life, it's understandable to be interested in any treatment that might relieve symptoms. But if you're considering a natural remedy, run the idea by your healthcare provider first, as some may pose notable risks.

Never reduce or discontinue an allergy medication you may currently be taking unless directed to do so by your healthcare provider.

This article discusses the different natural remedies that may relieve allergies. It looks at what research shows, how these remedies can be used, and what the side effects may be.

No natural remedy is effective in the event of an allergic emergency such as anaphylaxis, a life-threatening allergic reaction.

Exercise

Regular exercise can help decrease allergic reactions, including respiratory allergies (related to breathing), although it isn't quite clear why. In moderation, exercise isn't harmful to people who have allergies and, of course, offers many health benefits.

What the Research Shows

One study looked at the effects of cold-weather exercise on adults with respiratory allergies. The participants took part in a four-hour hiking/snowshoeing tour or a day of skiing in moderately cold alpine conditions.

Results showed that they had decreased allergy symptoms and an improvement in breathing tests. These effects were noted both the day after exercise and 60 days later.

How Exercise Is 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 per week. These activities include walking, running, cycling, treadmill exercise, swimming, and more.

Warnings and Side Effects

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

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

Recap

Research shows getting regular exercise may help allergy symptoms. Check with your doctor before starting an exercise program, especially if you have exercise-induced asthma.

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 Irrigation Is 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.

A nasal rinse may sometimes 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 the use of contaminated tap water in nasal irrigation. 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. That ensures the saline has drained completely from your sinuses and helps to prevent coughing.

Recap

Nasal irrigation may help clear your nasal passages when you have allergies. A neti pot, squeeze bottle, or bulb syringe is used to rinse your nasal cavities with saline solution.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to allergies, including allergic rhinitis (nasal congestion), 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 vitamin D supplements may reduce inflammation and allergic reactions.

One study showed that vitamin D-deficient participants taking vitamin D supplements along with antihistamines (allergy medications) had improved allergy symptoms after eight weeks.

There is no evidence, however, that taking vitamin D 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 (allergy shots) in relieving allergic rhinitis was better in subjects with optimal vitamin D levels. The response was worse in those who were deficient in vitamin D.

How Vitamin D Is Used

If you have been diagnosed as vitamin D deficient, your healthcare provider will recommend the supplements you need. Each person has different needs, in part based on skin color and amount of sun exposure.

If you aren't deficient in vitamin D, the Institute of Medicine recommends most people between ages 1 and 70 get 600 international units (IU) of vitamin D daily. Those age 70 and older should get 800 IU of vitamin D daily.

Warnings and Side Effects

It is possible to take too much vitamin D, which raises calcium levels in the blood. This can result in kidney stones and calcium deposits in the heart and other organs.

Exposure to sunlight also raises vitamin D levels. However, you should avoid too much exposure since it can lead to sunburn or skin cancer.

Recap

Research shows that taking vitamin D supplements with allergy medicine can improve symptoms if your vitamin D levels are low. Check with your doctor first before taking supplements.

Acupuncture

The American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery Foundation recommends acupuncture as one way to treat allergic rhinitis.

Acupuncture is a healing practice that originated in China over 5,000 years ago. It involves stimulating points on the body with needles, pressure, or electrical probes. These points are believed to be connected by pathways creating an energy flow that affects overall health.

What the Research Shows

Although acupuncture has been used for allergy treatment, there have been no large, randomized controlled trials to verify its effectiveness.

However, a large systematic review looked at several studies on the effects of acupuncture on allergic rhinitis. The results suggested acupuncture can improve nasal symptoms for people who have allergies, but the reason for this improvement wasn't clear. The procedure was found to be safe and without adverse effects.

How Acupuncture Is Used

Acupuncture is often used as a complementary therapy in addition to conventional allergy treatment. In visiting an acupuncturist, you 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.

Recap

Acupuncture may be used as a complementary therapy for allergies when also using conventional treatment. Research is limited, but some studies have shown that acupuncture can improve nasal symptoms for those with allergies.

Butterbur

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

What the Research Shows

The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health says studies suggest root or leaf extracts of butterbur may help relieve allergic rhinitis. However, it has not been found to be useful for asthma or allergic skin reactions.

How Butterbur Is Used

Commercial butterbur extracts are made from the roots or leaves of the plant. They're available in capsule or tablet 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 drowsiness. Butterbur is in the ragweed plant family. People who are allergic to ragweed, marigolds, daisies, or chrysanthemums 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 lungs 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, which helps prevent damage to cells. It reduces 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 (eczema), and asthma.

What the Research Shows

In the lab, quercetin helps restrict the release of histamine, a chemical released by cells in allergic reactions. It can also inhibit the formation of IgE antibodies, another component of the allergic response. Quercetin is chemically related to the existing anti-allergy drug cromolyn sodium.

Quercetin has potential for the development of allergy and asthma therapy. However, research has largely been limited to its effects in test tube or animal studies, without clinical studies of humans.

There is some evidence that it may help reduce the effects of allergic skin reactions, such as atopic dermatitis.

How Quercetin Is 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 400mg three times a day.

Warnings and Side Effects

Quercetin should be avoided by people with kidney disease, as well as people who are pregnant or breastfeeding.

Recap

Quercetin may help with reducing allergies, particularly skin reactions. It's found in foods like apples, berries, and black tea. It's also available as a supplement, but should be avoided if you're pregnant, breastfeeding, or have kidney disease.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fats. These are fats your body needs but can't make itself, so you need to get them from your diet. Foods that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids include fish, walnuts, vegetable oil, flax seeds, and leafy vegetables.

Research suggests that omega-3 fatty acids may reduce the production of inflammatory chemicals in the body, which have a role in allergies and asthma.

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. However, many studies are on animal models or in the test tube, rather than human studies.

Researchers are looking at whether taking omega-3 fish oil supplements when you're pregnant can reduce atopic dermatitis and food allergies in infants. There have been some positive findings, but this research is still very preliminary.

How Omega-3 Fatty Acid Are Used

Common sources of omega-3 fatty acids include the following:

  • 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 healthcare provider. Fish oil should not be taken two weeks before or after surgery.

Recap

Research shows omega-3 fatty acids may help improve asthma and eczema. You can get it from supplements or foods like fish, walnuts, and flax seeds.

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 in humans found that stinging nettle seemed to reduce allergy symptoms.

There were some changes in clinical measures such as eosinophil counts (a type of white blood cell involved in allergic reactions) in nasal smears. However, these are very preliminary findings, and more studies are needed.

How Stinging Nettle Is 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

Stinging nettle has diuretic properties, meaning it causes your kidneys to make more urine. It should not be used unless you consult your healthcare provider, especially if you are taking diuretics for fluid retention.

Recap

Stinging nettle is an herb that may help improve allergic rhinitis, but research is limited. Ask your doctor before taking it as a supplement, since it can act as a diuretic and increase urine.

Probiotics and Prebiotics

Probiotics are live organisms, or "good" bacteria, that help improve the health of the digestive and immune systems.

Prebiotics are a type of fiber that encourages the growth of probiotic bacteria. Added to infant formula, they may help improve immune responses.

What the Research Shows

Research has looked at whether probiotics during pregnancy and breastfeeding can reduce the risk of eczema (atopic dermatitis) in at-risk infants. The World Allergy Organization (WAO) says the evidence is limited for using probiotics for pregnant and breastfeeding women for allergy prevention. However, they still recommend probiotic use by those whose infants would be at high risk of developing an allergy. They also recommend probiotic use by those infants.

The WAO also found that the evidence for using prebiotics is limited. However, for infants who are not exclusively breastfed, supplementing with prebiotics may be considered.

They note there are no studies of prebiotic supplements for pregnant or breastfeeding women. Because of this, they make no recommendation for maternal use of prebiotics.

How Probiotics and Are Prebiotics 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.

Recap

Probiotics, or "good" bacteria, can be found in kefir, yogurt, and capsules. Prebiotics are a type of fiber that promotes probiotic growth. Both are thought to be beneficial for immune health, but data is limited on whether they help prevent allergies.

Black Cumin Seed Oil

Black cumin seed oil has several active chemical compounds, including thymoquinone, which evidence suggests may relieve symptoms of allergic rhinitis.

What the Research Shows

In one study, people with allergic rhinitis were exposed to black cumin seed oil by smelling it or rubbing it on the forehead. They found they had reduced nasal congestion, nasal itching, runny nose, and sneezing attacks.

Another study used black cumin 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 sold in 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. Test a small amount on your skin before using it consistently. Continue to monitor your skin for reactions while using it for any length of time.

Supplement Safety

Supplements aren't always tested for quality 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.

To ensure that what's on the label is indeed what you are getting, opt for supplements that have been voluntarily submitted for testing by an independent certifying body like U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP), ConsumerLab, or NSF International.

Brands certified organic by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) can also reduce your risk of exposure to unwanted chemicals and pesticides. Always talk to your healthcare provider before taking a supplement for allergies or any other concern.

Summary

Many types of natural remedies are thought to help ease allergy symptoms. These include exercise, nasal irrigation, probiotics, prebiotics, and various herbs and supplements.

For many of these, research is still limited on how they affect allergies. Talk with your doctor first to let them know your symptoms. They can help answer your questions about how natural treatments might work with your other allergy medications.

A Word From Verywell

Don't forget about the most effective natural allergy remedy of all—steering clear of what's causing your allergies whenever possible. This may seem obvious and (in some cases) is relatively simple. But the effect of your efforts can be tremendous if you know what you're allergic to.

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Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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Additional Reading

By Cathy Wong
Cathy Wong is a nutritionist and wellness expert. Her work is regularly featured in media such as First For Women, Woman's World, and Natural Health.