It’s spring, and the sneezing has begun. But you don’t have to suffer: A number of home remedies and complementary therapies can help relieve mild seasonal allergy symptoms.
Although severe allergies often require medical intervention, “some studies have shown that some of the home remedies and alternative therapies do provide some relief in some patients,” says Dr. Michael Borts of the Allergy, Asthma and Sinus Care Center and a board member for the Asthma and Allergy Foundation St. Louis Chapter. “If symptoms are mild, they can replace other over-the-counter (OTC) or prescription medication in some patients.”
Dr. Jason Wibbenmeyer of Innovative Health Partners is a chiropractor offering integrative therapies, such as Chinese medicine, acupuncture, clinical nutrition and homeopathy. He often advises allergy patients to try a combination of hands-on treatment and home remedies.
“The thing to look out for is that some natural remedies for allergies contain herbs,” Wibbenmeyer says. “While herbs are very effective to help treat something like allergies, herbs act on a medicinal level, and you want to consult your natural health physician to reduce drug interactions. Saying this, I see several patients slowly replace their OTC or prescription medications for allergies, whether it is their own doing or monitored by their medical doctor.”
Wibbenmeyer notes that he never recommends patients stop taking already prescribed medications. He does, however, offer patients a variety of pharmaceutical-grade supplements and homeopathic remedies to help relieve allergy symptoms. Recommendations are based on each individual patient’s needs and health status.
Borts and Wibbenmeyer explained some of the most popular allergy home remedies:
The neti pot is used to flush saline through the nose, washing out pollen, bacteria or other irritants. “When used as directed, this is very safe and often very helpful,” Borts says. “When used for a cold or even a sinus infection, it can reduce both the duration and severity of symptoms and often reduces the use of antibiotics. If symptoms of infection last for longer than 14 days, though, it’s a good idea to see a physician.”
Essential oils are gaining popularity as a way to treat a variety of ills, including allergies. “They stimulate the brain and immune system to function,” Wibbenmeyer says. “There are several ways to incorporate essential oils in treatment. I use and recommend a mixture of eucalyptus, lavender, peppermint and lemon with hands-on treatment, while working on sinus cavity and lymphatic drainage techniques.” Essential oils also can be diffused into the air or applied to the base of the nostril and upper chest. “I would not recommend ingesting pure essential oil, as its potency can be dangerous to the digestive system,” Wibbenmeyer adds.
There are a number of inexpensive, safe and effective home air-filter machines. “We have some concern about units that generate ozone to kill germs,” Borts notes. “While these units are tested and should not create excessive or harmful levels of ozone, ozone is an irritant to the respiratory tract, and we generally advise to avoid exposure. Other filters use a HEPA filter, which can remove germs and allergens combined with a charcoal filter that removes odors and other irritants. These are very safe.” No machine placed in one location can filter the air in an entire home, he adds. HVAC contractors can provide advice on building-wide systems.
Foods said to relieve allergies include wasabi and honey. “Most of the green stuff that we get with our sushi is actually horseradish and not real wasabi,” Borts notes. “The real wasabi contains isothiocyanates that are reported to have anti-inflammatory effects and has been shown in some studies to help symptoms of mild allergies. When you eat either wasabi or horseradish, it has an immediate effect of clearing the sinuses. Some people find this to be pleasant—others do not.”
As for honey, Borts notes there are no controlled studies that have shown it effective as an allergy treatment, however, "my friend and fellow allergist Dr. Gary Goodman raises bees for honey and sells it to benefit the Asthma and Allergy Foundation. And as he says, I don’t know if it helps allergies, but it is yummy.