The long anticipated spring is on its way and many of us are eager to get outside and admire budding trees and blooming flowers. If you are one of the 20% of Americans who suffer from seasonal allergies, however, you may feel apprehensive to venture outside for fear of the inevitable itching, sneezing, and runny nose . Most sufferers receive marginal relief from pharmaceutical drugs but also may experience unwanted side effects . Thankfully, some natural remedies are proven to be as effective for relieving allergy symptoms without the prevailing side effects [1, 2, 4, 5].
Currently, the most common treatment for seasonal allergies is antihistamines . A wide range of other anti-inflammatory drugs such as corticosteroids, decongestants, and nasal mast cell stabilizers are also available and are used alone or in combination . However, despite such advances in modern drug therapy, only 26% of allergy sufferers are satisfied with the results. User dissatisfaction may be because each drug targets a specific symptom or set of symptoms, resulting in only partial relief. Additionally, side effects ranging from impaired driving to cardiac arrhythmias are often considered an unsatisfactory trade-off .
Allergy symptoms are more than just uncomfortable, they can be quite debilitating. Affected individuals have impaired verbal learning, decision-making speed, psychomotor skills, concentration, and sleep resulting in increased work and school absences and decreased productivity. The growing prevalence of allergies is also a huge detriment to the health care system .
Fortunately, there are medically proven natural remedies for seasonal allergy relief without the side effects of pharmaceutical drugs. In fact, allergies have become one of the leading conditions for which patients seek alternative medicine .
The leaves of stinging nettle, or Urtica dioica, contain histamine, which is the primary anti-inflammatory marker for seasonal allergies. In fact, the herb acts similarly to antihistamine drugs but without the side effects . Cultures around the world have used nettle for centuries to treat nasal and respiratory problems such as coughs, runny nose, chest congestion, asthma, and whooping cough. Taking 300-600 mg of freeze-dried nettle in capsule form daily is the recommended dosage; however, the effect only lasts a few hours. If symptoms persist, it can be taken twice daily . Nettle also grows wild in much of the United States. It makes a wonderfully mild tea. Sautéed green, it can be added to nearly any dish. Please handle with care as the stinging hairs are quite painful until deactivated by a flash sauté. In rare cases, allergic reactions may occur .
Raw honey containing the pollen that is triggering an immune response has also been proven effective at treating seasonal allergies. In fact, one study found that the honey containing pollen was more effective than conventional medications at relieving patients of their symptoms . So go ahead and add a spoonful of honey to your regimen; it certainly couldn’t hurt! Just be sure not to give it to infants under 12 months of age .
Butterbur, or Petasites hybridus, has been extensively studied and also proven effective at treating allergy symptoms. One study found butterbur as effective as the drug cetirizine, the active ingredient in Zyrtec, but without the drowsiness reported in patients taking cetirizine . However, I consider butterbur a less favorable option since finding it in the wild is much rarer in comparison to its counterpart, stinging nettle, and its long-term effects are unknown. If you choose butterbur as your natural allergy remedy, do not use for longer than twelve weeks as you may develop side effects similar to many modern drug therapies. Short-term use of 32 milligrams taken four times per day has been proven very safe and effective. To ensure safety and efficacy, make sure the product is labeled hepatotoxic PA-free .
So please, breathe easy knowing there are remedies for your seasonal ailments that will enable you to venture outside without the added side effects. If you are a regular allergy sufferer, the greatest success is achieved by addressing your symptoms with a trained herbalist before the peak of allergy season.
Kristen McPhee, MS is a nutritionist and clinical herbalist practitioner in Marquette specializing in women’s health and Lyme disease. She graduated from Maryland University of Integrative Health, where she completed over 1,000 supervised clinical hours. For more information and to schedule a consultation, visit http://www.kristenmcphee.com.
Guo, R. & Pittler, M. (2007). Petasites hybridus (Butterbur) for Treating Allergic Rhinitis. Focus on Alternative and Complementary Therapies. 12(2): 81-84. doi: 10.1211/fact.12.2.0003.
Guo, R., Pittler, M., & Ernst, E. (2007). Herbal Medicines for the Treatment of Allergic Rhinitis: A Systematic Review. Annals of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology, 99(6). doi: 10.1016/S1081-1206(10)60375-4.
Putnam, G., Godfrey, S., et al. Executive Summary – Treatments of Seasonal Allergic Rhinitis. Agency of Healthcare Research and Quality. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK153706/
Saarinen, K., Jantunen, J., Haahtela, T. (2011). Birch Pollen Honey for Birch Pollen Allergy – A Randomized Controlled Pilot Study. Int Arch Allergy Immunol. 155(2): 160-6. doi: 10.1159/000319821.
Sayin, I., Cingi, C., Oghan, F., Baykal, B., Ulusoy, S. (2013). Complementary Therapies in Allergic Rhinitis. ISRN Allergy. doi: 10.1155/2013/938751.
Thornhill, S. & Kelly, A. (2000). Natural Treatment for Perennial Allergic Rhinitis. 5(5). Retrieved from http://www.biomedsearch.com/article/Natural-Treatment-Perennial-Allergic-Rhinitis/
University of Maryland Medical System. (2015). Allergic Rhinitis. Retrieved April 8, 2015 from http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/condition/allergic-rhinitis
*Article reprinted with permission from Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine, Spring 2017 Issue, copyright 2017.