Natural Approaches to Relieving Seasonal Allergies

Sneezing, runny nose, congested sinuses, coughing and eye irritation – the symptoms of seasonal allergies can be annoying and can interfere with many daily activities. While conventional therapies such as nasal steroid sprays, decongestants, and topical or oral antihistamines can be very helpful, they are not always adequate for everyone. In addition, their side effects can be almost as troublesome as the original allergy symptoms.

Consider these potential side effects of common over-the-counter and prescription medications:
  • Nasal decongestant sprays: Rebounding or worsening of symptoms; irritation in the nose
  • Oral decongestants: Palpitations or other evidence of heart arrhythmias; high blood pressure
  • Nasal steroids: Nose irritation; remote chance of increased glaucoma risk
  • Oral antihistamines: Drowsiness (seen less in the "non-sedating" antihistamines); other side effects, particularly in the elderly
Because of these issues, the team at Providence Integrative Medicine is always on the lookout for treatments that reduce the need for conventional medicines. Although research in this area is sparse, many people have found the following approaches helpful. Our patients often try these approaches first, and then add conventional medicines on especially bad allergy days.

Diet and Hygiene
Along with daily exercise, eating a sensible diet and practicing good hygiene are probably the simplest and most inexpensive ways to prevent and treat many common health problems – including allergies.

Hygiene: Keep your nose clean
Gently rinse your nasal passages with saline to keep the mucous layer in the nose healthy, to loosen congestion and to minimize the accumulation of allergens. Two ways of doing this that work well together are:
  • Nasal saline spray: Use an over-the-counter spray, such as Ayr or Ocean Spray, two to four times daily.
  • Nasal saline rinse: Do a more thorough cleaning each day. This can be done a number of ways: you can mix a simple salt solution at home (1½ teaspoons salt in 1 cup of warm water) and use a device called a neti pot; you can try a very effective gadget that attaches to a Water Pik; or, another easy and inexpensive approach is to buy a kit called a "Sinus Rinse," which is available at most pharmacies.
Diet: Treat allergy symptoms with food
Our experience suggests that markedly reducing added sugars (read labels!) and other refined carbohydrates (e.g., white flour) reduces allergy symptoms, perhaps because of an improved immune response.

Reducing dairy intake, particularly fresh milk, is worth trying. Cultured milk products such as natural yogurt and kefir may be better tolerated by some, but others find all dairy foods potentially troublesome.

Adding probiotics (friendly bacteria and yeast) is the first thing that many of our naturopathic physicians suggest. HMF powder and other probiotics seem to be helpful, possibly because of the positive effects that friendly bacteria have on the immune system. Some studies of children support this approach.

Horseradish and wasabi are longstanding folk remedies that many find helpful (not to mention enjoyable with a piece of lean beef or sushi!). Use a large dollop every day for a week or two and see if you notice any improvement in your allergy symptoms.

Tabasco provides some people with two to four hours of relief. Try drinking a half glass of water with five to ten drops of Tabasco sauce mixed into it. (A useful party trick, perhaps?)

Fish oil improves the immune response to hay fever, so many of our patients take one tablespoon of lemon-flavored fish oil before their largest meal each day with good results. Most people find the flavored fish oil to be very tolerable, so try it before you discard the idea! It's worth noting that asthma, which has many features in common with hay fever, is less common in people who eat more whole grains and fish.

Nutritional Supplements
Although there isn't much research to confirm the benefits of most homeopathic preparations, some patients swear by them. Our practitioners can help you make the best choices.

In addition to the suggestions below, our patients occasionally use a variety of nutritional supplements, such as bromelain and quercetin, with good results. Dosages and quality vary widely – we would be glad to advise you.

Bee pollen is sometimes very effective at preventing allergy symptoms. It may take a few weeks or months before you see results (if you see them at all – it may depend on the specific agents that you're allergic to), but it is worth trying. Look for loose bee pollen at natural food stores that get the pollen from local beekeepers. Take ½ to 1 teaspoon daily for a couple of months and see if you notice any benefit. Bee pollen has a very mild flavor, but some people like to mix it with a little honey.

Vitamin E: 800 IU (international units) daily can be effective for reducing nasal symptoms, but probably won’t do much for your eye symptoms. We don’t recommend routine use of high-dose vitamin E year-round unless you see a persistent benefit.

Butterbur appeared to be as effective as a conventional antihistamine in one study. It can also be used to reduce the incidence of migraine. For allergy relief, use a standardized herbal extract with 8 milligrams petasin per tablet four times daily.

Freeze-dried nettles have shown confirmed benefit in some studies. They tend to sell out in the springtime, so buy early if you want to try some. Use a standardized extract, 300 milligrams daily.