Herbal, Natural and Home Remedies for Allergy
We've visited this topic many times over the years here on HealthCentral, but since there's always a lot of interest in what are viewed as more "natural" treatments, I thought it might be useful for our community if I pulled all the information together here in one post and also updated it with the latest knowledge about alternative or natural approaches to treating allergies.
Why Do We Want to Go Natural?
I read on another website, in a post written by a doctor, that people often seek natural treatments because of a mistrust in the medical establishment, and I suppose that may be true, but I think it's only part of the story.
Some of us just don't like putting foreign chemicals into our bodies, no matter how helpful they are in controlling our symptoms. Nor do we enjoy spending hundreds of dollars a year on prescription and over the counter medications!
So, we look for alternatives that feel safer, more "back to nature" and that are a whole lot cheaper.
Where to Start - The Cornerstone of Allergy Treatment
First, let me emphasize that one of the main foundations (and certainly a natural approach) to treating nasal, eye and skin allergies (plus asthma) is what is known as "trigger avoidance." Triggers are allergens and other substances in our environment that set off, or trigger, our allergy symptoms. Common allergy triggers include:
- Mold spores (both indoors & outdoors)
- Pollen from trees, grasses and weeds
- Pet dander, urine and saliva
- Insect droppings
It's not realistic to think you can ever get rid of every one of your triggers from your environment, especially when you leave home and/or go outdoors. Still, there are many things we CAN do to reduce the amount of triggers in our environment. And we can refrain from going outside when pollen and mold counts are high, if those are our triggers.
So, trigger avoidance is the best place to start treating your allergies... and it is also a very natural approach. If you come into contact with allergens less, over time you'll find that you need less medication and your symptoms are also less frequent and intense. Here are a couple of articles you may find helpful in working toward that goal:
But, you'll probably still have some symptoms, so what then?
Preventive Alternative Allergy Treatments
Some alternative treatment approaches are meant to alleviate symptoms, while others are geared more toward preventing the symptoms in the first place.
One of the preventive measures I reported on back in October of 2008 was a gel called Allergen Block or Little Remedies, which claimed to be a drug-free, innovative product that blocks airborne allergens before they trigger your allergy symptoms. Supposedly, the electrostatic gel would prevent allergens from entering your nasal passages.
I didn't notice much effect when I used it, but to be honest, I only tried it a few times and then lost interest. An Internet search reveals that there are many people who swear it helps... and just as many who debunk it. So, I'd say the jury is still out on this one. But it is fairly inexpensive and can be bought in any drugstore or pharmacy department, so you could always try it.
Another preventive measure for allergies seems to be diet. There are reports that eating a Mediterranean diet, which is a diet high in vegetables and fruits, nuts, fish, dairy products and olive oil, and light on meats, especially red meat, may be helpful in lowering risk for allergies. And even if it doesn't help your allergies, it's still a very healthy diet that can benefit you in many other ways!
Last, but not least, I reported on studies that introduced microscopic intestinal parasites, called hookworms, into the body to help boost the immune system. Although the research at University of Nottingham in the UK appears to be ongoing, I couldn't find any conclusive results that hookworm infestation would have a significant positive impact on allergies/asthma.
One other preventive approach that people talk about using for allergies and asthma is yoga, along with the breathing techniques inherent in yoga. While yoga can have many spiritual, emotional and fitness benefits for anyone who practices it, there is no evidence that yoga specifically prevents or cures allergies or asthma.
Alternative Remedies for Symptoms
When prevention via trigger avoidance or one of the methods above doesn't work, you might look at alternative treatments designed to alleviate symptoms, and this is actually an area where such treatments show more promise. Let's look at the options:
- Sublingual immunotherapy (SLIT, for short). This is actually kind of a combination of prevention and symptom alleviation. The idea is that you use drops containing diluted solutions of your allergens, which are designed to slowly acclimate you to an allergen and to build immunity. It's like allergy shots, but much less invasive. While studies have proved promising, there are still many limitations to SLIT. You can read my recent update on SLIT here
- Salt Inhalation Therapy. Salt pipes are one of the most ubiquitous alternative therapies marketed on the Web. Celebrity doctor Mehmet Oz reportedly said they were one of his "top 10" alternative treatments to try back in 2010. They are based on the popularity of salt caves in Europe, which supposedly cured respiratory ailments like asthma. Unfortunately, there are no documented scientific studies that prove any of this. I have tried a salt pipe and do feel it provided some relief from wheezing, but it may just have been coincidence.
- Saline nasal irrigations. The idea behind this treatment is to flush out your nasal passages with a saline solution. The most well-known is the NETI-pot, but there are other versions available. The treatment washes out mucus and allergens from inside your nose and thus you have less allergy symptoms. Here is a step by step rundown. There are many passionate believers in the symptom relieving power of nasal rinses, and the treatment is considered quite safe and natural, if used sparingly. There have been some reports of an increase in sinus infections if overused. It's an inexpensive treatment too, especially if you make your own saline solution.
- Herbal supplements. Both butterbur and quercetin have shown some promise in treating allergies and asthma, but more studies are still needed for definitive proof. In some studies, butterbur seemed to be as effective as both Zyrtec and Allegra. Another supplement is in the class of omega-3-fatty acids, such as flaxseed oil or fish oil. Omega-3's are also found bountifully in many foods, such as certain fish and in walnuts.
In addition, both acupuncture and chiropractic manipulation have been put forth as alternative therapies for allergies. There are no reliable studies to back that up, but again, both are fairly safe to try, though perhaps expensive.
The Bottom Line
Many alternative, or so-called natural, treatments show promise in the treatment of allergies. Many of them are quite inexpensive. But they are not all completely safe and none should be automatically substituted for traditional medical treatments such as medication. If you ARE interested in trying them, talk with your doctor and proceed with caution.
If you do find that your allergies improve significantly, then it will be time to talk with your doctor about reducing your medication or revising your allergy treatment plan.