Allergic rhinitis, or “hay fever” affects 10-30% of the worldwide population.1 Allergic rhinitis is inflammation of the nasal cavity lining in the presence of airborne particles such as pollen. These particles, or allergens, trigger an immune system response by activating IgE antibodies and launching an allergic reaction. Many individuals experience allergic rhinitis seasonally in the spring. Of the U.S. population, 7.8% of people over the age of 18 have hay fever.2 In Canada, 20-25% of the population has hay fever.3
Individuals with allergic rhinitis may experience symptoms such as a stuffed or runny nose, itchy eyes, and sneezing. These symptoms can be alleviated with medications called antihistamines. However, these pharmaceutical drugs can impose unwanted side effects such as excessive drowsiness. These unwanted side effects may spark interest in alternative natural remedies for allergies.
#1: Saline solution
Saline is a water-based solution containing varying concentrations of sodium chloride, or “salt”. Saline solution is sold in spray bottles and can be applied to the nasal passages as a home remedy to clear congestion.
What type of saline solution works best for allergies?
One study looked at the effect of saline nasal rinse on 220 children with allergic rhinitis. They divided the children into three groups: one group was given a ‘hypertonic’ saline spray, one group was given a regular saline spray, and one group was given a placebo. After four weeks of two saline doses per day, the children who received the hypertonic saline spray showed the most significant reduction in allergic symptoms of itching, sneezing, nasal obstruction, nasal cavity swelling, runny nose, and fluid in the middle ear.4 Those who received the normal saline solution saw a significant reduction in sneezing and runny nose. The study suggests that a hypertonic saline solution provides more overall relief to treat allergies.
What is the best way to use a saline solution for allergies?
There are low volume and high volume saline solution applicators. High volume applicators force more than 60mL into the nasal cavity, while low volume force less than 5mL.5 A neti pot is an example of a high volume applicator. According to the 2016 International Consensus Statement on Allergy and Rhinology: Rhinosinusitis, a high volume nasal irrigation applicator providing a volume greater than 200mL is the ideal method to reduce nasal inflammation.6
Turmeric is a bright yellow household spice that can also be used as an anti-inflammatory. One study tested the effects of curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric, on the mast cells of mice. Mast cells make up about 10% of the inflammatory cells in the nasal cavity7, and they become activated when an allergen, such as pollen, meets an IgE antibody. When curcumin was administered in the presence of the allergen, the allergen-mediated activation of mast cells was blocked.8 This study suggests that turmeric could help relieve the nasal inflammation associated with allergic rhinitis.
A study tested the effects of a 2% fresh ginger diet on mice with induced allergic rhinitis. The mice that consumed the ginger diet displayed a significant reduction in sneezing and nasal sensitivity to their allergen.9 The researchers also observed reduced activation of mast cells in these ginger-fed mice. According to these results, fresh ginger may help reduce nasal inflammation and relieve nasal sensitivity in those with allergic rhinitis.
Probiotics are living microorganisms that can contribute to the microbiome in the body. Probiotics, such as Lactobacillus paracasi, are found in yogurt and other fermented dairy products. One study tested the effect of this bacteria administered orally to 31 adults with allergic rhinitis for eight weeks. They found a significant reduction in inflammation response.10 Another study tested the probiotic Lactobacillus casei in preschool children with allergic rhinitis. They tested 187 children between the ages of 2-5 and gave them either fermented milk containing Lactobacillus casei for 12 months or a placebo. The rhinitis episodes were less frequent in those that received the probiotic.11
These two studies suggest that consuming probiotics may be one of the worthwhile natural remedies for relieving allergy symptoms in adults and children.
Spirulina comes from a blue-green algae and can be bought as a dietary supplement. A study tested the effects of spirulina on individuals with allergic rhinitis. Those treated with the spirulina compared to a placebo showed significant reductions in sneezing, runny nose, congestion and itching.12
Butterbur is a plant that can be taken as a supplement and purchased at a local health food store. Butterbur can be used to treat a variety of ailments including allergies.
One study compared the effect of butterbur to an antihistamine called cetirizine in 125 individuals with allergic rhinitis. The study found no significant difference between the reduction in allergy symptoms seen in those given antihistamine versus butterbur .13 The researchers found that the antihistamine, although not clinically proven to cause sedative effects, caused drowsiness in participants while butterbur did not. These results suggest that butterbur may be an effective alternative to antihistamines if drowsiness needs to be avoided.
#7: Vitamin C
Research has shown that vitamin C intake can help alleviate allergy symptoms. One study in particular orally administered 1g/day of vitamin C or a placebo to people with allergic rhinitis for six months. The most common complaint before the start of the study was nasal obstruction, affecting 57.5% of the group.14 Of these individuals with nasal obstruction and who received vitamin C, 91% reported reduced nasal obstruction. Some other complaints from participants were sneezing and a runny nose. After vitamin C was administered, 100% of those who had experienced sneezing showed improvement and 80% of those who had a runny nose reported improvement.
Acupuncture is an ancient medicinal treatment that involves inserting tiny needles into target tissues, depending on the ailment. Studies have shown that this natural remedy may relieve allergy symptoms.
One study included 80 people with allergic rhinitis all experiencing nasal discomfort. At the start of the study, 59% had trouble sleeping due to their allergies, 26% reported trouble breathing, and 15% experienced throat irritation. Acupuncture was given at target points in the hands, between the eyebrows, forearm, nape of neck, and the lower leg, to name a few. This remedy was given once daily for a minimum of 15 days and was continued based on the severity of allergy symptoms. There was a significant reduction in nasal-related symptoms and sleep disturbances in those treated.15 These results suggest that acupuncture may be used to mitigate nasal and sleep related symptoms of allergic rhinitis.
#9: Essential oils
Essential oils come in many varieties and have been used in aromatherapy to relieve conditions such as stress, anxiety, and even allergies. A study included 54 patients with allergic rhinitis and exposed them to aromatherapy with either sandalwood, Ravensara, or geranium essential oils or a placebo for five minutes twice daily for one week. The groups exposed to the essential oils experienced significantly reduced nasal obstruction and fatigue.16
For many people, seasonal allergies can be a nuisance amongst daily life. Although some allergy medication may provide symptom relief, natural remedies for allergies remain an option for those wanting to avoid side-effects. These nine natural remedies for allergies may provide relief for allergic rhinitis however they may not be right for everyone. Speak with your doctor to select the safest and most effective natural remedy for you.
- Pawankar, R. et al. (2011). WAO White Book on Allergy 2011-2012 Executive Summary. World Health Organization.
- Schiller, J. S. et al. (2012). Summary Health Statistics for U.S. Adults: National Health Interview Survey, 2010. Vital and Health Statistics; (252): 1-207.
- Allergies Understand and Manage Your Allergies. (2016). Asthma Canada.
- Marchisio, P. et al. (2012). Hypertonic Saline is More Effective Than Normal Saline in Seasonal Allergic Rhinitis in Children. International Journal of Immunopathology and Pharmacology; 25(3): 721-730. Doi: 10.1177/039463201202500318.
- Head, K. et al. (2017). Saline irrigation for allergic rhinitis. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews; 2017(3): CD012597. Doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD012597
- Orlandi, R. R. et al. (2016). International Consensus Statement on Allergy and Rhinology: Rhinosinusitis Executive Summary. International Forum of Allergy & Rhinology; 6 Suppl 1: S3-21. Doi: 10.1002/alr.21694.
- Gelardi, M. et al. (2010). Inflammatory cell types in nasal polyps. Cytopathy: Official Journal of the British Society for Clinical Cytology; 21(3): 201-203. Doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2303.2009.00671.x.
- Lee, J. H. et al. (2008). Curcumin, a constituent of curry, suppresses IgE-mediated allergic response and mast cell activation at the level of Syk. Food, Drug, Insect Sting Allergy, and Anaphylaxis; 121(5): P1225-1231. Doi: 10.1016/j.jaci.2007.12.1160.
- Kawamoto, Y. et al. (2016). Prevention of allergic rhinitis by ginger and the molecular basis of immunosuppression by 6-gingerol through T cell inactivation. The Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry; 27: 112-122. Doi: 10.1016/j.jnutbio.2015.08.025.
- Wassenberg J. et al. (2011). Effect of Lactobacillus paracasei ST11 on a nasal provocation test with grass pollen in allergic rhinitis. Clinical and Experimental Allergy: Journal of the British Society for Allergy and Clinical Immunology; 41(4): 565-573. Doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2222.2011.03695.x.
- Giovannini, M. et al. (2007). A randomized prospective double blind controlled trial on effects of long-term consumption of fermented milk containing Lactobacillus casei in pre-school children with allergic asthma and/or rhinitis. Pediatric Research; 62(2): 215-220. Doi: 10.1203/PDR.0b013e3180a76d94.
- Cingi, C. et al. (2008). The effects of spirulina on allergic rhinitis. European Archives of Oto-Rhino-Laryngology; 265(10): 1219-1223. Doi: 10.1007/s00405-008-0642-8.
- Schapowal, A. (2002). Randomised controlled trial of butterbar and cetirizine for treating seasonal allergic rhinitis. British Medical Journal; 324: 144. Doi: 10.1136/bmj.324.7330.144.
- Munjal, M. et al. (2020). Study of vitamin C therapy in allergic rhinitis. International Journal of Otorhinolaryngology and Head and Neck Surgery; 6(11). Doi: 10.18203/issn.2454-5929.ijohns20204616.
- Dhingra, N. et al. (2020). A Study to Evaluate the Efficacy of Acupuncture for Treating Allergic Rhinitis. International Journal of Contemporary Medical Research; 7(3): C5-C10. Doi: 10.21276/ijcmr.2020.7.3.22.
- Choi, S. Y. and K. Park. (2016). Effect of Inhalation of Aromatherapy Oil on Patients with Perennial Allergic Rhinitis: A Randomized Clinical Trial. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, Hindawi; 2016: 7896081. Doi: 10.1155/2016/7896081.
- Image by Joseph Mucira from Pixabay