Spring is in full swing. If you couldn’t tell by the singing birds and the blooming flowers, it could be your nose told you—by itching and sneezing.
Unfortunately, those with spring and summer allergies find it a little more difficult to enjoy all the experiences spring has to offer. Allergens cause uncomfortable symptoms like sneezing, itchy eyes, wheezing, and hives. You can pop antihistamines, but many of them are likely to make you drowsy. Allergy shots can work well over time, but if you need help right now, where can you turn?
We’ve got ten natural options for you below. Always check with your doctor before taking any supplements to be sure they won’t interfere with any medications you may be taking.
Quercetin is a type of antioxidant found in plant foods like dark leafy greens, tomatoes, broccoli, apples, onions, and berries. A natural plant pigment, it’s a powerful free-radical fighter, but it has a number of other health benefits, too. In addition to reducing inflammation, quercetin has also shown some potential in studies for reducing risk of heart disease and cancer.
In laboratory tests, quercetin was shown to help prevent immune cells from releasing histamines—the chemicals that cause symptoms like sneezing and itchy eyes. That’s why it may work to help you reduce your allergy suffering. Try eating more foods with quercetin in them, or you can try a supplement at about 500-1,000 mg per day through the allergy season. (If you take a blood thinner like warfarin, check with your doctor before taking quercetin supplements.)
Butterbur is a shrub that grows in wet, marshy ground. Native to Europe and parts of Asia and North America, it has large leaves and a substantial root (rhizome). Extracts from this root have been found in high-quality studies to help reduce the frequency of migraine headaches—some of which are brought on by allergens.
Some studies of the root and leaf extracts have also suggested that butterbur may be helpful for reducing symptoms of hay fever. Petadolex, the brand of butterbur extract most studied for migraine prevention, is considered significantly effective. Try a supplement of 100-150 mg/day.
Feverfew is a traditional medicinal herb—a member of the daisy family—used for centuries to treat headaches and arthritis. A short perennial with a strong and bitter odor, it has also been found in studies to be effective against migraine headaches, and to potentially help with allergies as well. Studies have found that when it’s used alone or with white willow bark, it helped to reduce the frequency and intensity of migraine headaches.
Feverfew may also help those who suffer from dermatitis around allergy season. Preliminary studies have suggested that it can help reduce damaged skin cells and inflammation, improving the appearance of skin. Its natural anti-inflammatory effect may also help to reduce allergy swelling and hives. Try about 50 to 250 mg/day while needed.
4. Nettle Leaf
Nettle leaf, also called stinging nettle, is a perennial with fine hairs on the leaves and stems that can “sting” the skin. When taken internally, though, nettle can be very beneficial. In addition to helping to relieve sore muscles and joint pain, it has also been used to treat sneezing and itching in people with hay fever.
In one study, for example, 57 percent of participants stated that nettle capsules helped relieve their allergies, and 48 percent said they were more effective than allergy medications. Like quercetin, nettle reduces the amount of histamine in the body, stopping symptoms before they start.
You can take nettle in a tea, tincture, or extract. Ask your doctor first as it can interact with high blood pressure, diabetes, and other heart disease drugs. As a supplement, try about 350–1,200 mg per day while needed.
5. Vitamin C
Vitamin C is another powerful antioxidant that has a number of health benefits. In addition to boosting the immune system, supporting healthy skin, and protecting eye health, it may also help you to more easily navigate allergy season.
Like some of the other supplements here, vitamin C can help reduce levels of histamines, reducing the severity and frequency of allergy symptoms. It may also help the body more quickly break down histamine after it is released, making it short-lived. Some research has indicated that a vitamin C deficiency can increase histamine levels.
Vitamin-C rich foods include citrus fruits, red peppers, kale, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, berries, and grapefruit. You can also take a supplement of up to 2,000 mg per day.
Astragalus is a perennial plant in the pea family native to China and Mongolia. The root is the prize part, and has long been used against the common cold, flu, and other respiratory problems. It is said to help the body protect itself from stress, and has some preliminary evidence that it may help boost the immune system.
Preliminary studies have also indicated that astragalus may help reduce allergy symptoms like sneezing, runny nose, and itching. It has a natural anti-inflammatory property that can help calm reactions to allergens, and has been found in some studies to help prevent asthma attacks. Try 250-500 mg daily of the root extract. You can also enjoy astragalus tea.
You’ve likely heard that probiotics help stabilize the microflora in the gut and ease digestion. These are “good bacteria” that are important for a robust immune system and healthy brain-gut connection. Getting enough of these little guys may also help reduce your allergy symptoms.
New research suggests that when you consume probiotics, they help boost your immunity, and may help the body protect itself from allergies. A 2013 study reported that probiotics were a useful therapy for allergic rhinitis, and a more recent 2017 study also found that taking probiotics during allergy season could help alleviate allergy symptoms.
Fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, and miso are all good sources of probiotics. You can also try a combination probiotic supplement.
Acupuncture can help ease pain and headaches, and some research suggests it may also help treat people with allergic rhinitis. In one study of 45 people, for example, acupuncture worked just as well as antihistamines in improving symptoms, and the effects seemed to last longer. If you’re tired of the side effects associated with antihistamines, acupuncture may be the solution you need.
9. Saline Rinse or Neti Pot
Flushing allergens out of your nasal passages is an easy, natural way to help reduce allergy symptoms. Particularly if you’ve been outside for a few hours, or in another environment that triggers your symptoms, rinsing with a saline rinse or neti pot can get rid of those allergens and your symptoms, too. It’s a temporary solution, but a natural one with no side effects. Just be sure to use distilled water in your neti pot—never tap water.
10. Clean the Air
Spring allergies can be bothersome indoors as well as outdoors. Dust and vacuum frequently, leave shoes at the door, and consider getting a quality air filter to trap allergens in your home or office. Check out this Consumer Reports Air Purifier Buying Guide for help.
Do you fight allergies naturally?
Gui Yang, et al., “Treatment of Allergic Rhinitis with Probiotics: An Alternative Approach,” N Am J Med Sci., August 2013; 5(8): 465-468, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3784923/.
“Allergies? Probiotic combination may curb your symptoms, new study finds,” Science Daily, March 1, 2017, https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/03/170301142203.htm.
“Allergic rhinitis,” University of Maryland Medical Center, http://www.umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/condition/allergic-rhinitis.