If you suffer from seasonal allergies, you’ve got plenty of company. According to Harvard Men’s Health Watch, allergic rhinitis—the official name for hay fever—is a problem that affects one in every five Americans, or about 20 percent of the population. Antihistamines and decongestants can leave you feeling drowsy or anxious, and some might interact with other medications you may be taking. If you want to avoid taking allergy medications, check out this list of five natural remedies for seasonal allergies that actually work.
A Spoonful of (Local) Honey
If you ask a doctor, you’ll probably hear that science hasn’t been able to prove conclusively honey’s positive effect on allergy symptoms. There are, however, a couple of recent studies that strongly suggest honey may help with certain seasonal allergies. For example, one study found that people who started taking birch pollen honey before allergy season had significantly fewer allergy symptoms and used fewer allergy meds than those who didn’t. Another study from 2013 found that taking honey daily throughout allergy season helped reduce allergy symptoms, but there’s a catch: it takes a while to work. The differences between the group that took honey and the group that took a corn syrup fake became more obvious over the eight weeks of the study—and those in the honey group continued to see those benefits for at least a month after they stopped taking it.
Bottom Line: There’s a lot of anecdotal evidence, but little research to support using honey to combat seasonal allergies. Doctors do, however, generally recognize using honey as safe for most people. The research that exists—and just plain logic—suggests that local honey is best because it’s most likely to contain traces of the pollen that’s triggering your symptoms. There are two caveats, however: don’t give honey to a child under the age of one, and avoid honey (and other bee-derived products) if you’re allergic to bees.
Rinse Your Sinuses With a Neti Pot
Can shooting water up your nose help relieve allergy symptoms? The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health seems to think so. The NCCIH notes that nasal saline irrigation, such as the use of a Neti pot, may modestly reduce the symptoms of seasonal allergies. A very recent review of research about saline nasal irrigation found multiple studies that suggest nasal irrigation can relieve many of the symptoms of seasonal allergies in both adults and children with few adverse effects.
The Mayo Clinic recommends a Neti pot as a quick, inexpensive and effective way of relieving nasal congestion associated with hay fever. Cleanliness is vital here—there have been very rare reports of infection with Naegleria fowleri, nicknamed the brain-eating amoeba, when people use tap water to prepare saline solution for nasal irrigation. To avoid infections, always use sterile or filtered water, or boil and cool the water before using it. After use, always rinse your neti pot well with sterile, filtered, boiled water.
Have a Cup of Tea
A steaming cup of tea can provide more than just emotional comfort. Some herbal teas can help relieve stuffy noses, itchy eyes and the inflammation that comes along with seasonal allergies. Stinging nettles, for example, contain a natural antihistamine, making it a popular herb for allergy home remedies. James Duke, one of the best known ethnobotanists in the world, offers a list of herbs and foods that may help reduce seasonal allergy symptoms, as well as treat the asthma symptoms that frequently accompany them. The herbs include tea, fennel, cayenne, coriander, cardamom, purslane, onion, licorice and sage. A nice, spicy cup of chai might be just the ticket to clear up your sinuses and reduce inflammation and itchy eyes.
Get All Steamed Up
A steamy atmosphere can help unclog your sinuses and relieve some of the most common symptoms of allergic rhinitis. The easiest way to take advantage of steam power is to turn on a hot shower and close the bathroom door. If you want to concentrate the experience a little more, fill the sink with steaming hot water, and improvise a steam tent using a large towel over your head and shoulders. To increase the the decongestant power, Tufts University School of Medicine suggests adding a few drops of eucalyptus oil to the water.
Ac-scent-uate the Room
Essential oils in a diffuser or spray can turn your entire room into a treatment chamber for allergy relief. Historically, there’s very little research to support specific oils as effective home remedies for allergies, but that’s beginning to change. A 2016 study, for example, found that patients with hay fever felt better and got more sleep when they inhaled a combination of sandalwood, frankincense and ravensara than did a group of patients who used a diffuser without the essential oils. Essential oils do come with their own set of cautions, especially if you’re going to be using them around pets or children. Amy Emmett, a clinical aromatherapist and owner of Blossoms+Blends Aromatherapy, notes that you shouldn’t use essential oil blends that contain peppermint, cinnamon, ravensara, rosemary, spike lavender and cloves around children. She includes a list of allergy relief essential oils that are safe for anyone along with directions to make an inhaler stick at the National Association of Holistic Aromatherapy blog.
In addition to these five natural remedies for seasonal allergies, you can also take some steps to reduce your exposure to allergens. Stay indoors if you can when the pollen count is high, and keep windows closed. Use an air conditioner rather than a fan for cooling. Change your clothes and shower when you get home to remove any lingering pollen and plant dust. And of course, if your symptoms persist, worsen, or can’t be controlled with home remedies, talk to a medical professional about other options.