Sneezing. Itchy, watery eyes. Irritated throat. Runny nose. Whether you have one, two, or all of these, allergy symptoms can make you feel miserable and rundown. The first sneeze or tingle in the throat may send many of us running to the nearest pharmacy for antihistamines and other over-the-counter medicines. But are there alternative remedies that can provide relief from allergies as well?
Getting to Know Herbs
When we think of alternative treatments, we often think of exotic herbs with potential healing powers. But what really has been shown to work just as well as conventional treatment and what is sham? Several small studies help shed light on the effect of medicinal herbs in treating allergy symptoms. One placebo-controlled study looked at a combination tablet containing Cinnamomum zeylanicum, Malpighia glabra, and Bidens pilosa versus a well-known antihistamine, loratadine, in 20 patients with at least a two-year history of allergic rhinitis. The researchers found that both loratadine and the combination herbal tablet reduced nasal symptoms.
A small, randomized study evaluated the effectiveness of a Chinese herbal treatment against allergic rhinitis. Fifty-five adults with seasonal allergic rhinitis were given either a capsule containing 18 herbs (exact herbs unknown) or placebo. Participants took the capsules three times a day for eight weeks. After eight weeks, those taking the Chinese herbs reported significant symptom improvement compared to those taking placebo.
Other herbal medicines that may be effective against allergic rhinitis are:
Pass the Butterbur
Larger studies show that the herb butterbur may be helpful against allergic rhinitis. In a double-blind study of 186 participants with seasonal allergies, butterbur was shown to reduce allergy symptoms compared to placebo. In the two-week study, participants received either a dose of three standardized butterbur tablets daily, one tablet daily, or placebo. Participants taking butterbur had better outcomes, and those taking the higher butterbur dose (three tablets daily) had significantly greater benefits.
Another study compared butterbur against an over-the-counter allergy medication and placebo. In the double-blind study, 330 people were given either butterbur extract, the antihistamine fexofenadine (Allegra), or placebo. Butterbur and fexofenadine were found to be equally effective, while both were more effective than placebo.
On Pins and Needles
If needles do not scare you, then acupuncture may be an option in the line of alternative treatments against allergies. But before you rush to an acupuncturist, be aware that most systematic reviews of acupuncture studies show that there is either limited or conflicting evidence that acupuncture works in improving symptoms. However, one small study did show acupuncture to be more effective than sham acupuncture for persistent allergic rhinitis. In the study, 80 patients were randomized to either real or sham acupuncture twice a week for eight weeks. Nasal symptom scores were taken to assess nasal blockage, sneezing, and runny and itchy nose. Participants ranked their symptoms on a score from 0-4, with 0 = no symptoms to 4 = very severe symptoms. Researchers found that the scores were lower for those undergoing real acupuncture.
Under the Tongue
For some, needles are a part of life. Some people treat their allergy symptoms with allergy shots. Known as immunotherapy, the idea behind the treatment is to reduce allergic symptoms and increase immunity against the allergic substance by exposing the body to small amounts of the substance. Traditionally, exposure is done through injecting the allergic substance into the upper arm. This is extremely effective for treating allergic rhinitis and has minimal adverse effects when done under the supervision of an allergist.
An alternative to shots is placing the substance under the tongue. This treatment is known as sublingual immunotherapy (SLIT). With SLIT, the allergic substances are placed as drops under the tongue. Studies on the effectiveness of this treatment for allergic rhinitis have been mixed, although most have shown SLIT to relieve major symptoms. One study also claims that it may be useful in preventing new allergies from developing.
It may take 2-3 years to experience benefits from SLIT. For grass allergies, SLIT needs to begin at least eight weeks before grass allergy season. SLIT appears to work best if used year round and year-after-year. For now, SLIT is not approved in the United States, but results are promising.
So, there are options for those seeking allergy relief outside of the pharmacy aisle. Talk with your doctor first before taking any herbal remedy. Some herbal medicines may interact with medicines you may already be taking or may cause undesirable side effects.
- Reviewer: Purvee S. Shah, MD
- Review Date: 05/2011 -
- Update Date: 05/11/2011 -