Alternative Treatments for Allergies

Alternative Treatments for Allergies

Credit: myRegence

Natural therapies, from ancient herbs to home remedies, as well as yoga, can help moderate allergy symptoms.


by By Ken DuBois /

Posted on October 22, 2009 at 4:28 PM

Updated Thursday, Nov 12 at 1:52 PM

About the Author

Ken DuBois is a marketing guru by day and a freelance writer by night. He has written film reviews for, and worked for a time as a theater critic. He is passionate about working out: When he's not in the pool, he's hiking, biking, walking and, weather permitting, working on his backhand.

If you're allergic to shellfish and happen to eat shrimp, you probably won't try to get through the ordeal with a half hour of meditation. But if your nose is running all day because it's May, and that's what it does every May, you may be able to find relief in alternative treatments.

There are reliable sources that recommend ways to control some allergy symptoms, especially those associated with air-borne allergens.

Yoga may provide some comfort to sufferers of seasonal allergies who react adversely to airborne pollens. According to the  , almost 36 million Americans suffer from seasonal allergies. Many of these allergy sufferers retreat indoors during spring (when tree pollen is in the air), summer (grass pollen), and early fall (ragweed pollen), but the stress-reducing effects of yoga may give these housebound individuals a chance to enjoy more of the sunny weather, instead of merely enduring it.

Jeff Migdow, M.D., who teaches yoga at the Open Center in New York City, believes that de-stressing the body relaxes the nervous system, which in turns signals the immune system to take a break from its usual response--the sudden release of stress hormones and histamine. He recommends a yoga practice that's calming, rather than a vigorous routine. "Allergies are worsened by a stress reaction, which causes physiological responses," Dr. Migdow told Yoga Journal. "Relaxation diminishes fight-or-flight response, and thereby reduces allergic symptoms."

Seasonal allergy sufferers may also reduce their symptoms through the many varieties of acupuncture (including Traditional Chinese Medicine, Japanese, Korean, and French Energetics), according Patrick LaRiccia, M.D., a board member of the   (MARF). When it comes to treating the symptoms of runny nose, sneezing, and watery, itchy eyes, Dr. LaRiccia says there is an overlap of Western and Chinese medical thought: Both regard seasonal allergies as essentially a hypersensitivity reaction. Learn more about treating .

Many sources recommend herbal remedies in relieving the symptoms of allergies, but they also caution that there may be negative reactions to these treatments. The Mayo Clinic cites the effects of butterbur, a shrub-like plant native to Europe and used for centuries, that may have an affect on allergy symptoms. It has anti-inflammatory effects that decrease or block the body's production of histamine, a chemical released during an allergic reaction. But the Mayo Clinic also notes that butterbur contains substances that can be toxic to your liver, and may produce side effects, including headache, nausea, and vomiting, which may cause you to wonder if you would be better off with the itchy eyes and runny nose!

Stinging nettle has a medicinal history going back to Medieval Europe, and according to the University of Maryland Medical Center, its historic use in treating allergic rhinitis (hay fever) is "likely scientifically valid." It has mild anti-inflammatory effects, they report, and a few mild side effects, such as minor stomach upset, though they advise that pregnant women not use nettle at all, and that others use it only as directed by a health care provider. The Medical Center also recommends bromelain as a natural way to reduce swelling and inflammation caused by hay fever, again with the advice of a health care professional. Bromelain is made from an enzyme found in pineapples, and side effects are similar to those you'd experience if you basically ate a whole lot of pineapple.

Additional therapies include common "kitchen sink" cures:

  • Green tea is a natural antihistamine
  • Licorice sooths sore throats and suppresses coughs
  • Vitamin C strengthens your immune system
  • Vitamin A & E can ease nasal congestion

Some naturopaths even recommend eating locally produced honey to increase your tolerance to the bee pollen in your neighborhood.

For relief from the effects of air-borne allergens, there is also the tried-and-true washcloth method, advocated by many medical authorities, including the Lucile Packard Children's Hospital at Stanford University. Get the pollen off your face, the hospital recommends, the same way you would if you were covered with dirt. Use a wet washcloth to gently clean your eyelids, eyelashes, and around your eyes, then rinse the washcloth in cold water and place it against your eyes. Enjoy the feeling for a while. Relax. Then do the next thing Stanford wants you to do: get in the shower and wash that pollen right out of your hair.