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 run down. 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 medications. But alternative remedies are also promoted as providing relief from allergies.
When we think of alternative treatments, we often think of exotic herbs with potential healing powers. But it can be hard to tell what has been shown to work as well as conventional treatment and what is sham. Several small studies may help shed light on the effect of medicinal herbs in treating allergy symptoms. One study looked at a combination tablet containing Cinnamomum zeylanicum, Malpighia glabra, and Bidens pilosa versus a well-known antihistamine, loratadine. The researchers found that both loratadine and the combination herbal tablet reduced nasal symptoms.
Another small study evaluated the effectiveness of a Chinese herbal treatment against allergic rhinitis. Participants taking the Chinese herbs reported significant symptom improvement compared to those who did not.
Other herbal remedies that may be effective against allergic rhinitis are:
Larger studies show that the herb butterbur may be helpful against allergic rhinitis. Butterbur was shown to reduce allergy symptoms compared to placebo.
Another study compared butterbur against fexofenadine (an over-the-counter allergy medication) and placebo. Butterbur and fexofenadine were found to be equally effective, while both were more effective than placebo.
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.
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 therapies may interact with medications you may already be taking or may cause undesirable side effects.
American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology
Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America
Allergy Asthma Information Association
Calgary Allergy Network
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Xue CC, An X, Cheung TP, et al. Acupuncture for persistent allergic rhinitis: A randomised, sham-controlled trial. Med J Aust. 2007;187(6):337-341.
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Last reviewed May 2017 by Michael Woods, MD, FAAP
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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