Attention hay fever sufferers, help is here! Natural remedies can reduce symptoms and/or improve the ability of your immune system to resist the seasonal (or perpetual) onslaughts.
Hay fever, also called allergic rhinitis, is a catchall term for both seasonal and perennial rhinitis—and it’s the most common immune system disorder in the US, affecting about 35 million Americans. Seasonal triggers include ragweed pollen (common in the fall), tree pollen (common in the spring) and grass pollen (common in the late spring and early summer). Year-round hay fever triggers include dust mites and cockroaches, spores from fungi and molds, and dander from pets.
Symptoms include runny nose, watery/itchy eyes, sneezing and/or coughing. You can treat the symptoms with antihistamines or other medications, but they’re often expensive and may cause side effects.
Here are our favorite natural remedies. Try one or two at a time to see which one(s) work for you.
Caution: Always check with your doctor before starting or stopping any medications or supplements.
Research has shown that bee pollen (which is made by honeybees and is the food of the young bee) may inhibit the activity of mast cells, a class of immune system cells that release histamine, the substance that causes itchy eyes, nasal congestion and other allergy symptoms.
To use: Start taking bee pollen about four months before the start of your typical hay fever season. For the first few days, take just a few granules at a time. Then slowly increase the amount every day for a month, until you’re taking about one teaspoon a day. Follow the same slow progression for the second and third months, until you’re taking a total of three teaspoons a day. You have to go slowly because taking too much bee pollen too quickly could cause an allergic reaction of its own, with symptoms such as stomach pain, hives and a fast heart rate.
Caution: If you have an insect allergy—especially to bees—steer clear of bee pollen, which can contain bee saliva.
Fenugreek is the herb that gives curries their slightly peppery flavor. As with bee pollen, you can use it to desensitize your immune system prior to allergy season. It’s also a mucolytic that naturally loosens phlegm and reduces coughing and sneezing.
To use: About three months before your allergy season, start drinking a daily cup of fenugreek tea. You can buy bags of this tea in health-food stores. Or you can buy the whole seeds…put about one teaspoon in a tea strainer…cover with just-boiled water…and steep for 10 to 15 minutes. Continue to drink it throughout your allergy season.
Honeycomb is a natural antihistamine. When hay fever is flaring, chew a one-inch square of honeycomb. Swallow the honey, and keep chewing the waxy portion for about 10 minutes, then spit it out and discard. You probably will notice the difference right away.
You can buy honeycomb in most health-food stores, but try to find honeycomb that is produced in your area. You want it to contain trace amounts of the same pollens that, in larger amounts, trigger your symptoms.
Caution: If you are allergic to bees, stay away from honeycomb.
GARLIC AND HORSERADISH
Potent chemical compounds in both garlic and horseradish thin mucus and make it more watery. They will help reduce sneezing, congestion and other hay fever symptoms.
To use: Finely mince a clove of raw garlic, and add it to water, orange juice or applesauce. Then add one-quarter teaspoon of horseradish to vegetable juice—or sprinkle it on a salad—and consume that. Both the aromas and the strong flavors of these pungent herbs will clear nasal congestion in seconds.
To prevent nausea, make sure that you have food in your stomach before swallowing raw garlic.
Also known as stinging nettle (because the leaves and stems have hairlike barbs that sting the skin), it’s a traditional allergy remedy. When taken orally, it blocks the body’s production of histamine and reduces inflammation and congestion.
To use: You can drink a tea made from nettle, but it is easier to take a freeze-dried extract. The typical dose is one or two capsules every two to four hours during allergy flare-ups.
Lavender can be used as aromatherapy to relieve congestion and other allergy symptoms. The scent-filled molecules act as natural antihistamines and reduce inflammation and congestion in the nasal passages.
To use: Put a drop or two of lavender oil on a handkerchief. Take a deep sniff every few minutes when your allergies are flaring.
Every time you eat an apple or add onion to a recipe, you’re getting small amounts of quercetin, a bioflavonoid that reduces inflammation. In large enough doses, it inhibits the effects of histamine and reduces nasal congestion. But you can’t get adequate amounts of quercetin from foods to control allergies.
To use: When you are having allergy symptoms, take 300 milligrams (mg) to 600 mg of a quercetin supplement daily.
The omega-3 fatty acids in fish and fish oil have been shown to reduce inflammation throughout the body. Cardiologists often recommend fish oil to lower triglycerides and prevent heart disease and stroke. It also can lessen allergy symptoms by reducing inflammation and swelling in the nasal passages.
To use: Take 2,000 mg daily.
Look for a fish-oil product that says “purified” or “mercury-free” on the label. It should contain at least 500 mg of EPA and 250 mg of DHA per capsule. You can find the capsules online or in health-food stores.
Caution: Check with your doctor, especially if you also are taking a blood-thinning medication such as warfarin. Using both together could increase the risk of bleeding.
Men, this one’s for you—your allergies might be originating right under your nose.
It’s common for grains of pollen to get trapped in mustaches and beards. Every time you inhale, the featherweight grains waft upward and into the nostrils, triggering allergies.
Helpful: If you would prefer not to shave off your mustache or beard, get into the habit of shampooing it after you’ve spent time outdoors during your allergy season.