Natural alternatives for relieving symptoms of allergy
Allergies such as hayfever, dust mite allergy, eczema and asthma, are a major part of environmental illnesses but for many, drugs are a last resort. You may be sensitive to medications and unable to tolerate them or perhaps you just do not want to put any further burden on your body's detoxification systems.
Fortunately, there are a large and growing number of options for treating the symptoms of allergy naturally, without needing to resort to antihistamines and other more powerful medications. Here we will give a brief description of some of the most popular and effective.
Natural Drug-Free Nasal Sprays/Treatments
Along with the common drug based nasal sprays which contain antihistamines, decongestants, and even steroids, there are also a number of highly effective nasal sprays and treatments targetted at nasal symptoms, which are based on natural ingredients. Two natural allergy/hayfever products used nasally, whose effectiveness is supported by published research, are Nasaleze and Sneezeze. Both of these products are becoming more widely available so you should be able to find them either at one of the major pharmacies or supermarkets, and if not, a good health food store will almost certainly stock them.
Nasaleze - A natural organic product based on cellulose powder. Whereas the medication based sprays work by supressing symptoms of an allergic reaction, such as inflammation, Naseleze works by preventing a reaction occuring in the first place. As a result, Nasaleze is marketed as a hayfever and allergy preventative rather than a treatment, but relief from symptoms can be gained a very short time after appliction. As with many natural products, Nasaleze is designed to enhance the body's own natural defences and in this case, improve resistance to common allergens such as pollen, dust mites and animal dander. It does this by enhancing the secretion of mucus in the nasal passages so that they can better filter out allergen particles. Research studies have shown that by naturally enhancing mucus secretion in this way, allergens are filtered out meaning that only clean air reaches the lungs and symptoms of allergy are reduced.
When choosing a product to treat any health problem it is always reassuring to know that it has been proven effective and safe in clinical studies. At the time of writing, there have been 5 studies published regarding Nasaleze or its primary ingredients, all of which have shown excellent results. The studies show a large reduction in symptoms in the large majority of patients and also that people using a cellulose based product like Nasaleze use much less medication to control symptoms than those who don't. Most of these studies have been on medium sized groups of hayfever sufferers and one on 20 dust mite allergy patients1,2,3,4,5.
Further to this research the manufacturer claims that " tests show in most hay fever cases, symptoms are controlled in minutes by using Nasaleze. Asthma cases are relieved in a few hours and even eczema has been known to subside after approximately three weeks of using twice daily."
Nasaleze comes in a small bottle which you simply squeeze into each nostril, rapidly distributing fine powder throughout the upper nasal passages and sinuses. The product has no known side-effects and is therefore safe for anyone, including young children and pregnant women. This gives it a significant advantage over traditional allergy medications One dispenser will last around 4-6 weeks. The cost of treatment generally works out about the same as the medication alternatives.
SneezEze - A very similar product to Nasaleze, SneezEze is an exclusive blend of Kali Bichromicum and a micronized pharmaceutical grade cellulose. SnezeEze has been sold for the treatment of hayfever and symptoms od chronic allergy in Europe since 1994 and has received glowing reports. This product is now also available in the United States. SneezEze is known to be very effective at reducing symptoms such as sneezing, sinus congestion, and runny nose.
As SneezEze is based on cellulose powder, it works in much the same way as Nasaleze, by increasing mucus in the nasal passages so that they more effectively filter allergens and protect the mucus membranes from irritation. The research studies cited above regarding cellulose powder therefore, also apply to SneezEze. SneezEze however, also contains a homeopathic remedy called Kali Bichromicum (Kali-b. or potassium bichromate). Kali Bichromicum has a long history of use for conditions involving congestions, such as colds, sinusitis and of course, allergies. This homeopathic remedy is thought to reduce inflammation and congestion in the mouth, throat, nose and ears and may therefore offer further relief from these symptoms.
As with Nasaleze, SneezEze comes in a small dispenser bottle that should be good for 200 sprays or around 6 weeks. Again, the cost of treatment is comparable with the medication alternatives.
Sinus irrigation is a totally drug-free, natural and practical method for relieving symptoms of hayfever and allergy that has been recommended for decades. It is also sometimes known as a sinus wash, sinus cleansing or lavage. Sinus irrigation can provide rapid relief from symptoms by washing allergens such as pollen and dust particles out of the nasal passages and sinuses.
A number of different solutions are commonly used to perform a sinus irrigation. There is some debate over the most effective of these. The most common are:
Isotonic saline solution - Purified water conataining a similar salt concentration to body fluids.
Hypertonic saline solution - "Hyper" refers to something "greater" or "higher" and in this case it means that the solution has a greater salt content than body fluids. A hypertonic solution is thought to be better at reducing swelling of the mucous membranes because of this greater salt concentration.
Locke-Ringer, Gleichenberger, and Ems salt solutions - Well known solutions with varying concentrations of different salts.
There has been some research on the best solution to use but it is mostly conflicting. Although some research shows that hypertonic solutions are more effective than isotonic solutions, other studies show that hypertonic solutions decrease sinus drainage and movement of the cilia, which are cells that "sweep" the sinuses and push particles out. From the few research studies conducted on Locke-Ringer, Gleichenberger, and Ems salt solutions , these do not appear to decrease ciliary movement, making them preferable to hypertonic saline solutions.
Considering this, the sensible place to start is by trying nasal irrigation with an isotonic saline solution.
Ingredients for an isotonic saline solution:
- 1 teaspoon of salt (natural sea salt is preferable to table salt)
- 500ml/approx 16oz of purified water (filtered, bottled, distilled etc)
- 1 teaspoon of baking soda
Instructions for performing a nasal irrigation:
1. Measure out the water and add the other ingredients, mixing thoroughly.
2. A clean rubber-topped dropper is required to squirt the solution into the nostrils. If unavailable, an ear syringe or any dropper from a pharmacy will suffice.
3. Place some solution in one of the upper nostrils. Plug that nostril and tilt the head slightly back and to the opposite side so the fluid runs out of the other nostril. Place some more fluid in the upper nostril, then tilt the head slightly backward and to the same side to reach the sinuses. Repeat this procedure with the other nostril. Wash the dropper with hot water before dipping it back into the solution container to prevent contamination with allergens already washed out.
4. Gargle with some solution, letting it wash the back of your throat.
5. Blow your nose gently.
For the relief and prevention of symptoms of hayfever and chronic nasal allergies, this procedure can be performed once daily. It should be noted that over-irrigation can reduce the ability of the sinuses to fight infection. Those with severely compromised immune systems should therefore consult with a doctor about using the sinus irrigation procedure.
There are a number of drug-free decongestants on the market that can certainly help to relieve congestion of the nose and throat. Congestion of the nasal passages results in allergens such as pollen becoming trapped and repeatedly causing allergic reactions. The clearing of congestion therefore may not only relieve the congestion itself, but other symptoms associated with allergies. Unlike the drug based nasal decongestants, natural products can generally be used on an ongoing basis without causing any sideeffects, rather than only for a few days. Common examples of these products are:
Olbas Oil - A blend of essential oils chosen for their ability to relieve the symptoms of congestion. Olbas Oil contains eucalyptus oil, menthol, cajuput oil, clove oil, juniper berry oil, wintergreen oil, and demetholised mint oil. Olbas Oil works by inhalation of the vapours, so there are a number of methods you can use. For relief when you're on the move it's best to sprinkle 2-3 drops on a handkerchief, which you can sniff whenever needed. At home you may want to add 2-3 drops to a bowl of hot water so that the vapours fill the whole room. You can also add a few drops to a hot bath for the same results. Olbas Oil is recommended for children as young as 3 months, at reduced doages, so as always, read the label carefully. It is not recommended for babies. The oil comes in small 10ml bottles but because of the tiny amounts used will last quite a while. Prices are around $5/£2.50 and you should be able to find Olbas Oil (or similar product) at any pharmacy, supermarket or health store.
Vicks VapoRub - A similar product to Olbas Oil that works in the same way. Vicks VapoRub contains turpentine oil, camphor, eucalyptus oil, and menthol. Again, Vicks relieves congestion through inhalation of the vapours but it perhaps not as practical as Olbas Oil since it is in the form of an oily ointment, rather than liquid which can be dropped onto a handkerchief. Indeed, Vicks is mainly recommended for childrean rather than adults and is intended to be rubbed on the chest so that the vapours easily reach the nostrils. Of course, Vicks VapoRub, like Olbas Oil, can also be dropped into hot water to fill the room with the vapours. This product comes in 50g tubs and has a similar price to Olbas Oil. It is also widely available.
Vicks Inhaler - A much more practical degongestant product from Vicks is the Inhaler. Containing some of the ingredients of the VapoRub, camphor and menthol (with pine needle oil and siberian), but in the form of an easy to use inhaler that is simply inserted into the nostrils and breathed in. The Vicks Inhaler is small and practical, looking a lot like a chapstick, and again will cost you around $5/£2.50 from any pharmacy or supermarket.
It has to be said that these natural decongestants are probably not as effective as their drug based counterparts but they can certainly offer a good deal of relief from congestion if the vapours are inhaled regularly. They have the advantages of low risk, low cost and safety when used repeatedly.
Note on multiple chemical sensitivity: If you suffer from multiple chemical sensitivity then these products are probably not for you, especially Vicks products which contain some petroleum based ingredients. In the most sensitive, even essential oils can cause problems so please be aware of this before choosing one of these products.
Natural Drug-Free Eye Drops
Like Nasaleze and SneezEze for nasal treatment, there are also natural eye drops on the market for the treatment of allergic eye symptoms. Many of these products are entirely drug-free and instead rely on medicinal herbs and other natural ingredients for their action.
One such herb is known as 'eyebright'. Eyebright has natural cleansing properties and antibacterial oils which has a history of use for the treatment of eye complaints dating from the middle ages. The exact chemical composition of the herb have not yet been identified but it is known to contain a tannin, called Euphrasia-Tannin acid as well as mannite and glucose. The volatile oil and chemical(s) responsible for it's acrid and bitter properties have not yet been chemically analysed.
Eyebright can be bought in tablet/capsule form, and many herbalists will make an infusion with the raw herb. Obviously for the treatment of allergic eye symptoms in hayfever and chronic rhinitis, an easy to use eye drop product containing eyebright is the most practical option. One such product is AllerClear eye drops. AllerClear eye drops come in packs containing individual doses to keep the product fresh. Each dose is administered using a unique dropper system. Allerclear eye drops are available throughout the UK in pharmacies, supermarkets and health food stores. An example of an eye drop product in the USA containing eyebright is PrimaVu Herbal Eye Drops. Prices for eyebright containing eye drops are generally very reasonable and comparable with other eye drop products.
Anti-Inflammatory Nutritional Supplements
Since the symptoms of an allergic reaction are due to inflammation caused by the release of histamine, taking nutritional supplements that have anti-inflammatory properties is one way to reduce the severity of these symptoms. This is also the way that steroids work, but obviously, the use of the following supplements does not entail the same risks as the use of steroid medications. Nutritional supplements may not bring the same level of relief however and almost certainly, not as quickly. All these factors should be weighed up and discussed with your doctor when considering which treatments to use. Due to the systemic effect of taking nutritional supplements, they may be helpful for any kind of allergic reaction including hayfever, ezcema, hives and asthma. Some of the most useful supplements include:
Omega-3 Essential Fatty Acids (EFA's) - The Omega-3 series of essential fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), mainly found in oily fish, are converted in the body into powerful anti-inflammatory chemicals, called series 3 prostaglandins. Prostaglandins are similar to hormones, but act locally, rather than throughout the entire body. The series 3 prostaglandins promote a reduction of inflammatory chemicals and therefore inflammation, in the tissues. This action may reduce the incidence and severity of allergic reactions if regular intake is high enough. Unfortunately the typical western diet contains low amounts of omega-3 EFA's and high levels of omega-6 EFA's which simply put, results in the production of too many series 1 prostaglandins, which tends to lead to an increase inflammation and inflammatory disease.
The effectiveness of omega-3 EFA supplements at treating and preventing every kind of allergy has been clearly demonstrated in multiple research studies.
In a large study of 568 participants conducted at the Technical University of Munich, Germany, researchers found a clear link between the levels of the omega-3 fatty acid EPA in participants red blood cells, and the level of allergic sensitivity and allergic symptoms they showed. The results showed that the higher the levels of EPA in a persons red blood cells, or of it's precursor ALA in the diet, the less likely they are to suffer from allergic sensitisation and allergic rhinitis6.
Omega-3 fatty acid supplementation has been shown to provide a marked improvement in allergic dermatitis as well. In a 10-day double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial, 22 patients hospitalized for moderate-to-severe atopic dermatitis were given either an omega-3 containing fish oil supplement or an omega-6 supplement derived from soy beans. Improvement was seen in both groups but was much greater in those given the omega-3 supplement. However, the researchers also noted that symptoms returned quicker in the omega-3 group when treatment ceased, than it did in the omega-6 group. It may be that further research will find a combination of omega-3 and omega-6 EFA's is most beneficial for atopic dermatitis patients7.
The emerging picture, that increased omega-3 ingestion and levels within the body reduces allergies, continues with studies regarding asthma. In fact the use of omega-3 supplements has been most studied with regard to asthma. A large number of studies have confirmed that higher levels of blood omega-3 EFA's reduce the risk of asthma, as does a higher omega-3/omega-6 ratio, and that supplementing the diet with omega-3 capsules can be an effective treatment for the disease8,9.
Vitamin C - A water soluble vitamin with powerful antioxidant properties that may help to reduce inflammation. It is not produced in the human body so we must get all of our vitamin C from our diet. Vitamin C is one of the most studied nutrients and there is much evidence to support its use in allergic patients.
As with omega-3 fatty acids, researchers have found that levels of vitmain C in the body correspond to risk and severity of allergic illness. In a 2005 study it was found that asthmatic subjects had much lower levels of vitamin C, both in their blood plasma and in white blood cells (immune cells), than did healthy volunteers. They also noted that the lower an ashmatic's levels of vitamin C were, the longer their asthma attacks would be likely to last10. Many more studies have been conducted before and after this one that confirm the results found here.
During the 80's and 90's there were a number of studies seeking to find out if vitamin C supplementation was an effective treatment for perennial allergic rhinitis and hayfever. A review of the results from these studies shows that vitamin C is indeed effective at reducing symptoms of these allergies. One such study conducted in 1990 involved 60 patients who were given doses of ascorbic acid (vitamin C) solution over a 2 week period. The study showed that the vitamin C solution decreased the severity of symptoms in 74% of the patients11. This is an extremely high success rate which would have pharmaceutical company bosses jumping for joy if it were a trial of a new drug!
Recent research has looked at antioxidant status and use as treatment in allergic dermatitis. A 2004 study found that a 21 year old female with allergic contact dermatitis, who was sensitive to nickel, colophony and abitole, improved after administration of vitamins C and E for 25 days. The dosages of vitamin C were relatively low (200mg/d) but the researchers also found that markers for oxidative stress which had been elevated, also returned to normal with this trreatment, as symptoms subsided12.
Quercetin - A plant pigment found in many foods such as onions, apples, berries, tea, and red wine. It is one of a class of chemicals called flavonoids, which are being found to have a wide range of health benefits, mainly due to their antioxidant action. Quercetin is sually found in plants as glycosides, such as Rutin (quercetin rutinoside) in tea. Quercetin and rutin are used widely in multivitamin formulas and other nutritional supplements. As far as allergies go, there have been a few studies that have shown promising results.
Quercetin exerts an anti-inflammatory action on the tissues and as such is known to be useful for reducing the severity of asthma symptoms13. Researchers at Northwestern Health Sciences University College of Chiropractic, Bloomington, MN, in the United States refer to quercetin, along with other nutritional supplements discussed on this page, as a safe and effective treatment for allergic rhinitis, when used by itself or in conjunction with conventional medications14. Other general research on the anti-allergy effects of plant flavonoid extracts showed that quercetin does indeed inhibit various mechanisms involved with the IgE mediated allergic reactions that cause symptoms of hayfever, eczema, asthma etc15.
N-Acetyl-Cysteine (NAC) - A powerful antioxidant made from the amino acid cysteine combined with an acetyl group. It is one of the most effective supplements for rasing levels of glutathione within the body. Glutathione is the body's "master antioxidant" and every facet of health depends on maintaining optimum levels of this chemical. Glutathione is a combination of the amino acids cysteine, glutamine and glycine, with cysteine being the most important due to its relative lack. NAC also exerts it's own antioxidants effects, as well as helping to produce glutathione.
It is NAC's powerful antioxidant properties that make it a useful treatment for allergies. In asthma it reduces symptoms by reducing the severity of inflammation in the airways and therefore making them less sensitive to troublesome airborne contaminants16. Along with quercetin the researchers at Northwestern Health Sciences University College of Chiropractic, Bloomington, MN, in the United States refered to N-Acetyl-Cysteine as a safe and effective treatment for allergic rhinitis, when used by itself or in conjunction with conventional medications14.
Bromelain - Derived from the pineapple plant, bromelain is one of a group of proteolytic enzymes (enzymes capable of digesting protein). It has strong anti-inflammatory activity that makes it helpful for a number of inflammatory conditions, including allergies. Bromelian works by blocking some proinflammatory chemicals that accelerate and worsen the inflammatory process. It is considered, amongst the other supplements we've discussed, to be one of the safest and most effective nutritional supplements for the treatment of allergic conditions. Early research studies into bromelain's effectivesness for allergies showed good results but there has been little further research. Specific studies found positive results for it's use in asthma and allergic rhinitis14,17.
This is by no means an exhaustive study of evry nutritional supplement in use for the treatment for allergies. The supplements we have mentioned however, do have the most research behind them and have proven to be effective. Other supplements that may also help and you may wish to research further are propolis, mangosteen and butterbur.
We've already mentioned the homeopathic remedy 'eyebright' due to its use in AllerClear products, and there are many others that may be beneficial for the allergy sufferer. Other remedies typically used for allergies of the ear, nose and throat, such as hayfever and perennial rhinitis, include lycopodium, pulsatilla and sulphur.
The available published research regarding the effectiveness of homeopathy is generally very positive. One study published in the journal Homeopathy, in 2006, found a success rate of 87.6% amongst 147 allergy patients who sought treatment from a homeopath18. In an important large scale study of 3981 chronically ill patients in Germany and Swizterland, homeopathic treatment demonstrated marked and sustained improvements in disease severity and quality of life. Among the most common health complaints amongst the study participants were allergic rhinitis and atopic dermatitis19.
Homeopathy is a complex healing art, so for the best results we highly recommend consulting an experienced homeopath rather than trying to self treat.
Obviously if these treatments don't bring you as much relief as you would like then it is worth looking at other things as well. Modern allergy medications are very effective and have few side-effects, so if you can tolerate them they are worth trying, especially over a relatively short period for seasonal allergies. You may also wish to read our pages about allergen reduction in the home and tips for reducing exposure to pollen and outdoor allergens.