APRIL 6, 2015
You handled winter like a trooper (well, a trooper who complained about the frigid temperatures) and your reward of warm, springtime weather is finally here. But if you're like 50 million other Americans who deal with allergies, your wintertime patience has been rewarded with runny, stuffy noses, and itchy, watery eyes. Before you make a beeline to the drugstore to stock up on antihistamines (and boxes on boxes of tissues), consider one of these natural allergy remedies this year. Here are 7 alternatives to your tried-and-true OTC methods, and one popular natural remedy that doesn't actually work at all.
Try it: Acupuncture
Those tiny needles could mean big time relief. In a study published in the European Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, patients who underwent a particular type of needling known as active acupuncture (meaning the needles were placed in a way that induced a feeling of numbness or tingling) three times a week for four weeks showed a significant reduction in allergy symptoms like nasal congestion and sneezing. People who either had sham acupuncture (improper placement of needles) or no treatment at all got no such relief. Though researchers aren't sure why acupuncture can alleviate symptoms, they suspect it may help regulate immune responses.
Try it: Probiotics
You already know probiotics like kombucha and kimchi are good for your gut (not to mention these 26 other superfoods that help increase healthy gut bacteria), but their healing properties could extend to your allergies, too. A study published in the journal Clinical & Experimental Psychology, found that Lactobacillus paracasei ST11 (a particular strain of probiotics found in many probiotic supplements) lowered nasal congestion in those suffering from seasonal allergies. Though more research needs to be done to figure out exactly how these beneficial bacteria work on allergies, researchers believe the probiotics correct an imbalance of a particular type of cytokines essential to maintaining the immune system. Study participants consumed approximately 40-90 billion probiotic colony-forming units daily (given to them in fermented milk), but you should talk to your doctor before exceeding the daily recommended dosage of 10-20 billion units.
Try it: Spirulina
It packs ton of vitamin B12 and protein (which is why you usually see it in smoothie recipes), and spirulina, a type of algae, could also quell your allergy symptoms. A study published in the European Archives of Oto-Rhino-Laryngology found that, when given a 2,000 milligram spirulina supplement—the equivalent of just over one-third of a teaspoon of spirulina powder—every day for 6 months, study participants reported significant improvements in nasal congestion and sneezing. Try adding the same amount to your morning smoothie—or, if you can't stomach drinking the green stuff, try it in supplement form.
MORE: 10 Smoothies For Prettier Skin
Try it: Nasal Sprays
A quick spritz or rinse of your nose with saline solution could not only reduce your sniffling and sneezing, but it could also decrease your need for future medication. Researchers from the University of Cologne in Germany found that when performed regularly over the course of 7 weeks, saline nasal irrigation (using neti pots or nasal sprays) improved allergy sufferers' symptoms by 28% and decreased their need for further medication by 62%. The researchers think the saline wash works by physically flushing out mucous, debris, allergens, and air pollutants.
Try it: Subcutaneous Immunotherapy
Yes, we're talking about allergy shots. And they're quite natural, says Janna Tuck, MD, fellow of the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology. "We use the actual allergen. We're not giving you any medications to alter symptoms, just placing the allergen underneath the skin and letting the immune system develop a better response to it," she says. Even better: you don't have to keep getting shots for the rest of your life. Once your treatment is done (it typically takes 3 to 5 years) you'll be desensitized to those specific allergens, no longer having any significant reactions to them. Ask your allergist about perennial immunotherapy, which occurs year-round, instead of pre-seasonal immunotherapy, which occurs only before allergy season begins. A study published in the American Journal of Rhinology & Allergy found that people who underwent immunotherapy throughout the year saw a nearly 43% greater reduction in symptoms than those who received shots seasonally.
Try it: Sublingual Immunotherapy
A scary-sounding procedure that's actually pretty tame: Sublingual immunotherapy also alters the immune system to reduce allergic responses. Concentrated doses of allergens like grass, pollen, or ragweed (the only ones approved for use in the U.S. right now for this particular therapy) are placed under the patient's tongue three times a week for 3 to 5 years. During this time, the body absorbs the allergen, developing a lasting immunity that leaves you with no reaction to the allergen. In fact, a study published in the journal Medicina Universitaria found that, after just 24 weeks of treatment, patients receiving sublingual immunotherapy reported a 94% decrease in drug use for allergy symptom relief.
Try it: Moderate-Intensity Exercise
We know—the last thing you want to do when sniffling and sneezing is work out, but lacing up your sneakers and breaking a mild sweat could reduce allergy symptoms. Researchers from Thailand found that when allergy sufferers exercised at a moderate intensity for just 30 minutes, they saw an 83% decrease in nasal congestion, itching, and sneezing. The researchers believe the moderate level of exercise produces an anti-inflammatory effect in the nasal passages.
MORE: Should You Workout When You're Sick? Here's How To Decide
Skip it: Local Honey
We're guessing you've heard the old wives' tale: Eating local honey will introduce your system to the pollen common in your area in amounts large enough to boost immunity and lessen your response to the pollen. Not quite, says Tuck. "The amount of pollen that's in honey is quite small, and it could actually increase your risk of having an allergic reaction to the honey," says Tuck. Plus, because local honey is a natural product, it could be contaminated with other allergens like mold and bee parts.