Home Remedies for Allergies

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Why You Need to Start Allergy Treatment Early

by James Hubbard, MD, MPH



You have to admit, the commercials are convincing: Your allergies are keeping you inside, virtually blocked from the outdoors. Otherwise you’re sneezing, have watery eyes, just miserable.

You take a pill, and whammo, you can do what you wish. Want to roll in the grass, sniff a little ragweed? No worries. Pet a cat even if they usually make you break out in hives? No problem. Whatever you were allergic to before, you’re not anymore, as long as you take the pill.

But do these allergy medicines actually work? If so, how well? And what about home remedies for allergies? Have they gone the way of the iron lung?

Here’s my take.

Do Allergy Medicines Work?

The over-the-counter nonsedating antihistamines, such as loratadine (Claritin), fexofenadine (Allegra), and cetirizine (Zyrtec), actually work quite well for many people … and not so well for some. The only way to know whether they’ll work for you is to try them and see. (Be sure to read the directions, precautions, side effects, and interactions carefully.)

The sedating antihistamines, such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl), can work as well as or better than the nonsedating kind but have the obvious problem of causing drowsiness.

A key to getting the most out of any of these is to start them early—as soon as you get the first hint of sneezing, watery eyes, runny nose. Or, if you have the symptoms every year at a certain time (seasonal allergies) start them at the beginning of the season. They can take a few days to reach maximum effectiveness, and if you wait until your allergies are really bad, those histamines causing the symptoms can overwhelm the medicine.

If the meds are working, don’t use them sporadically as needed. If you want the best results, continue taking them every day throughout the season.

For more on allergy-medicine treatment, click here.

But even if the medicines are working well, my experience has been that most people are still going to have allergy symptoms (just less) if they have a lot of contact with what they’re allergic to. And, of course, in some people the medicine just doesn’t work that well in the first place. Either way, here’s where the home remedies for allergies come in strong.

Do Allergy Home Remedies Work?

There are a lot of home remedies that work well for seasonal allergies. The first is the simplest: avoidance. If you’re allergic to something, you’re just going to have to avoid it as best you can. Even with antihistamines—often even after allergic shots—if you’re allergic to, say, goldenrods, no matter what you do, you’re likely to start sneezing if you go out in a field and pick a few.

In fact, stay in when whatever what you’re allergic to is at its worst. Keep your windows closed, and turn on the air-conditioning if you have it, which will help filter the air.

But what about when you have to go out? What about hikes? Camping? Disasters? Even outside work? What if the electricity is off?

  1. Wear a dust or surgical mask, or wrap a scarf loosely around your mouth and nose. This won’t keep you from breathing in all the pollens; some are very small. But it should help.
  2. Wash the pollen off your face, eyes, and nose frequently with water. Even if you don’t see it, it’s there if you’ve been outside.
  3. Take a good shower or bath immediately after coming inside for the day. Wash your hair and change your clothes—two places pollens like to linger.

Neti pot



Click on the photos for one place to buy a neti pot and butterbur. (I’m an Amazon Affiliate.)

Those are effective external preventers. There are also ways to fight the allergens internally:

  1. Wash the pollen out of your sinuses. I have a post and video on how do this using a neti pot (my favorite way) and using a cup (also easy). This nasal irrigation is my home-remedy secret weapon against allergies. If you haven’t tried it, you need to. I think you’ll be impressed. But always use sterile water or solution. You may have heard about the rare but deadly brain-eating amoeba that has affected a handful of people after nasal rinsing. You can avoid this by using sterile water or boiling tap water for about a minute (of course let it cool before using). For more on avoiding the amoeba, click here.
  2. Try a daily dose of raw, local honey. Although never proven by studies, many people swear that taking a teaspoon a day helps their allergies. The reasoning is that the honey may contain a small amount of local pollens and work like allergy shots. By eating the honey you get a tiny dose of daily pollens. Your body starts recognizing the pollen, gets used to it, and stops making antihistamines to fight it off. Another theory is the anti-inflammatory effects of honey are what helps. Again, studies have shown these effects to be iffy at best, but it won’t hurt to try. CAVEATS: (1) Never give raw honey to children under 2 years old. It can contain a small amount of bacteria that’s safe for adults but has been lethal to small children. (2) If you’re allergic to bees, you could have a reaction to the honey. (3) Just like with allergy shots, taking in even a small amount of something you’re allergic to could potentially cause a bad allergic reaction.
  3. Consider butterbur, an herb that has been shown to work as well as the over-the-counter antihistamines. But before you use it, read up on the side effects and other precautions. CAVEATS: (1) People who are allergic ragweed, chrysanthemums, marigolds, and daisies can have an allergic reaction to butterbur. To me, that’s a good reason to take the over-the-counter medicine instead, if you can get it. (2) The only type that’s been proven safe is the one that states that the pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PAs) have been removed. These PAs sometimes cause liver damage. (3) Studies haven’t looked beyond safely taking butterbur for more than 12 weeks at a time. For more on butterbur, click here.

What about you? Do you have seasonal allergies? Have you found the right combination of treatments to keep you sniffle-free?



Sneezing photo: Flickr/Steven Leggett, shared under CC BY-NC 2.0.



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  • Redblossom.

    I also love mixed homeopathic drops or sprays…works wonders, wo side effects.

  • Redblossom.

    I was taking nettle tea for all it’s benefits, but also discovered that my allergies pretty much vanished that year. Haven’t tried it this year, but may begin. Remind people to clean their house air filters…mine was bad, changing it helped my lungs immensely.
    I haven’t seen any contraindications for Nettles, tho there may be some. Good for aches and pains, and many other things. Hair rinse..will give you fuller hair.. ;) …and much more. I go around telling folks about nettles.. You can buy them dried for tea very inexpensively.

  • http://frugalnurse.com/ Frugal Nurse

    I’m a HUGE fan of the neti pot. I’m allergic to everything–dust, pets and pollen! I tried all the OTC allergy meds, and they just didn’t work. If anything, they just made my eyes and sinuses feel more dry and irritated. Benadryl helped some, but then I had to deal with “Benadryl brain” in the mornings. I discovered the neti pot about 5 years ago and it immediately improved my quality of life. It’s so easy to use and inexpensive, too, as I make my own salt solution. My husband and son are also converts. I highly recommend taking Dr. Hubbard’s advice and giving it a try.

    The one OTC med I do use on occasion is ketotifen eye drops. When the pollen count is very high, or if I’m at a friend’s house with pets, my eyes get so red and scratchy. Ketotifen works very well to decrease the inflammation.

  • Tracy

    I hear Acupuncture works great. I take Quercitin and that helps out greatly.

  • rob

    Doc, recent studies have shown that the majority of your immune system resides in your gut. Cleaning up your diet by eating real, whole food that is free of herbicides and pesticides is the best way IMO to get rid of allergies or limit most of them. It worked for by my wife and myself; we don’t eat gluten products, soy or corn and we limit our dairy intake. I challenge anyone to try it for at least 3 months and you will see very good dramatic results; we no longer have to take prescription meds.

  • Shellie Perreault

    NAET cured me of everything. It doesn’t count as a “home remedy” but it certainly beats all the shots and drugs. Raw local honey, air filters, masks, etc. did nothing for me. Two treatments of NAET has left me allergy -free.

    • Connie

      What is NAET?

      • http://thesurvivaldoctor.com/ James Hubbard, MD, MPH

        It apparently has its basis in Chinese Medicine and includes chiropractic and acupuncture techniques, kinesiology ( not the science of body movement but the other one–an alternative medicine thing that’s supposed to diagnose and treat allergies through studying muscles. I’m sure there’s more too it but studies have shown it doesn’t work). Anyway NAET is supposed to redirect the energy flow in the body that’s disrupted by allergies. There have been reports that it worked in certain individuals but no objective study has ever shown that.

        • http://thesurvivaldoctor.com/ James Hubbard, MD, MPH

          My take on unproven or controversial techniques are, of course you can try them if you wish, but I’d suggest not if: 1. It’s going to cost a lot of money or 2. It keeps you from trying things first that have been actually proven to work. or 3. It’s been shown to be harmful. As far as NAET, I don’t know that’s it’s ever been proven harmful.

          • Shellie Perreault

            I didn’t even know what NAET was until “after” my nutritionist had done it to me. My general attitude about a lot of alternative medicine is not to rely on them in lieu of anything “scientifically proven,” but if it’s helping me along the way and it’s not detrimental, to go ahead and keep doing it. The procedure took 10 minutes, was totally non-invasive and completely relaxing, and didn’t cost me any more than the regular cost of the visit to my nutritionist where I was anyways (which is $75). In the case of NAET I don’t even know how/why it worked, and if you want to chalk it up to the placebo effect that’s fine- all I care about is that I’m not coughing up blood 4 months out of the year from Cedar Fever and am not living on shots/steroids/allergy medications or even the cocktail of herbal medicines I used to be on (which did work btw, but they were really expensive). However, I don’t think it does the medical community any good to quickly dismiss everything they don’t understand just because they don’t understand it. There is a problem with Chinese Medicine in this country because of this. Of course, the traditional explanations of meridians etc. doesn’t really hold any water with the Western world-view, but if the English speakers were to be exposed to the ENORMOUS amount of real scientific literature (mostly biochemical and neurological in nature) that the Chinese produced after the Soviets brought them the scientific method, then doctors wouldn’t be sweeping it out of the way as much as they do imo. At any rate, if you want to try it it will cost you maybe $200 at most for a few visits. However, if you are just looking for some sort of SHTF allergy help in the wild, you can cook those annoying stinging nettles in your backyard. They were one of the main ingredients in my herbal cocktail. Just remember to wear gloves when you harvest them.

          • http://thesurvivaldoctor.com/ James Hubbard, MD, MPH

            Thanks, Shellie. There are definitely some parts of Chinese medicine that are very beneficial. And I agree, there should be more studies on using it. I don’t know if there have been any good Western studies on NAET, but the studies on diagnosing and treating allergies by examining your muscles have shown it’s useless. But the main thing is, for whatever reason, NAET helped you and there’s no denying that.

  • Mike Ingle

    I have a home in the mountains of southern New Mexico and when the allergy season starts I take a claritan in the morning and a benadryl at bedtime and I have almost complete relief. This is an important discussion to have because during an economic collapse or other time of great difficulty the last thing one needs is a problem with breathing and being comfortable. Great information Doc, keep them coming.

    • http://thesurvivaldoctor.com/ James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      Thanks, Mike.