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 are there alternative remedies that can provide relief from allergies as well?
When we think of alternative treatments, we often think of exotic herbs with potential healing powers. But what really has been shown to work just 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 medicines 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.
For some, needles are a part of life. Some people treat their allergy symptoms with allergy shots. Known as immunotherapy, the idea behind the treatment is to reduce allergic symptoms and increase immunity against the allergic substance by exposing the body to small amounts of the substance. Traditionally, exposure is done through injecting the allergic substance into the upper arm. This is extremely effective for treating allergic rhinitis and has minimal adverse effects when done under the supervision of an allergist.
An alternative to shots is placing the substance under the tongue. This treatment is known as sublingual immunotherapy (SLIT). With SLIT, the allergic substances are placed as drops under the tongue. Studies on the effectiveness of this treatment for allergic rhinitis have been mixed, although most have shown SLIT to relieve major symptoms. One study also claims that it may be useful in preventing new allergies from developing.
SLIT appears to work best if used year round and year-after-year. For now, SLIT is not approved in the United States, but results are promising.
So, 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 medicines may interact with medicines 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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Last reviewed September 2013 by Michael Woods, MD
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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