Breathe Easy

Ah, spring! The greening grass, the budding trees, the blooming flowers … the sneezing, sniffles, and red, itchy eyes. If you’re among the millions of people who suffer from seasonal allergies, you’re in good company. Allergic rhinitis—more commonly known as hay fever—affects more than 50 million Americans every year, making it the sixth-leading cause of chronic disease in the United States. No wonder “quick-fix” allergy drugs are in hot demand. Although these drugs can temporarily relieve your symptoms, prescription and over-the-counter allergy medications can cause adverse reactions, including drowsiness, headache, and sore throat. Long-term use can have a rebound effect, meaning the more you take them, the more you need them.

Fortunately, natural remedies can nip seasonal allergies in the bud without the harmful side effects that can occur when taking prescription drugs. To pick the right alternative for you, it helps to understand how allergies develop. When your immune system encounters an allergen, it triggers the release of histamine, a chemical that causes inflammation—and leads to the familiar coughing, sneezing, wheezing, itchy eyes, runny nose, and congestion. Although a hardy immune system is essential for fighting allergies, the following treatments not only bring fast relief, but may even help prevent attacks.

Herbs and supplements for allergies

Remedy

What it does

Recommended dose

Contraindications

Eucalyptus oil
(Eucalyptus globulus)

This natural antihistamine is reportedly as effective as the prescription allergy drug cetirizine. Its anti-inflammatory action may also relieve bronchial congestion.

50–100 mg 2x/day with meals

No known side effects. However, do not use if pregnant or breast-feeding.

Butterbur
(Petasites hybridus)

Relieves nasal congestion when inhaled. May also ease sinus headache.

Sprinkle a few drops on a tissue and inhale, or add 5 to 10 drops to a vaporizer.

Always use a pure essential oil. Do not use internally, and keep away from children.

Omega-3 fatty acids

Omega-3 fats are anti-inflammatory allies. Studies show that high levels of eicosapentaenoic acid, found in cold-water fish such as salmon, can help prevent seasonal allergies.

3,000 mg/day for prevention

No known side effects. Safe for use during pregnancy and lactation.

Scullcap
(Scutellaria lateriflora)

Blocks the release of histamine to reduce sneezing, runny nose, and scratchy throat.

3,000–9,000 mg/day

No known side effects. However, do not use if pregnant or breast-feeding.

Stinging nettles
(Urtica dioica)

Offers relief from itchy, watery eyes; sneezing; and respiratory symptoms, often within 15 minutes.

600 mg 2x/day

Nettles may cause stomach upset in rare cases. Safe for use during pregnancy and lactation.

—Kim Erickson