When the sneezy, itchy symptoms attack due to allergies, it may be tempting to combat nature’s irritants — like pollen, dust mites and mold — with some natural remedies. But you might want to reconsider that DIY approach.
“Some natural remedies could be making your symptoms worse, or just not be helping as much as you would like,” board-certified allergist Dr. Tania Elliott tells Yahoo Life.
Here are four popular at-home allergy treatments that may not work — and some that could actually exacerbate symptoms.
A humidifier may seem like a great idea for combating dry air in the winter, and once spring allergy season starts you may be tempted to use one to relieve the congestion and sinus pressure caused by allergies. But before bringing a humidifier into your home, you’ll want to confirm what’s behind those itchy eyes and that runny nose — because a humidifier could spell disaster for people susceptible to indoor triggers.
“If you have indoor allergies — and particularly dust mite allergy or indoor mold allergy — you could inadvertently be making your symptoms worse,” Elliott explains.
Dust mites — the number one indoor allergen — are microscopic creatures that feed off of tiny flakes of human skin and make their homes in plush furnishing, carpets, cushions and mattresses.
“By introducing a humidifier into the home, you're increasing humidity. Indoor mold loves humidity, and so do dust mites,” Elliott says.
While humidifiers are off-limits for dust mite and mold allergy-sufferers, Elliott says local humidified treatments like breathing in the air from a steaming hot shower are still options for those looking for sinus relief. A neti pot with distilled or sterile water can also help provide the sinus relief you crave.
Something else that might not help that dust mite problem? HEPA air filters or air purifiers. While they may eliminate some of the airborne debris from dust mites, they can't tackle the source.
“Dust mites are organisms and they're heavy. They do not stay suspended in the air,” Elliott explains. “So an air purifier is not going to help.”
#2: Natural supplements
Elliott says you should also think before jumping on the latest herbal supplement trend.
“When it comes to natural supplements, I would say use with caution, because there haven't really been any proven benefits around that,” Elliot says.
The plant butterbur is a naturally-occurring antihistamine that’s popular for allergy relief. But Elliott says supplements purporting to contain butterbur can present a challenge; they’re not regulated by the FDA, so it can be hard to tell what you’re getting and what the quality of the supplement is. And since butterbur is in the ragweed plant family, it could also have some unwanted side effects; if you have a ragweed allergy or sensitivity to chrysanthemums, marigolds or daisies, butterbur could make your allergies worse.
While herbal supplements might help, Elliott says you should do your research first to be sure you’re buying from a reputable source.
“There's a place called Consumerlab.com that actually tests and rates some of these herbal products and naturally-occurring supplements,” she says.
“[They] test exactly what those ingredients are that are in them and make sure that they are safe to use.”
#3: Raw honey
Raw honey has been touted as a natural form of allergen immunotherapy that at first blush may not seem so far-fetched.
“There's trace amounts of plant pollen present in raw honey. So the thinking is, if you take a spoonful of honey or small amounts of that honey, over time you could build a tolerance [to] whatever that trace amount of plant pollen is that's present in the honey,” Elliott explains.
Sounds great, right? But Elliott says honey advocates may run into a problem: Bees tend to pollinate colorful flowering plants — not the grass and tree pollen that cause a majority of seasonal allergies. So that honey you’re consuming may contain traces of pollen, but it’s probably not the type of pollen that you’re hoping to build up immunity to. Unless you’re certain that the honey you’re eating was made by bees who came in contact with the specific type of pollen responsible for you sniffly symptoms, it probably won’t solve your allergy woes.
“So if you see raw honey meant to be a cure for your allergies, just beware,” Elliott says. “There's lots of other things to take into account, and we would recommend seeing your doctor to figure out exactly what it is that you're allergic to and come up with a treatment plan that's best for you.”
#4: Essential oils
Essential oils can be a sweet-smelling solution for allergies — especially general respiratory symptoms like congestion and stuffy nose. Eucalyptus scent, for example, can help open the nasal passages, while tea tree oil has anti-inflammatory properties that can relieve all that itchiness. But Elliott warns essential oils are “not always a one-size-fits-all approach for everybody.”
“Some people are highly allergic to fragrance,” she explains. “If they're breathing in the fragrance itself, no matter what the fragrance is, [it] could actually trigger allergy symptoms.”
Essential oils could create a whole other set of problems for folks with sensitive skin, too.
“Sometimes these essential oils, when they come in contact with your skin, can trigger their own kinds of allergic reactions,” Elliott says.
If you’re still looking for some natural remedies, Elliott says there’s “no harm” in adopting a low-histamine, anti-inflammatory diet. Eating things like garlic, ginger, blueberries and foods rich in vitamin C can help ward off infection — “because we know that infection and allergies oftentimes go hand-in-hand.” Since allergy symptoms are caused by your body’s release of histamine, avoiding high-histamine fare like pineapple, yogurt, strawberries and alcohol can help keep allergy symptoms from flaring out of control.
When in doubt, Elliott says it’s always best to consult a board-certified allergist for help managing your symptoms. When at-home options aren't enough, they can recommend which allergy medications — from nasal sprays to oral antihistamines, and possibly immunotherapy treatment — could be right for you.
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