Alternatives to Allergy Medicines


Are there any alternatives to simply giving my daughter allergy medicine all season?

Dr. Greene's Answer

Preventing exposure to airborne allergies is another powerful way to treat allergies at home. To this end, a HEPA filter can be an excellent investment. These High Efficiency Particulate Arresting filters, available at discount drug stores for about $60 – $100, can remove 99.97+% of the pollen, dust, and animal dander from the air. I highly recommend placing one in the room where a child with hayfever sleeps.

When kids are playing outside during hayfever season, pollen from grasses, weeds, and trees clings to their clothes and hair. Taking off the outside clothes as they enter the house, and perhaps rinsing the hair, can greatly reduce the pollen they are exposed to that night as they sleep. Every little bit of exposure reduction helps. If a child is allergic to pollen, dust, and cats, minimizing exposure to pollen and dust will make the cat allergies less severe by cooling down the allergic response.

The Old Farmer’s Almanac advises tying a bag of onions around the neck or around the bedpost as a good home remedy for allergies. My guess is that this works by stimulating tear production, which naturally washes pollen particles out of the eyes and nose. A less smelly way to accomplish the same thing is the liberal use of saline nose drops or saline eye drops (artificial tears). Saline drops are not the same as the eye drops that are advertised to “get the red out.” While “get the red out” drops do help to reduce the red appearance of irritated eyes, they are not a good choice for preventing or treating allergies.

The Almanac also suggests turning a piece of orange rind inside out and inserting it in the nose. We now know that some of the ingredients in citrus fruits (including vitamin C) block the histamine response in a safe and natural way. The most potent of these appears to be a vitamin-like compound called quercitin that is found in citrus fruits and buckwheat. Increasing these foods in the diet makes sense. Quercitin/vitamin C supplements are available in health food stores. We know that these reduce hayfever symptoms in rats, but their effect in human children have not been established. They do appear to be safe and gentle, however, and many people report success with them.

Stinging nettle is the other natural remedy that shows a lot of promise. Also available in health food stores, this herbal supplement is now known to reduce the histamine response in test tube experiments. But again, although I have heard many testimonials, the scientific evidence in support of its effectiveness in humans is sparse.

The last remedy suggested by the Old Farmer’s Almanac is swallowing a spider. Yuck–the cure is worse than the disease!

Last medical review on: April 11, 2010
About the Author
Photo of Alan Greene MD
Dr. Greene is a practicing physician, author, national and international TEDx speaker, and global health advocate. He is a graduate of Princeton University and University of California San Francisco.
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