Antihistamines treat seasonal allergies, also known as hay fever. Many people take antihistamines, but some natural antihistamines are also available.
Seasonal allergies cause symptoms such as sneezing, itching, runny nose, and scratchy throat.
This article reviews several natural and alternative antihistamines that can help you control your seasonal allergies.
How do antihistamines work?
Allergies arise from an abnormal response of the immune system. When you come into contact with an allergen (something you are allergic to), your immune system takes it for a threat. As part of its response to this perceived threat, it releases a chemical called histamine.
Histamine helps fight invaders like parasites. But when you have an allergy, your immune system overreacts to something harmless. This action directly causes allergy symptoms.
Antihistamines block the effects of histamine, which prevents histamine from causing allergy symptoms and the inflammation related to the histamine response.
Common allergies include:
Many natural substances contain antihistamines. Research on their safety and effectiveness is in its early stages, but some of them show promise.
A review of herbal medicine for inflammatory conditions concluded that they are safe, effective, and more desirable treatments than laboratory-created drugs.
Natural products can cause side effects and negative drug interactions. Be sure to talk to your health care provider before taking any natural allergy remedies.
Nettle (Dioecious urtica) comes from a shrub that grows all over the world. It is a centuries-old herbal medicine. Some herbal and natural healing practitioners tout its effects as an antihistamine, with early research showing promise.
When nettle comes in contact with the skin, the hair-like structures on its leaves and stems release chemicals that can sting you and cause a rash. This herb is sometimes used topically (on the skin), but for allergies it is taken orally (by mouth).
You can buy nettle in several forms, including teas, tinctures, or supplements. Mild side effects, such as upset stomach, water retention, sweating and diarrhea, are possible. Some research has concluded that it does not pose a risk of serious side effects when taken by mouth.
You may be familiar with the benefits of vitamin C for reducing the duration and severity of colds, but it’s also an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant. Research suggests that inflammation and oxidative stress (an imbalance of free radicals) are major aspects of allergies.
Researchers have reported that high doses of vitamin C intravenously (directly into a vein) improved allergy symptoms. They also found evidence to suggest that vitamin C deficiency can lead to allergies.
You can buy vitamin C in supplement form or you can get it from food. Foods rich in vitamin C include:
- Red and green peppers (raw)
- Oranges or orange juice
- Grapefruits and grapefruit juice
- Brussels sprouts
Vitamin C is generally considered safe at recommended doses and is unlikely to cause serious side effects, even at high doses. Possible mild side effects of vitamin C include diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and other digestive issues.
High doses can also interfere with the levels of other vitamins and minerals.
Quercetin is an antioxidant found in many plants that appears to have antiallergic and antihistamine abilities. A study suggests that quercetin suppresses a gene that contributes to the allergic response.
Quercetin is available as a nutritional supplement and is found naturally in many foods and herbs, including:
- Fennel leaves
- Cranberry and blueberry
- Spinach and kale
Some side effects are possible, such as headaches or upset stomach. If you have kidney disease, are pregnant, or are breastfeeding, quercetin may not be safe for you. Be sure to talk to your health care provider before taking it.
Butterbur (Butterbur hybridus) is a shrub native to Europe, parts of Asia, and parts of North America. It has been used medicinally since at least the Middle Ages.
A review of studies on butterbur for allergies concluded that it was better than a placebo and just as effective as some antihistamine medications. However, the evidence remains weak and preliminary overall.
Butterbur is sold in pill, extract, or dried form. Some commercial butterbur contains chemicals called pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PA). PAs can damage your liver, lungs and blood circulation.
Butterbur without PA is available and considered safer. However, it can cause some side effects, including belching, headaches, itchy eyes, diarrhea, and breathing problems.
Some people are allergic to butterbur. This is especially likely if you have allergies to ragweed, chrysanthemums, marigolds, and daisies.
Do not take anything while pregnant or breastfeeding without first approving it with a healthcare professional.
Bromelain is a group of enzymes found in pineapples (pineapple comosus), which are cultivated in tropical and subtropical regions of the world. Historically, it has long been used medicinally in Central and South America.
Not all studies agree, but there is some evidence to suggest bromelain is anti-inflammatory and helps with nasal congestion. In one small study, bromelain appeared to penetrate the mucous membranes of the sinuses, which means it may be effective against allergies and other sinus conditions.
Bromelain supplements are usually needed to get enough to make a difference. In pineapple, bromelain levels are highest in the stem and pit, which are not consumed. This makes it difficult to get a medicinal amount just by eating the fruit.
Studies on bromelain have reported very few side effects. The most likely are stomach aches and diarrhea. Bromelain can interact badly with certain medications, including amoxicillin (a common antibiotic).
Probiotics are living microscopic organisms (bacteria and yeasts). You have plenty of them in your digestive system and they are important for your health.
Some research suggests that probiotics can help treat immune system disorders such as allergies. Yet the evidence is preliminary and inconsistent. Some types may be more beneficial than others, which may be a direction for future research.
You can take probiotics as nutritional supplements. Several strains, strain mixes, and forms are available, and they can come in capsules, powders, and liquids. Probiotic supplements are generally considered safe and well tolerated.
You can also get probiotics through food. Sometimes they occur naturally and other times they are added. Good sources of probiotics include yogurt, kefir, kombucha, pickles, tempeh, kimchi, miso, sourdough bread, and sour cream.
Scientists still have a lot to learn about the safety of using probiotics for medical purposes, but common strains are thought to be unlikely to be harmful. Reported side effects include bloating and gas. Side effects usually disappear after a few weeks of use.
Alternative Allergy Treatments
Many alternative medicine products and procedures are promoted as natural allergy remedies. These have varying amounts of research to back them up. Some limited research suggests promising results for:
- Acupuncture: Using fine needles, electrical or pressure probes to stimulate specific points around the body
- Nasal irrigation/Neti pot: Pour sterile salt water into your nasal passages to clear them
- Exercise: At least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity each week
These approaches may be more effective when combined with other allergy treatments, such as antihistamine medications.
Natural antihistamines can help you control your seasonal allergies. The most common are nettle, vitamin C, quercetin, butterbur, bromelain and probiotics. Some alternative practices, such as acupuncture, nasal irrigation, and exercise, can also help you manage symptoms. Do not stop taking antihistamine medications or start using herbal or nutritional supplements without first talking to your healthcare provider.
A word from Verywell
Seasonal allergy symptoms can be unpleasant and discourage you from doing things you love. Natural antihistamines can help control your symptoms when added to medication or taken instead of medication. Just be sure to take natural products safely and watch for side effects.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the strongest natural antihistamine?
Researchers have yet to establish any natural product as the “best” or the “most potent”. The most researched natural antihistamines are nettle, vitamin C, quercetin, butterbur, bromelain and probiotics.
Does water eliminate histamine?
No, water does not eliminate histamine. However, hydration is important to control your allergies. Dehydration is thought to increase histamine levels in your body, which simulates an allergy attack.
How do natural antihistamines work?
Natural antihistamines work by blocking histamine activity in your body, just like antihistamine medications do. Some also decrease inflammation or oxidative stress, which contribute to allergic reactions.