Antihistamines treat seasonal allergies, also known as hay fever. A lot of people take antihistamine medications, but some natural antihistamines are available, as well.
Seasonal allergies cause symptoms such as sneezing, itchy, runny nose, and a scratchy throat.
This article looks at several natural and alternative antihistamines that may help you control your seasonal allergies.
How Do Antihistamines Work?
Allergies come from an abnormal immune-system response. When you come into contact with an allergen (something you’re allergic to), your immune system mistakes it for a threat. As part of its response to that 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 histamine’s effects, which keeps histamine from causing allergy symptoms and the inflammation that’s tied to the histamine response.
Common allergies include:
Several natural substances contain antihistamines. Research on their safety and effectiveness is in its early stages, but some of it is promising.
One review of herbal medicine for inflammatory conditions concluded they were safe, effective, and more desirable treatments than lab-created drugs.
Natural products can cause side effects and negative drug interactions. Be sure to talk to your healthcare provider before taking natural allergy remedies.
Stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) comes from a shrub that grows all over the world. It’s a centuries-old herbal medication. Some herbal and natural healing practitioners tout its effects as an antihistamine, with early research showing some promise.
When stinging nettle comes into contact with skin, hairlike structures on its leaves and stems release chemicals that can sting you and cause a rash. This plant is sometimes used topically (on the skin), but for allergies, it’s taken orally (by mouth).
You can buy stinging nettle in several forms, including teas, tinctures, or supplements. Mild side effects, such as upset stomach, fluid retention, sweating, and diarrhea are possible. Some research has concluded it doesn’t pose a risk of severe side effects when taken orally.
You may know of vitamin C’s benefits for shortening the duration and severity of colds, but it’s also an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant. Research suggests both inflammation and oxidative stress (an imbalance of free radicals) are major aspects of allergies.
Researchers reported high doses of intravenous (directly into a vein) vitamin C improved allergy symptoms. They also found evidence suggesting a vitamin C deficiency may lead to allergies.
You can buy vitamin C in supplement form or you can get it from food. Vitamin C-rich foods include:
- Red and green peppers (raw)
- Oranges or orange juice
- Grapefruits and grapefruit juice
- Brussels sprouts
Vitamin C is generally considered safe at recommended dosages and it’s unlikely to cause serious side effects even at high doses. Possible mild side effects of vitamin C include diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and other digestive problems.
High doses may interfere with levels of other vitamins and minerals, as well.
Quercetin is an antioxidant in many plants that appears to have anti-allergy and antihistamine abilities. One study suggests quercetin suppresses a gene that contributes to the allergic response.
Quercetin is available as a nutritional supplement and is found naturally in a lot of foods and herbs, including:
- Fennel leaves
- chili peppers
- Cranberry and blueberry
- Spinach and kale
Some side effects are possible, such as headache or upset stomach. If you have kidney disease or you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, quercetin may not be safe for you. Be sure to talk to your healthcare provider before taking it.
Butterbur (Petasites hybridus) is a shrub that’s native to Europe, parts of Asia, and some areas of North America. It’s 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 overall remains weak and preliminary.
Butterbur is sold in pill, extract, or dried forms. Some commercially sold butterbur contains chemicals called pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PAs). PAs can damage your liver, lungs, and blood circulation.
PA-free butterbur is available and considered safer. It may cause some side effects, though, including belching, 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.
Don’t take anything during pregnancy or lactation without first clearing it with a healthcare provider.
Bromelain is a group of enzymes found in pineapples (Ananas comosus), which are grown in tropical and subtropical parts of the world. Historically, it was long used medicinally in Central America and South America.
Not all studies agree, but some evidence suggests bromelain is an anti-inflammatory and helps with nasal congestion. In a small study, bromelain appeared to penetrate the mucous membranes in the sinuses, meaning it could be effective against allergies and other sinus conditions.
Bromelain supplements are usually necessary for getting enough to make a difference. In the pineapple, bromelain levels are highest in the stem and core, which aren’t eaten. That makes it difficult to get a medicinal amount just by eating the fruit.
Studies of bromelain have reported very few side effects. The most likely ones are upset stomach and diarrhea. Bromelain may interact badly with certain medications, including amoxicillin (a common antibiotic).
Probiotics are live microscopic organisms (bacteria and yeast). You have a lot of them in your digestive system and they’re important to your health.
Some research suggests probiotics may help with immune-system disorders such as allergies. Still, the evidence is preliminary and inconsistent. Some types may be more beneficial than others, so that may be a direction for future research.
You can take probiotics as nutritional supplements. Several strains, mixtures of strains, and forms are available, and they may 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’re added. Good sources of probiotics include yogurt, kefir, kombucha, pickles, tempeh, kimchi, miso, sourdough bread, and sour cream.
Scientists still have much to learn about the safety of using probiotics medicinally, but common strains are believed to be harmful. Reported side effects include bloating and gas. Side effects typically go away after a few weeks of use.
Alternative Allergy Treatments
Many alternative medicine products and procedures are touted as natural allergy remedies. These have varying amounts of research to back them up. Some limited research suggests promising results for:
- Acupuncture: Use of thin needles, electrical probes, or pressure to stimulate specific points around the body
- Nasal irrigation/Neti pot: Pouring sterile saltwater into your nasal passages to clear them out
- Exercise: At least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity every week
These approaches may be most effective when combined with other allergy treatments, such as antihistamine medications.
Natural antihistamines may help you control your seasonal allergies. Common ones are stinging nettle, vitamin C, quercetin, butterbur, bromelain, and probiotics. Some alternative practices—such as acupuncture, nasal irrigation, and exercise—may also help you manage symptoms. Don’t 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 miserable and discourage you from doing things you enjoy. Natural antihistamines may help control your symptoms when they’re added to medications or taken instead of medications. Just make sure you take natural products safely and keep an eye out for side effects.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the most powerful natural antihistamine?
Researchers haven’t yet established any natural product as the “best” or “most powerful.” Natural antihistamines with the most research backing their use include stinging nettle, vitamin C, quercetin, butterbur, bromelain, and probiotics.
Does water flush out histamine?
No, water doesn’t flush out histamine. However, hydration is important for controlling your allergies. Dehydration is believed to increase levels of histamine in your body, which simulates an allergy attack.
How do natural antihistamines work?
Natural antihistamines work by blocking histamine activity in your body, just as antihistamine medications do. Some also decrease inflammation or oxidative stress, which contribute to allergic reactions.