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Best Herbal Treatments to Ease Hay Fever Symptoms

written by: Dawn Salamon • edited by: Diana Cooper • updated: 5/30/2011

Up to 30 percent of Americans endure bouts of hay fever to varying degrees, especially in the spring when pollen counts are high. There are many natural remedies that can be used to prevent the symptoms of hay fever as well as provide relief once they begin.

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    What is Hay Fever?

    More appropriately called seasonal allergic rhinitis or seasonal allergies, hay fever is an allergic response within the body to allergens (allergy-inducing proteins) that are airborne during particular seasons such as spring and fall. Examples of these airborne allergens are pollen, dust, mold spores, pests and animal dander.

    Hay fever occurs when pollen from trees, grasses and weeds is inhaled through the nose and/or mouth, become trapped in the mucus membranes of the nasal passage and respiratory tract and cause an allergic reaction. Symptoms of this allergic reaction include runny nose, itchy and watery eyes, congestion, postnasal drip, wheezing and coughing.

    People are born with allergies and about one-quarter of those with allergies also have asthma. Also, of those who suffer from hay fever, ragweed is the most common allergen (75 percent), followed by grasses (50 percent), then trees (10 percent). Mold spores, animal dander and pests such as mites can also trigger hay fever, but it is not as common. Food allergies rarely cause hay fever, but if a particular food causes a mild case of hives or any mild stomach irritation, it may help to discontinue eating that food.

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    Naturally Treating the Symptoms of Hay Fever

    Although there are many very effective over-the-counter medications that can be used to control the symptoms of hay fever, such as antihistamines and decongestants, they often cause drowsiness, dry-mouth and increased heart rate. As a result, many allergy sufferers are using herbal remedies for hay fever symptoms along with other preventative measures such as reducing the amount of time spent outside, keeping doors and windows closed, using air conditioning to circulate air and showering after prolonged outdoor exposure to remove any pollen from skin, hair and clothing. Below are some of the herbal remedies that can be used to treat hay fever symptoms.

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    Butterbur

    Butterbur (Petasites hybridus) is a flowering plant native to Europe that contains natural antihistamines to counteract the histamines that develop in response to an allergic reaction within the body. A 2001 study published in the British Journal of Medicine found that butterbur and cetirizine (brand name, Zyrtec) had similar effects on hay fever symptoms with one significant difference – the butterbur did not cause the same drowsiness that cetirizine did.

    Butterbur can be taken as a tea or in tablet form. Potential side effects are nausea, indigestion, vomiting, headache, constipation or diarrhea. The use of butterbur can cause an allergic reaction in those who are allergic to ragweed, marigold, daisy or chrysanthemum as they are all related plants. Also, pregnant or nursing women, children and people with kidney and liver disease should avoid using butterbur as it contains pyrrolizidine alkaloids which is a carcinogenic and may cause liver toxicity.

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    Goldenseal

    Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis) is a perennial herb found in the more wooded areas of the Northeastern United States. Known for its anti-inflammatory and immunity-boosting properties, goldenseal is often combined with echinacea to further enhance the body's immunity system capabilities. It also effects the mucus membranes by controlling the production of mucus. Goldenseal and echinacea should be avoided if allergic to ragweed.

    Goldenseal is available in tablet or capsule form. The most common side effects are nausea and irritation of the gastrointestinal tract. It can also cause an increase in blood pressure and drops in blood sugar levels. Mood changes also have been associated with the use of goldenseal. Pregnant women should avoid taking as it can cause uterine contractions. It should not be taken with other medications and/or herbal supplements, especially with those for high blood pressure, blood sugar disorders and acid reflux or other gastrointestinal illnesses. Also, women who are nursing and children should not take goldenseal.

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    Stinging Nettle

    Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica) is a flowering plant that grows in moist soil areas throughout the world, especially in abandoned areas that once contained humans, animals and buildings. Stinging nettles have leaves that are covered with small thorn-like hairs that release histamine when touched. By producing its own histamine, stinging nettle helps counteract the histamine produced by the body during an allergy attack. Also, it has anti-inflammatory properties which can help reduce the coughing and sneezing associated with inflamed nasal and bronchial passages. It is generally taken in capsule form or as a tea.

    Similar to butterbur, stinging nettle is as effective as many OTC medications for relieving the symptoms of hay fever without the side effect of drowsiness. However, people who take blood thinners or blood pressure medications should not take stinging nettle as it can negatively impact the effectiveness of these medications. It also has diuretic capabilities and can increase the risk of causing hypoglycemia. Pregnant and/or nursing women, children and those with diabetes should not take stinging nettle.

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    Tylophora

    Tylophora (Tylophora asthmatica) is a climbing plant native to India that has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for centuries to treat allergies, asthma and other upper respiratory illnesses. Tylophora appears to act both as an antihistamine and an anti-inflammatory in that it can inhibit the release of mast cell-producing histamine and other inflammatory agents during a hay fever attack. Taking tylophora may also help boost immunity by activating the immune cells that destroy the allergy-causing allergens while simultaneously controlling the build-up of antibodies also contributing to the allergic reaction.

    Generally taken in capsule form, the side effects of tylophora tend to be negligible; nausea, vomiting and minor mouth tenderness. People taking bronchodilators, pregnant and or nursing women, and children should not take tylophora.

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    Evening Primrose

    Evening Primrose (Oenothera biennis) is an edible plant native to North America that only blooms at night, hence its name. Commonly taken in a capsule or oil form, evening primrose has developed a reputation as a major preventative and therapeutic herbal supplement, especially in medical conditions involving regulation of hormones and nerve function impairment. Specifically for hay fever symptoms, evening primrose acts as an anti-inflammatory to ease bronchial congestion.

    Side effects from evening primrose are rare and generally minor – stomach pains, nausea and headaches. An overdose of evening primrose can result in loose stools or major stomach pains. Rarely, seizures can occur so it is not recommended for those with a seizure disorder or a high fever. It is also not for use by pregnant or nursing women or by children. Evening primrose should not be taken in conjunction with certain medications, such as NSAIDs, anticoagulants, blood pressure medications, cholesterol medications or hormonal therapies, or medical conditions, such as epilepsy or undergoing chemotherapy for cancer.

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    Why Use Natural Remedies for Treating Hay Fever and Other Illnesses?

    For centuries, natural remedies and medicinal herbs have been used to relieve the symptoms of a variety of common ailments with much success. Today, more people are turning to herbal supplements to treat their illnesses due to concerns regarding the overuse of prescription medication and the increasing number of serious side effects associated with them. Using herbal remedies for hay fever and other illnesses allows sufferers to relieve their symptoms in a natural way with fewer side effects than traditional medication.

    However, care still must be used when taking an herbal supplement as they are not regulated by the FDA, may contain unknown ingredients, have unintended side effects and may react unpredictably with other prescribed or OTC medications. Always consult a health care professional before using any herbal remedies.