March 28, 2013 -- intro: As the weather warms (eventually), the only event more certain than the first robin of spring is the first sneeze of spring. Whether you call it hay fever, allergic rhinitis, or plain old allergies, the spring plague affects up to 25 million Americans. Allergy sufferers can take a number of actions to lessen their misery including taking a daily antihistamine, avoiding the outdoors during certain times of day and getting allergy shots.
Dr. Andy Nish, an allergist and fellow with the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI), says those with allergies should take heart that there plenty of proven remedies available that can help.
"The one nice thing about allergies is we can almost always make it better," said Nish. "There's no need to suffer."
However, for some people, even medically proven treatments aren't enough. As a result, there are a number of alternative remedies available that purport to help diminish the sneezing, coughing and irritation caused by allergies. After finding 10 of the best myths and old wives' tales, we talked to allergists to see what really works and what is just wishful thinking.
quicklist: 1 category: Allergy Remedies: Fact or Fiction title: Eating Honey url: text: False ... mostly. One of the most common allergy remedy myths is that eating locally grown honey will desensitize allergy sufferers to the pollen in the air, meaning less sneezing. According to Neil Kao, an allergist and station head for the Allergic Disease and Asthma Center, simply eating local honey picked up at a farmer's market is not going to help with your oak, ragweed or juniper tree allergy. Kao said the pollen that bees pick-up from flowers is heavier than the tree and grass pollen that are the main causes of springtime allergy misery.
However, one limited study found that people allergic to birch pollen who ate honey with birch pollen added were able to control their allergy symptoms more than those using mainstream allergy medications. media: 18794000
quicklist: 2 category: Allergy Remedies: Fact or Fiction title: Neti Pots url: text: Fact. The oddly shaped vessel has been hailed as a miracle treatment by allergy sufferers across the globe by allowing people to rinse pollen and other irritants from their noses.
Nish said the device is a great addition to allergy remedy arsenal.
"[For] people with sinus problems, it helps to flush out the nose and keep things open," said Nish. "I think there's very little downside."
The neti pot is also recommended by American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI) for allergy sufferers. The AAAAI even posted a recipe that allows you to create your own saline solution. Nish cautioned that people should always use distilled or boiled water when using the neti pot to avoid infection.
quicklist: 3 category: Allergy Remedies: Fact or Fiction title: Acupuncture url: text:Fact. Acupuncture has been hailed anecdotally as a cure for back pain, infertility, stress and any other number of ailments. But a new study has shown if you have a high tolerance for needles and a terrible case of hay fever, it might be a good treatment for allergies, as well. The study, released last month, found that people who went for weekly acupuncture treatments had significantly fewer problems breathing than their counterparts who did not receive treatment. Unfortunately, once the treatment stopped, so did the benefits.
quicklist: 4 category: Allergy Remedies: Fact or Fiction title: Quail Eggs url: text: False. One of the most far-fetched remedies, this treatment left allergists scratching their heads about any possible connection. There are plenty of sites online selling the tiny eggs with the promise that their "natural antihistamines" will help with allergy symptoms. But without any science to back up their claims, there's no evidence quail eggs will cure anything more than hunger.
"[That's] somewhat of an extreme measure," said Nish. "I think there's much more effective, easier, less-expensive treatments available."
quicklist: 5 category: Allergy Remedies: Fact or Fiction title: Apple Cider Vinegar url: text:False. Apple cider vinegar has been claimed to be a tart cure for ailments such as croup, poison ivy and high cholesterol. But any proof that a product made from fermented apples can relieve common springtime allergy symptoms seems to be a work of fiction. According to allergists, it's best to leave this ingredient in the pantry rather than the medicine cabinet.
quicklist: 6 category: Allergy Remedies: Fact or Fiction title: Visit a Salt Mine url: text: False. According to the local lore of Krakow, Poland, if you are an allergy sufferer in search of a cure, you can take sanctuary in the city's famed salt mines. The expansive network of mines are said to be safe haven for allergy suffers because of the mine's "micro-climate" that is "free of pollution and allergens." For approximately $630 per week, visitors can stay at the underground health resort located within the mine to let their lungs heal.
While visiting the UNESCO World Heritage Site might be an interesting field trip, there's no proof that escaping to a salt mine for spring will alleviate or "cure" hay fever symptoms.
quicklist: 7 category: Allergy Remedies: Fact or Fiction title: Parasitic Worms url: text: Unclear, but likely. Epidemiologists have found that in areas where people are suffering from parasitic worms, they also tend to have milder allergy symptoms. There have been many studies considering whether being infected with parasitic worms can affect immune responses including allergies, but for now the results remain inconclusive.
However, it's unlikely that someone suffering from a bad case of hay fever would be better treated by downing a hookworm than by just taking an antihistamine and staying indoors during peak pollen hours. But if you're really interested, scientists are working on creating a synthetic medication that will mimic the effects of a parasitic worm -- no insects required.
quicklist: 8 category: Allergy Remedies: Fact or Fiction title: Onion Poultice url: text: Onion poultice: False. The stinky remedy, which is made from a cut onion, has been used to help ear infections and alleviate cold symptoms. But, Nish said, there' no proof that this old wives' tale works or that any cut root vegetable can help ease sneezing and wheezing. With plenty of other options available, allergists say there's no reason to ruin good produce with this home remedy.
quicklist: 9 category: Allergy Remedies: Fact or Fiction title: Eating Right url: text: Unclear. Eating healthy is always a good idea, but as a way to help allergy symptoms? The results are unclear. An Italian study in 2003, which looked at children aged 6 and 7, showed that a diet high in antioxidants seemed to help ease the children's allergies and asthma symptoms.
However, it was not clear that the same diet would be an effective remedy for adults, and allergists say don't count on a salad replacing a daily antihistamine anytime soon. Although there is no proof this diet would work for adults, Nish said there's no harm in people trying potential treatments as long as they are safe and they don't ignore proven allergy treatments.
"[If] it's cheap, safe and easy, why not?" asked Nish.
quicklist: 10 category: Allergy Remedies: Fact or Fiction title: Stinging Nettles url: text: Unclear. The dark green plant with spiky leaves has been used medicinally since the Dark Ages as a homemade treatment for everything from arthritis to anemia. While, on a hiking trail, the plant can cause welts for unlucky or inattentive hikers, there is evidence it might also help relieve allergy symptoms for those enjoying the outdoors.
In 1990, a limited study found that freeze-dried stinging nettle helped improve mild allergy symptoms for users. But allergists say taking an unproven remedy like stinging nettle is not advisable when there are proven treatments available over the counter.
"All these unproven things are out there that may or may not help you," said Nish. "But doctors do have good treatments available. Most people do great and wish we had [treated them] 10 years earlier."