logoThe People's Perspective on Medicine

How to Treat Seasonal Allergies: Drugs or Natural Approaches?

Are you sniffling and sneezing. Congestion? Pollen is in the air even if you can't see it. If you are starting to suffer there are many ways to treat seasonal allergies.
Cc0 from https://pixabay.com/en/allergy-medical-allergic-allergen-1738191/

Allergy season is here. Even if you did not realize that, the warring drug commercials on television should have alerted you. On the same program you can see ads for Xyzal, Allegra and Nasacort. There are also spots for Flonase and Claritin-D. What’s the best way to treat seasonal allergies? Are there any natural approaches that make sense?

Competing Drug Commercials Confuse Us:

Drug companies are competing in part on how many symptoms the product relieves. Some brag that they can ease sneezing, nasal congestion, itchy eyes and a runny nose.

Others claim their product manages even more symptoms. In addition to the usual sneezing and drippy nose, an added oral decongestant is supposed to alleviate sinus congestion and pressure. What they may not emphasize is that oral decongestants can raise blood pressure.

Three Drug Categories:

Regardless of how many symptoms the ad agencies are crowing about, allergy products fall into just a few categories. Most of the advertised products were once available by prescription only.

Corticosteroids to Treat Seasonal Allergies?

Corticosteroid nasal sprays such as fluticasone (Flonase Sensimist) and triamcinolone (Nasacort Allergy 24HR) are powerful anti-inflammatory drugs. Such corticosteroids can calm an overactive immune response to a wide range of allergens. Many people report excellent symptom control with such products.

A Scary Side of Steroids:

On the other hand, they may dampen the immune system’s reaction to infections. That is why the drug facts labels on packages warn:

“Stop use and ask a doctor if you have, or come into contact with someone who has, chickenpox, measles or tuberculosis.”

In the case of infections, people need to have their immune systems functioning at full power.

People may not always be able to distinguish allergy symptoms like runny nose, sneezing and nasal congestion from an upper respiratory tract infection. That is why the label warns customers to stop use and see a doctor if symptoms don’t improve within a week. Steroid nasal sprays may also cause change in vision or severe or frequent nosebleeds.

Steroid Stories from Readers:

Some people report pretty serious complications from regular use of steroid nasal sprays.

Gordon in Minnesota lost his sense of smell:

“I used Flonase for allergy years ago. I lost the sense of smell permanently. I couldn’t even smell geysers in Yellow Stone National Park!”

Dawn in Florida had a similar reaction:

“I lost my sense of smell from Flonase and the generic form. I’m so upset! It also impaired my taste. This isn’t right. I can’t smell anything. If there was a gas leak or a fire it wouldn’t be good.”

Jeanne had another complication:

“In addition to loss of sense of smell, after having used fluticasone for a number of years, I developed a hole in the cartilage between my nasal passages. After seeing my second ENT, he agreed that it was more than likely the Flonase/fluticasone that caused the problem.

“I have trouble breathing. I use a nasal gel, and have difficulty sleeping. I have sores in my nose, and much crusting, which feels like razor blades in my nose. My quality of life has been greatly diminished.”

You can learn more about steroid nasal sprays at this link:

What Are the Downsides to Your Nasal Spray?

Antihistamines to Treat Seasonal Allergies?

Antihistamines work differently. They literally block the effect of histamine. That is an inflammatory chemical released when cells in the nose are challenged by allergens like pollen, cat dander or dust mites.

Old-fashioned antihistamines like diphenhydramine (DPH or Benadryl) are effective at easing some allergy symptoms, but they make many people drowsy. Non-sedating antihistamines such as levocetirizine (Xyzal) and fexofenadine (Allegra) are less likely to affect driving ability compared to diphenhydramine (Human Psychopharmacology, May, 2016).

Cromolyn to Treat Seasonal Allergies?

One drug you probably won’t see advertised on television this allergy season is cromolyn (NasalCrom). This unique allergy medicine does not seem to have a big advertising budget.

Learn more at this link:

NasalCrom Is A Forgotten Allergy Treatment That Works!

Cromolyn works by stabilizing mast cells in the nose, eyes and lungs. These cells contain histamine as well as other inflammatory chemicals called kinins.

Regular use of cromolyn makes mast cells less likely to react to allergens. However, NasalCrom spray has to be used a couple of times daily to produce benefit. That’s inconvenient for some people.

Reports from Readers:

Here are some reports from readers who found this medication both safe and effective:

“NasalCrom has been a lifesaver for me. My allergies are under control for the first time in years!”

Another reports:

“NasalCrom actually works better for me than the allergy pills that cause side effects. It gets a lot of word-of-mouth recommendations, and I think that’s why we don’t see a huge advertising budget for it.”

Marilyn in Florida shares:

“My husband had chronic rhinitis for over 20 yrs. Doctors prescribed antihistamines and steroid nasal inhalers with no relief. He started using Nasalcrom and all allergies are gone. Only to start sneezing and dripping nose if he forgets to use it. This has been a blessing since it was driving me crazy because he was constantly sneezing and blowing his nose especially after getting out of bed in the morning.”

Other Natural Ways to Treat Seasonal Allergies:

Although cromolyn is a drug, it was originally derived from Bishops weed  (Ammi visnaga). So in one sense, this medication to treat seasonal allergies has had a long natural history of treating respiratory symptoms.

Vitamin C:

We have long advocated for vitamin C (ascorbic acid) to ease allergy symptoms. Although there have been few well-conducted clinical trials of vitamin C, there is some research to suggest that ascorbic acid might have some antihistaminic activity. Vitamin C may also modulate an over-active immune system.

Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica):

Physicians in Europe are often more open minded about herbal treatments than their U.S. counterparts. Urtica dioica has been prescribed there for a long time to treat allergies. One double-blind trial reported that 57 percent of the participants had good relief of symptoms (Planta Medica, Feb. 1990).

Butterbur (Petasites hybridus) to treat Seasonal Allergies:

Another interesting allergy treatment involves the herb butterbur. This botanical medicine has been used to treat symptoms of migraine headaches, asthma, and allergy. It has anti-inflammatory activity and blocks the formation of compounds called leukotrienes (pronounced lew-co-TRY-eens).

These rascals cause all sorts of mischief in the nose, including itching, sneezing, swelling, and congestion. In some respects, leukotrienes may be even more of a problem than histamine. Leukotrienes contribute to the inflammatory cascade that underlies both allergy and asthma. The prescription asthma and allergy drug Singulair (montelukast) also works by inhibiting leukotriene formation.

Swiss researchers compared butterbur with the antihistamine cetirizine (Zyrtec) in a randomized, double-blind study. They found that both products were equally effective at controlling symptoms, but butterbur was significantly less sedating than Zyrtec (BMJ, Jan 19, 2002).

People’s Pharmacy Perspective:

Finding the best allergy treatment for you this season might require some trial and error. Don’t be swayed by slick commercials.

You may also find this article of interest:

How to Allergy Proof Your Bedroom to Control Congestion

Share Your Own Story:

What works for you to treat seasonal allergies? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Rate this article
5- 21 ratings
About the Author
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.” .
The People’s Pharmacy Quick and Handy Home Remedies

Home remedies can be surprisingly effective for a number of common ailments. They're less expensive with fewer side effects than prescription drugs. Time-tested solutions for minor health problems.

The People’s Pharmacy Quick and Handy Home Remedies
Join over 150,000 Subscribers at The People's Pharmacy

We're empowering you to make wise decisions about your own health, by providing you with essential health information about both medical and alternative treatment options.

Showing 17 comments
Add your comment

Is nasalcrom safe for toddlers?

Have been treated for allergies with weekly shots since 2006. The doc had me on a daily dose of the Rx version of Singulair (5Mg) as well. Started having constant acid reflux. Our daughter, a certified Massage Therapist, suggested Texas Cedar Fever drops (a homeopathic from Allergena) available locally from our Central Market here in Fort Worth. Worked very well from the first usage; discontinued the daily Singulair & stomach issues were resolved. Not yet brave enough to stop the shots since I’m allergic to almost everything that grows in Texas, and there’s never really a dormant season for plants here.

I seems to have an allergic reaction to whatever chemical is used on clothing sold in ANY store that sells clothing. I assume it is the chemical used in shipping containers from overseas suppliers. I don’t sneeze; my sinuses just run constantly. If you suggest NaselCrom, please tell me where to purchase it.

The above is all fine, especially the Vitamin C part as I rely on it. However, one system that has saved me over the years is the “Neilmed Nasal Rinse”. The idea being that you wash out all of the pollen, not mask over it.

I used Flonase spray for years. I can not smell anything and I developed severe headaches while using it. Doctors could not determine what was the cause of the headaches. They stopped when I stopped using Flonase.

I’ve fought allergies for decades. During wearing hard contacts for 25 years, my sinus allergies had worsened a lot. I had a lot of mucous production which coated the contacts, and extreme light sensitivity. So, back to eyeglasses I finally went.

Fast forward to when NasalCrom became available by prescription. Since many of my allergies are inhalant, my ENT doc had me try it. The first few days it seemed to help. But then, over a month, the sinus allergies seemed to get even worse. In reading labels, both the NasalCrom and the contact solutions (wetting, cleaning) had the same preservative chemical. I’m a chemist who in the 60’s never really paid attention to “exposures” in my various labs. No one did. After a significant formaldehyde / formalin exposure, it appeared that I developed an allergy to many aldehyde type chemicals. This includes many popular perfumes and fragrances, since often the “aromatic” chemical is …. an aldehyde. (I know … too much chemistry.)

Bottom line, one loratadine (Claritin) every night, and whatever avoidance of allergins is possible.

How about a coupon for nasalcrom?

Nasalcrom worked for my husband’s hay fever. He used it for years effectively. Now for the last 2 years he doesn’t have hay fever symptoms anymore. Cure or coinciece?

Have used everything for allergies for 10 years with no affect whatsoever. Now I only use massage for all nasal problems, and it works 100% for me. I have been using this method for 2 years. Medicine is not for me anymore.

I find that high-quality homeopathic allergy remedies are also very helpful. In addition, quercetin, particularly when taken a few weeks before symptoms begin can help stabilize mast cells. My husband finds relief with freeze-dried stinging nettles once hay fever season begins, while I love butterbur! Butterbur definitely works as well as any OTC or prescription antihistamines I’ve ever tried, without the side-effects.

For pollen-induced sinus pain and headache I use two natural remedies: (1) irrigate nose with Neti pot (I got mine ten years ago at Whole Foods; don’t know if they still carry it) and (2) wash, or at least rinse, hair before bedtime. A hassle, but worthwhile because pollen gets on your hair, rubs off on the pillow slip, and thence gets into your nose. Of course you start off with a clean pillow slip.

I take Allegra, Flonase, saline spray, and over the past year since your article I started using NasalCrom twice a day. I have always had blood pressure in the normal range (I am 55, a seafood eating vegetarian, exercise every day, and maintain a healthy weight) until about 1 1/2 years ago when my BP slipped into the 140/80 range and I was placed on blood pressure medicine. Should I stop the Allegra and Flonase and try using only the NasalCrom? I do not want to be on BP medicine the rest of my (healthy) life and don’t want to risk the symptoms some of your readers described above after long-term corticosteroid spray.

Try Quercetin, Bromelain, and/or Stinging Nettle, as well. They’ve worked for me. Have to use them preventatively … before you are actually suffering.

I used NasalChrom years ago, once a day according to directions. It was mildly effective, comparable to triamcinolone. Then my doctor switched me to fluticasone. I recently decided to try NasalChrom again. I followed the directions which now say to spray 3 to 4 times/day. My nasal passages became more irritated with each application. After the fourth application they began to feel like they were on fire. The pain lasted for approximately 24 hours.

Panothetic Acid (vitamin B5) has been a lifesaver for us. It builds your natural immune system. My partner had the kind of allergies that would make him sneeze so many times he’d have to pull over while driving. After a few days of B5 no more problems.

I too tried NasalCrom, but found it didn’t work any better than just using my homemade saline spray. For me both just provide very temporary relief. So I am still looking.

It’s been almost a year since I read about NasalCrom in the People’s Pharmacy newsletter. I was suffering through another bad tree pollen season. After I used NasalCrom for a few days all my symptoms disappeared and they’ve never come back, through tree, grass, ragweed, mold, and every other allergen I’ve encountered. I can sleep with the windows open and spend as much time outside as I like. This is after sixty years of sniffing and sneezing, with shots, alternative remedies, pharmaceutical remedies — nothing worked like NasalCrom. I spray it when I wake up and before I go to bed and I recommend this miraculous stuff to everyone with allergies.

* Be nice, and don't over share. View comment policy^