IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

No, honey doesn’t cure pollen allergies: How to treat allergy symptoms naturally at home

Eating honey may not help with seasonal allergies, but these home remedies, habits and over-the-counter drugs can relieve symptoms during pollen season.
/ Source: TODAY

If you experience seasonal allergies, you might've heard the old tale that eating honey can help curb or even cure the unpleasant symptoms. The thought is that the pollen in honey can help desensitize the body to the pollen outside.

Seasonal allergies (also called seasonal allergic rhinitis or hay fever) occur when pollen in the air causes the body to release histamines, per the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. This triggers symptoms like sneezing, runny nose, watery eyes, and itchiness in the mouth, throat, eyes, or ears.

There are three pollen seasons which occur during different parts of the year depending on where you live, according to the AAAAI.

Does honey help with seasonal allergies to pollen?

No, honey does not help with seasonal allergies or treat allergic rhinitis, unfortunately, Dr. Dave Stukus, a professor of clinical pediatrics in the division of allergy and immunology at Nationwide Children's Hospital and fellow of the AAAAI, tells TODAY.com.

There is no evidence showing that honey relieves seasonal allergy symptoms when given to allergy-sufferers, he says. Moreover, not all pollen is the same.

"Honey is made by honey bees, which collect a very different type of pollen than what causes allergy symptoms," says Stukus. The pollen that bees collect — which ends up in the nectar that turns into honey — comes from flowers, he adds, and this pollen is very large so it doesn't spread around in the air.

The pollen that causes seasonal allergy symptoms comes from trees, grasses, weeds and ragweed, Stukus adds, which is smaller and spreads easily through the air.

"It is a common misconception that honey helps you get desensitized or tolerant of airborne allergens, specifically pollen," Dr. Purvi Parikh, an allergist and immunologist at NYU Langone Health, tells TODAY.com.

Stukus says the honey myth may be rooted in immunotherapy, a long-term treatment for allergic rhinitis. "We’ve been doing allergy shots for over 100 years, where we expose people to very small amounts of pollen over time, and it desensitizes them," says Stukus, but eating honey won't do much, if anything, at all.

Does local honey help with allergies to pollen?

Does it make a difference if the honey is local, raw, organic or unfiltered? No, that's just marketing, say Stukus. The idea that local honey can help with allergies or work as an antihistamine is a myth.

“Even if the honey is sourced from the exact neighborhood somebody lives in and around the same plants causing their allergy symptoms, it simply doesn’t matter,” he adds.

So no, honey won't relieve or cure your pollen allergy symptoms. But it can soothe and coat a sore throat, Parikh says.

How to relieve allergy symptoms at home

"There are many different treatment options and avoidance measures that can be highly effective at making people feel better," says Stukus.

Planning around pollen counts during allergy season can also help — you can find this information from the National Allergy Bureau, the Allergy & Asthma Network, and weather apps.

If you suffer from allergic rhinitis symptoms but aren't sure what you're allergic to or which seasons to worry about, the experts recommend seeing an allergist.

Close the windows

"We recommend keeping windows closed at all times inside the home and car to help limit exposure to outdoor pollen while inside," says Stukus.

Air filters

If it gets warm, crank the air conditioning — it can be very effective to help filter particles like pollen out and keep people cool when the windows are closed, says Stukus. He recommends having HEPA air filters in all home air conditioning units.

Change and shower before bed

"We want people to go outside and be active, but when you come in, change your clothes when you're done for the day," says Stukus. Otherwise, you'll be tracking pollen into your home and bed, where it can keep irritating you all night long, Parikh notes.

People with seasonal allergies should also shower or bathe before bed to remove pollen from their hair and skin, the experts say.

If you have a pet that goes outside, Stukus recommends bathing them regularly or wiping down their coat to help reduce pollen in the home.

Clean your bedding

It's important to keep your bedding — sheets, pillow cases, duvet covers, and other blankets — as clean and free of pollen as possible.

Parikh recommends washing your sheets weekly in hot water to help remove the allergens, and getting dust mite covers for your mattress. "Exposure to multiple allergens can only make things worse," says Parikh.

Wear an N95 mask outside

Stukus says an N95 mask can also help block pollen particles, so consider wearing one outside, especially when the pollen count is high or during any activities where you'll be exposed to lots of pollen, like mowing the lawn.

Use a saline rinse

Saline (or salt water) can be sprayed inside the nostrils to help wash out pollen or to soothe the irritated mucous membranes in the nasal and sinus passageways.

"In people with seasonal allergies, over time the lining of their nose and sinuses and even lungs can get inflamed and irritated," says Stukus.

You can buy nasal saline sprays at the drugstore or create your own at home, and use a device like a bulb syringe, per the AAAAI. Neti pots are a more powerful way to get the saline throughout the sinus cavities and clear out mucus, says Stukus.

Drink plenty of water

"Don't underestimate the power of staying hydrated," says Stukus, adding that this can help keep the irritated mucous membranes moist. Drinking water is also a good idea for overall health.

According to most experts, this means drinking around eight glasses of water every day, TODAY.com previously reported.

Exercise regularly

"Exercise can be very helpful. It just makes people feel better and there is some evidence to show that focusing on exercise and stress reduction can make symptoms of seasonal allergies less severe," says Stuku. You may want to exercises indoors during allergy season or when pollen counts are elevated.

Try steam and humidifiers

"Lots of steam can help and sometimes humidifiers can offer benefit as well, especially in the bedroom," says Stukus.

Steam can help relieve congestion, says Parikh, and keep the nasal passageways moist. You can inhale steam directly by taking a hot shower or by standing over a pot of boiling water, she adds.

"I recommend caution with the humidifiers because they can get some mold built up over time," says Stukus.

Use nasal steroid sprays

"The most effective medicine across the board for all of the symptoms are nasal steroid sprays," says Stukus. These are available over-the-counter, sold under brand names like Flonase or Nasacort.

These have very few side effects, says Parikh, and deliver the medication right to the source.

"They have to be used consistently on a daily basis to offer the most benefit, so you can't really do them as needed," says Stukus. Ideally, people should start using these two weeks before the onset of pollen season and continue for the duration, he adds.

There are other effective nasal sprays that contain steroids and antihistamines, such as Astelin, says Parikh. Both experts recommend avoiding the nasal spray oxymetazoline, which can be habit-forming.

Try antihistamines

The experts recommend 24-hour or "second-generation" antihistamines like cetirizine (Zyrtec) or fexofenadine (Allegra), which are typically non-drowsy. These work best to relieve itching and sneezing, says Stukus.

“We recommend that people avoid (diphenhydramine) and first-generation antihistamines (for seasonal allergies) because they are sedating, they don’t last very long and have terrible side effects," says Stukus.

Try allergy eyedrops

If pollen season is hard on your eyes, there are over-the-counter eyedrops that may offer relief. These contain ingredients like antihistamines or mast cell stabilizers, which relieve redness, itching and swelling and are sold under brand names such as Pataday, Zaditor or Alaway.

"We generally recommend that people avoid vasoconstrictors because they don’t treat symptoms. ... Also you can get a rebound effect with prolonged use," says Stukus. Always talk to a pharmacist if you have questions about the options available at the drugstore.

"Ocular allergy symptoms can be very miserable and difficult to treat," says Stukus, so if your eye issues are severe or don't improve with OTC medications, it may be time to see an allergist.

Natural allergy remedies that don't work

There are many other natural or home remedies for seasonal allergies which people swear by, even if there isn’t enough science to back up these claims.

Vitamins and supplements

“There’s no really good evidence to show that supplements (and vitamins) ... whether it’s elderberry or zinc ... will offer much relief,” says Stukus. Likewise, studies haven't shown that eating specific foods will help relieve seasonal allergy symptoms, he adds.

Essential oils

"Essential oils have no demonstrated benefit in the treatment of seasonal allergy symptoms, and for some people, they can actually worsen their symptoms," says Stukus.

Acupuncture

Referencing the latest clinical guidelines for allergic rhinitis published in 2020, Stukus says there is no good evidence to support the use of acupuncture or herbal medications to treat seasonal allergy symptoms. But if people feel like these truly help, there isn't any harm in continuing to do them.

"If you have any breathing symptoms, like coughing, wheezing, chest tightness and shortness of breath, do not treat with home remedies or over-the-counter meds — see a physician," says Parikh. These are signs of asthma, she says, which can be triggered or worsened by seasonal allergies during pollen season.