spring allergies
Alternative Health

Seasonal Allergies and Complementary Health Approaches

Sneezing? Wheezing? Itchy eyes? If you have seasonal allergies, you may have thought about trying complementary health approaches. Here’s advice from the National Institute of Health’s National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health:

Saline Nasal Irrigation

There is some evidence to suggest that saline nasal irrigation may modestly improve some seasonal allergy symptoms.

What Does the Research Show?

The available data on efficacy of saline nasal irrigation for seasonal allergy symptoms consist of several randomized controlled trials in both adults and children, as well as a systematic review and meta-analysis.

  • A 2012 systematic review and meta-analysis of 10 studies found that saline nasal irrigation administered regularly over a period of up to 7 weeks was observed to have a beneficial effect on nasal symptoms, reduction in medicine consumption, acceleration of mucociliary clearance time, and quality of life in adults and children with allergic rhinitis.
  • A 2012 review of nasal saline irrigation in the management of sinonasal disease found that nasal saline irrigation appears to demonstrate some modest clinical benefits.


  • Nasal irrigation is generally safe; however, neti pots and other rinsing devices must be used and cleaned properly.
  • Most important is the source of water that is used with nasal rinsing devices. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, tap water that is not filtered, treated, or processed in specific ways is not safe for use as a nasal rinse. Some tap water contains low levels of bacteria and protozoa, including amoebas, which can stay alive in nasal passages and cause potentially serious or fatal infections.
  • Improper use of neti pots may have caused two deaths in 2011 in Louisiana from a rare brain infection that the state health department linked to tap water contaminated with an amoeba called Naegleria fowleri.

Butterbur (Petasites hybridus)

There is some evidence that butterbur extract can decrease the symptoms associated with seasonal allergies.

What Does the Research Show?

The available data on efficacy of butterbur for seasonal allergies consist of only a few rigorous randomized controlled trials.

  • Findings from a 2007 systematic review of six randomized controlled trials suggest that butterbur is superior to placebo or similarly effective compared with nonsedative antihistamines for intermittent allergic rhinitis. However, firm conclusions could not be drawn because three of the large trials reviewed received financial support from a manufacturer of butterbur, which represents a conflict of interest.
  • A 2003 review of several modalities used to treat ocular allergies found that in one study of 125 participants, butterbur was just as effective as a commonly used oral antihistamine for itchy eyes.


  • Butterbur may cause allergic reactions in people who are sensitive to plants such as ragweed, chrysanthemums, marigolds, and daisies.