During allergy season—or on any pet-filled day of the year—many people rely on medications or allergy shots to provide much-needed relief. But doctors may also recommend alternative remedies or lifestyle tweaks to deal with allergy triggers.
“These options aren’t necessarily mainstream medicine, but they’re consistent with the evolution toward precision medicine,” says Dr. Stephen Tilles, president of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. “We’re trying to find treatments that work for patients in real life, not just treatments that work for patients on paper.” Here are a few lesser-known strategies that may help with itching, sneezing and other allergy symptoms.
Pop probiotic supplements
A recent study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that people with mild to moderate allergies who took Kyo-Dophilus—an over-the-counter combination of the probiotics lactobacilli and bifidobacteria—suffered fewer allergy-related symptoms and reported improved quality of life, compared to those who took placebo pills.
Experts believe that probiotics help regulate the body’s immune response to allergens. “We’re still cautious about making any definite conclusions, but I think it’s certainly reasonable and safe for patients to try a probiotic and see if it helps,” says Tilles.
Tilles also says that plenty of his patients have found acupuncture effective for allergy relief. There’s some scientific support for the idea, as well. A 2013 study in Annals of Internal Medicine found that patients who received acupuncture in addition to taking antihistamines reported fewer allergy symptoms, and were able to take less medicine, than those who got fake acupuncture or none at all. More research is needed to determine exactly how it may work,
Crank your car’s air conditioning
You may not be able to avoid pollen when you’re spending time outdoors, but there are ways to limit your exposure when you’re indoors or on the road. In the car, that could be as simple as keeping windows rolled up and turning on the air conditioner.
“The car’s air conditioner is an effective filter, whereas the regular vent is not,” says Tilles. “Even if it’s not terribly warm out, you may want to run the AC and adjust the temperature so the air is warmer.”
Keep windows closed at home
Try a similar strategy in your house by keeping windows closed whenever the temperature allows. “Overnight that’s especially important, because in the morning hours, before you wake up, the pollen may be exceedingly high,” says Tilles.
Pollen doesn’t just enter homes through the windows, though; it can also be brought in on shoes, clothing and hair. Taking off shoes and jackets as soon as you come inside—and showering before bed—can help reduce the time you spend breathing in allergens.
Apply a cold washcloth
When Tilles’ own allergy symptoms get bad, he turns to a simple remedy for relief. “Sometimes nothing feels better than a cold, damp cloth applied to the face and around the eyes,” he says. Not only is the cool temperature soothing to inflamed, puffy eyes and sinuses, but wiping the face may also help remove traces of pollen and other allergens. “When the itching and irritation gets really bad, it can really provide a quick moment of escape.”
Buy a neti pot
Rinsing nasal passages with a saline-water solution can flush out the tiny particles that trigger allergies, says Tilles. “This is dramatically effective for a lot of patients, and it’s a very reasonable, safe and well-tolerated option,” he says. (Saline drops for the eyes can work wonders as well, he adds.)
Nasal irrigation is usually done with a neti pot, an over-the-counter device with a spout designed for easy pouring through the nasal cavity. You can buy ready-to-use saline mixes or make your own at home. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends always using distilled, sterilized or boiled (and cooled) water in neti pots, as tap water can contain microorganisms that are safe to swallow but can be dangerous in the nasal passages.
Rest and relax
Finding ways to reduce stress levels may have the added benefit of reducing allergy symptoms. In a 2014 study published in Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, people who reported higher stress levels experienced more allergy flares over two 14-day periods than those who were less stressed.
“There is literature now proving that stress has detrimental effects on the immune system and our susceptibility to a variety of things, including allergies,” says Tilles. Taking steps to reduce stress is a good idea for everyone, he adds—allergies or not.