Allergies go by a plethora of names: hay fever, allergic rhinitis, or seasonal allergies, among other things.
But whatever you choose to call them, an ill-timed allergy attack featuring a runny nose and watery eyes can sideline even the best of us.
The likelihood of said allergy attacks happening increases tremendously during spring, as pollen and dander fill the air. If you’re part of the 20 million Americans who suffer from hay fever, then you will be familiar with the struggle of looking for a remedy that works like a charm—not counting the Kleenex box you’ll constantly have by your side.
There are plenty of solutions for allergies, but some may require a prescription, and others may come with less than pleasant side effects.
Recently, essential oils have been making the rounds and gaining some hype as a potential allergy treatment, which claims to help reduce allergy-related congestion and inflammation.
And if you’re ready to try anything (like most of us), then you may be exploring the possibility of using them to treat your allergies.
Do essential oils work on allergies?
Essential oils have been used as medical treatments since time immemorial, and it is based on science—certain compounds in essential oils work as antibacterial agents that protect plants that they are extracted from against pathogens.
The question most scientists had is if these protective effects work on humans. Therefore, can essential oils help treat allergy symptoms?
The answer is a firm “maybe” because of the lack of more conclusive research.
Allergies generally arise from an overactive immune reaction to what the body perceives as threats, even though they’re most likely harmless, such as dust or pollen. When an allergic person is exposed to either, their immune system releases histamine—the substance that causes the hallmark symptoms of hay fever—in an attempt to expel said foreign invaders.
Granted, while there’s little evidence clearly demonstrating that essential oils can treat allergies, there’s evidence that certain oils can help remedy the most frequently encountered symptoms. For instance, essential oils infused with sandalwood, ravensara, and geranium provided acute relief of allergic rhinitis symptoms in some participants in a 2016 study.
Other essential oils known used to provide allergy relief include the following:
- Chamomile extract was found to help obstruct histamine release on animal subjects. Moreover, lavender essential oil appears to have some effect on reducing bronchial inflammation in mice. Tests on humans are still needed.
- Peppermint oil may be a popular essential oil for allergy relief, but be forewarned: peppermint oil hasn’t demonstrated any conclusive use in alleviating allergy, and in fact, should be used with caution as it may cause an allergic reaction in others.
- Lemon oil has been shown to improve nasal congestion and breathing problems in a small study on individuals with allergic rhinitis by treating them with a nasal spray with lemon peel, which also led to reduced nasal inflammation for some participants.
- Eucalyptus contains eucalyptol, an anti-inflammatory compound that may have some potential use in treating symptoms of asthma, such as nasal congestion, sneezing, and eye, nose, and throat irritation. Caution should also be applied when using eucalyptus as it may cause an allergic reaction in some individuals.
- Tea tree oil is a known remedy for acne-related itching and itchy scalp. Tea tree oil may be effective in treating skin allergies, however, no evidence yet exists to support it as a treatment for allergic rhinitis.
How are essential oils used?
As with supplements, not all oils are created exactly alike. Therefore, choose a brand you trust. Essential oils can be used in myriad ways. Spraying or diffusing their oils is a common method. Another popular method is to use essential oils in topical remedies like ointments and creams.
Carrier oils will be needed to dilute essential oils for topical use. For instance, oils used in cosmetics like jojoba oil and almond oil work very well as mediums. Test the mixtures in small areas of your skin before applying them to a larger surface area.
When shopping for essential oils, it is important to determine whether they are virgin oils or oils that are extracted without any additives. Essential oils extracted using other techniques might contain adulterants that could cause skin irritation.
Do not consume essential oils internally. Internal consumption increases absorption, therefore increasing the risk of potential adverse reactions with medicines you’re currently taking. More importantly, children are at a higher risk of contracting a bad reaction from exposure to essential oils, which makes ingestion even worse.
Pregnant and nursing women may want to discuss with their primary health care provider if essential oils can be used, as well as what manner they should be depending on certain factors.
Essential oils aren’t regulated by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), therefore you need to do your own research to check if the products you bought are up to scratch.
Is there a better way to treat seasonal allergies?
In the end, the best way to evade symptoms of allergic rhinitis is to avoid your triggers.
However, we understand that this isn’t always 100% possible in reality. Therefore, if you simply cannot avoid exposure to your allergy triggers, always keep allergy medication within easy reach to treat those pesky rhinitis symptoms.
Corticosteroids used in nasal sprays may also be a good option due to their anti-inflammatory effect. Individuals with mild symptoms involving watery eyes can use eye drops.
Individuals may also consult their doctor to check whether a prescription option is available for cases of severe allergies in order to reduce nasal inflammation.
Lastly, your environment may be a source of allergies without you even knowing it. Allergies can be caused by mold and dust, so it is a good practice to frequently wash your bedsheets, address spots that have the potential for mold growth, and avoid your known triggers.