Ah, sweet spring! Flowers bloom, our yards are green again—and many of us brave the season with runny noses, swollen watery eyes and wheezing. Allergy sufferers are likely to try any remedy to get over their discomfort, but common misconceptions can keep you from getting relief and the right treatment. The American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI) and other experts offer this myth-busting guide to help separate fact from fiction:
Myth: Eating locally-grown honey will fight allergy symptoms.
Fact: Honey is delicious, but a clinical trial found that it didn’t work any better than a placebo against allergies. What’s more is that local honey has not been processed—such as those often produced by boutique growers and sold at farmers’ markets—and is more likely than commercial honey to contain allergens and trigger allergy symptoms. Plus, bees only pollinate flowers, while many pollens that cause spring allergies come from trees, weeds and grass.
Myth: Over-the-counter (OTC) antihistamine pills fight allergy symptoms just as well as prescription medicines.
Fact: OTC antihistamine pills help control some allergy symptoms, such as sneezing and watery eyes—but they cannot fight the inflammation that triggers your symptoms in the first place. In addition, OTC antihistamines can make you drowsy and give you dry mouth. Basically, they’re a “band-aid” solution and don’t address the allergy itself. If OTC medication isn’t working for you, consult an allergist, who can not only prescribe more effective anti-inflammatory medications, but also can also identify the cause of your suffering.
Myth: You can get addicted to OTC decongestant nasal sprays.
Fact: OTC decongestant nasal sprays aren’t addictive—but if they’re overused, they eventually lose their effectiveness at relieving stuffiness. As a result, you may find yourself using them more and more. This is called a "rebound effect". To avoid this frustrating situation, don’t use an OTC spray for more than three consecutive days. If stuffy nose is a frequent problem, and OTC treatment isn’t solving it, talk to your family doctor or allergist about a prescription corticosteroid nasal spray.
Myth: Natural supplements aren’t effective at combating allergy symptoms.
Fact: A study published in the British Medical Journal found that butterbur, a common herb, was as effective as antihistamines in controlling hay fever symptoms, minus the drowsiness often brought on by medication. However, in plant form, butterbur does contain pyrrolizidine alkaloids, which have been linked to liver toxicity. Look for the words, "UPA-free" on the label, indicating that those toxic substances have been removed. A small study also found that stinging nettle supplements may reduce itching and sneezing in hay fever sufferers, due to natural antihistamine properties. Check with your doctor before using herbal supplements, which aren’t advised for kids or pregnant women and may interact with medications.
Myth: Pollen allergies have nothing to do with food allergies.
Fact: Actually, pollen and food allergies are closely linked; an estimated one-third of people with spring allergies also show sensitivities to some foods. The culprit is the protein in the pollen—so if you are allergic to tree pollens, for instance, you may also be sensitive to tree nuts, such as walnuts. People who are allergic to ragweed often cannot eat cantaloupe or bananas. If you have a spring allergy, be alert to possible food sensitivities as well; most are minor, but in rare cases, they could show up as the dangerous allergic reaction known as anaphylaxis.
Myth: A blood test is the most reliable way to diagnose allergies.
Fact: Blood tests for allergies only check for antibodies to one specific allergen in your blood per test, while the more widely practiced skin test, in which your back or arms are pricked with a tiny amount of an allergen to test your reaction, is more comprehensive. If your aim is to test dozens of substances (rather than just one) to identify any allergies you might have, then the skin test will yield more information.
Myth: Allergy shots cost more than medication.
Fact: If allergies are making you miserable, allergy shots (immunotherapy) may actually save you money, while also improving the quality of your life. A recent study reports that allergy shots cut total healthcare costs for kids with hay fever by 33 percent and Rx costs by 16 percent. Allergy shots work on a similar principle as vaccines: You’re exposed to the allergen (in small, but increasing amounts), so you gradually build up a tolerance. If the treatment is effective, over time, your symptoms should diminish—or in some cases, disappear. Allergy shots usually take about six months to work.
Get the information you need to improve your health and wellness on Healthline.com.
Is it Depression or the Blues? Learn how to tell the difference between a bad day and something more serious.
Healthy Living for Men. Men have their own set of health concerns that require special attention through all stages of life. Learn why being healthy is key to living a longer, fuller life.
Learn About Birth Control Options. With many safe and effective options available, it's easy to be overwhelmed when trying to decide on birth control. Learn which choice is best for you.
Tips to Improve Your Bone Strength. From bone-healthy recipes to the seven osteoporosis myths you need to know about, learn all about keeping your bones strong.