The dawn of a new season brings about change…like a whole mess of annoying allergens. It’s always something, right? Allergies affect around 50 million people in the United States, which translates to a lot of stuffy noses, coughing fits, and nasal congestion in the office. Maybe you’ve tried your share of remedies, from non-drowsy allergy meds to creating a makeshift steam room in your shower. Another holistic alternative to add to that list? Essential oils.
“Essential oil is really good at treating symptoms like nasal congestion,” says Yufang Lin, MD, a physician at the Center for Integrative Medicine at Cleveland Clinic. They won’t cure your allergies no matter how many days in a row you diffuse an elaborate blend. However, certain types have anecdotally been effective for allergy relief thanks to their anti-inflammatory properties.
“You want to reduce exposure [to your allergen], but you want to reduce the symptom response as much as possible, too,” Dr. Lin says. After environmental controls like keeping your windows closed or taking herbs like quercetin or bromelain to reduce histamine response, Dr. Lin says essential oils are great to add into the mix for extra relief.
One thing to remember, though, is that specific essential oils you choose may not pack an antihistamine response or target all of your allergy symptoms. “Sometimes all you’re getting is the nasal symptom control,” Dr. Lin says. Regardless, any kind of relief cannot be underestimated during allergy season.
Smell, er, sound good? Here are some essential oils for allergies that can calm your most annoying symptoms:
Goodbye, stuffy nose. Eucalyptus essential oil is anti-inflammatory with a menthol-like feeling. It’s been shown to break up mucus and phlegm, clearing out your sinuses to help you breathe a bit better. Diffuse it or mix with a carrier oil and put a dot on your chest as you would with Vicks VapoRub.
Dr. Lin touts lemongrass as an essential oil that may have antihistamine properties, which helps keep nasal congestion at bay. Perk up—relief is in sight. You can diffuse lemongrass, or sip on lemongrass tea to enjoy the same congestion-clearing benefit.
It’s difficult to rest and relax when you’re clogged up with allergy symptoms. The ever-versatile lavender essential oil is calming, but it’s also an anti-inflammatory that can potentially decrease mucus. And those are magic words for any allergy sufferer.
Along with lemongrass, Dr. Lin says chamomile oil’s antihistamine properties help target your stuffiness. It’s also another herb great for calming your nervous system, and makes a lovely cup of allergy-busting tea.
While mint oils haven’t shown an antihistamine response, says Dr. Lin, they’re Best in Class when it comes to clearing up your sinuses. Peppermint has, however, been shown to lower inflammation and ease coughing because of its calming effect on muscle. “It makes you feel better, but it’s not really reducing the allergy response per se,” she says. That said, anything that helps you breathe out of your nose again is more than welcome.
Research shows this bright citrus oil could help treat allergic rhinitis, or hay fever. Those who used a nasal spray that included lemon pulp extract felt better than those who did not, and experts saw less sinus inflammation. If you choose to use lemon oil topically, Dr. Lin warns not to go outside immediately after, as it can cause photosensitizing effects, aka sunburn.
In one small 2016 study, a blend of sandalwood, frankincense, and Ravensara oils helped alleviate runny and itchy noses, cleared nasal passages, and curbed sneezes. Those with hay fever who inhaled the blend for a week felt happier and slept better. And you thought a good night’s sleep was impossible during allergy season? Dr. Lin adds that in vitro studies showed sandalwood essential oil combined with lemongrass and chamomile oils reduced histamine response by almost half (although this a very preliminary finding, since it was not performed on living human subjects). She suggests aromatherapy, or diluting the oil properly and putting it on your skin for relief through absorption.
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