Is Local Honey Good for Allergies? What Allergists Say

Before you swallow spoonfuls of local honey to get rid of allergies, see what allergy doctors think.

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While many believe that local honey is good for allergies, we went to the experts (allergy doctors) to see how much truth is in this theory. Anyone with allergic rhinitis—the medical term for "hay fever" or seasonal allergies—knows living with allergies can be extremely disruptive, causing symptoms like sneezing, coughing, congestion, a runny nose, itchy eyes, intense sinus pressure and headaches, a sore throat, wheezing, severe fatigue, and sometimes, skin reactions.

To keep these pesky symptoms at bay, there are tons of over-the-counter allergy medications out there, of course, but many people are fans of home remedies too—and eating local honey is one of the most common recommendations. See what the allergists we spoke to say about whether local honey can help with seasonal allergies.

Is Eating Local Honey for Allergies a Myth?

Though many people eat local honey to help with their allergies, Clifford W. Bassett, M.D., FACAAI, FAAAAI, founder and medical director of Allergy and Asthma Care of New York, former spokesperson for the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA), and a member of its Medical Scientific Council, confirms that "this is a common myth, and unfortunately, honey does not improve seasonal allergies."

"There is very little scientific evidence to suggest that eating local honey can treat or cure seasonal allergy symptoms," adds Katie Marks-Cogan, MD, FAAAAI, FACAAI, a board-certified physician specializing in allergies, asthma, and sinus disease, and the chief allergist at Ready.Set.Food! "While there is anecdotal evidence that it can help, of the available clinical studies, the results are conflicting, and the sample sizes are very small, so it's hard to generalize them to the U.S. population."

The primary study cited as evidence that this home remedy is legit was conducted in Malaysia in 2010. There were only 40 participants—half of whom took loratadine (aka Claritin) and honey, while the other half took loratadine and a honey-flavored corn syrup placebo.

After four weeks, both groups experienced the same level of relief from their seasonal allergy symptoms. Then after eight weeks, the group ingesting honey showed more improvement. But at that stage, they were taking very high daily doses of honey—not to mention allergy medication, too—so the results are not exactly conclusive.

Dr. Bassett also points out that other studies have compared people who ate local honey, commercially processed honey, and a honey-flavored placebo and found no differences in their allergy symptoms.

In theory, ingesting local honey could help seasonal allergies—"if the quantities of pollen were exact and matched up exactly with what you are allergic to," explains Tania Elliott, MD, FAAAAI, FACAAI, a physician dual-board-certified in internal medicine and allergy. But it's not currently possible to reach that level of precision with a jar of wildflower honey you purchased at your local farmers market.

"You really are not going to be able to get to the therapeutic quantities you need by just ingesting honey," Dr. Elliott adds. "The amount of pollen present is not reliable. Some people swear by a spoonful per day, but I suspect it's more from the soothing throat benefit of the honey itself."

Olivia Barr

The Theory of Local Honey for Allergy Relief

Essentially, the hypothesis of eating local honey to relieve seasonal allergies is similar in theory to immunotherapy, which typically takes the form of pharmaceutical allergy shots or drops. "The idea is that by using small amounts of allergen and presenting these to the body, over time, the body will get used to them. Thus, the body won't cause a reaction when the person is exposed to them," explains Dr. Marks-Cogan.

However, in reality, there are key differences between allergen immunotherapy and eating local honey. "With immunotherapy, you're given small amounts of what we know you're allergic to, [whereas] with honey, you're getting random types of pollen from flowers and plants that you may or may not be allergic to," says Dr. Elliott.

While local honey may contain pollen from the immediate environment, Dr. Marks-Cogan says that it's not the kind of pollen that allergists refer to when discussing seasonal allergies, which is "pollen from trees, grasses, and weeds, and is wind-driven. [The] pollen that bees come in contact with when hunting for nectar is flower pollen."

In fact, from a safety perspective, it's a good thing that very few, if any, of the common pollen allergens that cause seasonal allergies make it into local honey, adds Dr. Bassett. If they did, they would be contaminants and "might trigger an allergic reaction," Dr. Bassett explains.

Another significant difference between medically administered immunotherapy and eating honey at home is that when a person with allergies is treated by a doctor using clinically established forms of immunotherapy, they get an exact dose that is increased over time. "With honey, there's no way to measure how much pollen is present, so it's not going to build up enough in your system to create real tolerance or cure the way that immunotherapy does," Dr. Elliott adds.

Allergy-Related Benefits of Local Honey

While some who eat local honey and report an improvement in their allergy symptoms are likely experiencing the placebo effect, Dr. Marks-Cogan says there are other benefits of honey. "There is evidence demonstrating that honey is a cough suppressant and that it may be anti-inflammatory," Dr. Marks-Cogan explains. "So, [drinking] tea with honey may actually help temporarily stop a cough; it is not being used as a placebo in that case."

Risks of Eating Local Honey

Let's say you genuinely believe that ingesting local honey improves your allergy symptoms. You may think there's no harm in continuing to eat it therapeutically, but that's not necessarily the case, Dr. Marks-Cogan says, especially if the honey is raw.

"Raw local honey is not filtered and processed the same way as the honey in stores. So it could contain flower pollen, bee venom, bacteria, or other contaminants," Dr. Marks-Cogan adds. "A person could potentially have anaphylaxis (a severe allergic reaction) if the raw honey they ate contained any bee venom that they are allergic to."

It's also important to remember that honey is primarily made up of sugars and water, so even if you're taking it therapeutically, it's high in sugar and counts toward your daily sugar intake.

The Best Ways to Deal With Seasonal Allergies

Dr. Elliott recommends trying any of the available over-the-counter (OTC) treatments for a proven, effective way to treat allergy symptoms. These include 24-hour antihistamines like Xyzal, Zyrtec, Allegra, and Claritin, as well as nasal steroid sprays like Nasacort, Flonase, and Rhinocort.

If seasonal allergies are making you miserable, and OTC medicines or other at-home treatments aren't helping, it may be time to consult a healthcare provider. Dr. Basset recommends making an appointment with an allergist for individualized and effective allergy care. This may include clinically administered allergy shots, which contain controlled amounts of your specific allergen to achieve desensitization and improve seasonal allergy symptoms.

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