This post is part of our “AAFA Explains” series looking at complementary and alternative medicine aimed at asthma and allergies. The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) wants to guide you as you decide between choices that may be “likely safe” or “potentially unsafe.”
There is a common myth that says eating honey helps desensitize your body to pollen and improves your allergy symptoms. Many people believe you need to eat honey found in your local area so it will contain the pollen you are reacting to.
But is this true? Can honey actually relieve pollen allergy symptoms? Let’s look at the facts.
What Is Honey?
Honey is the thick, golden, sweet liquid produced by bees. For centuries, it has been a popular sweetener used in a variety of foods.
Bees make honey by collecting nectar and pollen from flowers. They carry it in their honey sacs, which is like an extra stomach. The bees then store the honey in honeycombs in their hives. The bees fan the honey to evaporate the water and then seal it with a liquid that turns into beeswax when it becomes hard.
What Are Seasonal Allergies?
Seasonal allergies are commonly called “hay fever.” Experts call it seasonal allergic rhinitis. It is an allergic reaction to pollen from trees, grasses, and weeds. It can cause symptoms during certain times of the year – usually in the spring and fall.
Common rhinitis symptoms include:
- Stuffy nose
- Runny nose
- Watery eyes
- Itching of the nose, eyes, or the roof of the mouth
What Does Science Say About Honey and Seasonal Allergies?
Unfortunately, honey does not help with allergies. Bees eat nectar and gather pollen produced by brightly colored flowers. These are not the same pollens responsible for most allergies (trees, grasses, and weeds). Very little of these common pollen allergens would make it into honey.
Also, the bees mix their food with enzymes to start digesting it to turn it into honey. This changes the pollen protein. And then processing, pasteurization, and even digestion by your own stomach’s enzymes would remove or break down pollen. You would not ingest enough intact pollen for your immune system to start becoming desensitized to it.
David Stukus, MD, and a member of AAFA’s Medical Scientific Council, gives a simple explanation:
The old ‘honey cures pollen allergies’ gambit. Unfortunately, it does not. Easy explanation:
-Bees collect pollen from flowers
-This is different pollen than what causes allergy symptoms
-If honey contained pollen that causes allergies, it would create, not treat, symptoms https://t.co/rO9heC99Bi
— Dr. Dave Stukus (@AllergyKidsDoc) December 30, 2019
A group of University of Connecticut allergists conducted a study with a small number of people with seasonal allergies. The people in the study ingested a tablespoon of honey each day. They kept a diary log and tracked common allergy symptoms. The study concluded that the people who had taken the honey did not get relief from their seasonal allergy symptoms.1
What Treatments Are Available for Seasonal Allergies?
Honey may not give you relief from your pollen allergy, but thankfully, there are allergy treatments that can. The most common treatments for seasonal allergies are:
- Over-the-counter or prescription allergy medicines – such as nasal corticosteroid sprays or non-drowsy antihistamines
- Immunotherapy – allergy shots or tablets for long-term treatment to reduce how severe your allergic reactions are
Many medicines to help you manage your seasonal allergies are available without a prescription. You can also take steps to reduce your exposure to pollen when counts are high.
If seasonal allergies are making you miserable and over-the-counter medicines and other at-home treatments are not helping, a visit to an allergist may be very helpful. They will determine if other treatments, like immunotherapy, can help you.
Immunotherapy is effective at improving seasonal allergy symptoms. It can actually help you achieve desensitization. Allergy shots contain controlled amounts of your specific allergen. Your doctor injects you with increasing amounts as your body adjusts and then watches you for allergy symptoms.
The Bottom Line
Honey won’t help relieve your seasonal allergy symptoms. If you want relief from your allergy symptoms, talk with an allergist to find the best treatment and management plan for you.
Medical Review: April 2022 by Clifford Basset, MD
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1. Rajan TV, Tennen H, Lindquist RL, Cohen L, Clive J. Effect of ingestion of honey on symptoms of rhinoconjunctivitis. Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol. 2002 Feb;88(2):198-203. doi: 10.1016/S1081-1206(10)61996-5. PMID: 11868925.