Herb may be of help in allergies.




British Medical Journal

Related Monographs

Consumer Data: Allergies
Professional Data: Allergies


If you have an allergy, your body's immune system has been programmed to treat a particular substance in food or the environment as an enemy. Defending us against harmful substances is part of the immune system's job. With allergies, the immune system reacts to a substance that, for the non-allergic person, is completely harmless. Hay fever, for example, is an allergic reaction to pollen. The immune system in the hay fever sufferer sets an allergic reaction in response to pollen molecules that come in contact with sinus passages.

The specific substances that cause allergic reactions are called "allergens." Composed largely of protein, allergens can be food ingredients, chemicals, or environmental substances such as pollen, dust mites, and animal dander. (Another word for allergen is antigen.) The allergic reaction, also known as a "hypersensitive" reaction, triggers the release of chemicals into the blood stream, chiefly histamine. Normally stored away inside cells that are part of the immune system, these chemicals produce the various symptoms and discomforts of allergies. These symptoms ranges in severity from mild to life threatening.

Hay fever (Allergic rhinitis) and conjunctivitis (inflammation of the eyelid) are the most common manifestations of allergic reactions. These occur when environmental allergens contact mast cells in the membranes of the nose and eyes. Nasal congestion and discharge, sneezing, itchy eyes, and tearing are classic symptoms.

A randomized, double blind study investigated the efficacy of the herb butterbur (petasites hybridus) as compared to the antihistamine cetirizine. This study involved 125 sufferers of seasonal allergic rhinitis. For two weeks 61 patients were given butterbur and 65 were given cetirzine. The butterbur groups received 1 tablet, 4 times a day, and the cetirzine group received 1 pill in the evening. Both groups portrayed similar effectiveness and both treatments were well tolerated. Two thirds of the cetirzine group reported mild sedative effects though the drug is considered a non-drowsy drug. The authors concluded, " The effects of butterbur are similar to those of cetirizine in patients with seasonal allergic rhinitis when evaluated blindly by patients and doctors. Butterbur should be considered for treating seasonal allergic rhinitis when the sedative effects of antihistamines need to be avoided."1


1. Schapowal A. Randomised controlled trial of butterbur and cetirizine for treating seasonal allergic rhinitis. BMJ. Jan 2002;324:144.