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Does Eating Honey Really Help with Allergies?

A man sneezes into a tissue while outdoor dealing with seasonal allergies.
Pheelings media/Shutterstock.com

If you suffer from allergies every year, you might feel like you’ll do anything to ease the discomfort. Some believe eating honey will help combat allergies the natural way. But there’s just one problem—it might not work.

Eating honey for your allergies probably sounds much nicer than some other solutions you could try. But while there are effective ways to treat allergies, they aren’t quite as fun and simple as just eating honey.

To get the details on this theory, we spoke to the experts. Here’s what they want you to know about using honey to treat your seasonal allergies.

Does Eating Honey Help Allergies?

“The theory is that by consuming local honey, you will be exposed to small amounts of pollen and build up a resistance to it, similar to a vaccination,” said Dr. Scott Schreiber, a licensed nutritionist

However, even though it sounds logical, there isn’t any solid evidence that this method works. That’s mainly because the amount of pollen in honey is typically too small to make a difference. It also doesn’t always come from the same plants, so there’s no way to know if the tiny amounts of pollen in your honey are even the same kinds of pollen that you’re allergic to. Even in local honey, there can be a wide variety in the pollen content.

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It might not cure allergies, but it sure can look cute on your countertop.

That said, if you get a batch of honey with extra pollen in it, it could actually make your allergies temporarily worse. Most of the time, these effects will be minor.

Anthony Kouri, MD, however, noted that those with severe pollen allergies should stay away from local honey completely. The pollen in honey usually won’t have any significant effect, but it could be dangerous to someone with serious allergies.

Why Do People Claim Honey Helps Allergies?

A honey dipper drizzles honey into a bowl.
Subbotina Anna/Shutterstock.com

You may have heard anecdotal evidence of honey helping allergies in some people. And that evidence isn’t necessarily wrong:

“Eating honey might have a placebo effect,” said Nikola Djordjevic, MD. “A number of people reported they managed to decrease their allergy symptoms by eating honey; however, those results were not duplicated in clinical studies.”

Dr. Schreiber echoed this idea, noting that his own patients have also experienced an apparent placebo effect from honey.

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Try to keep allergens at bay with an air purifier.

That said, some clinical studies do appear to support the benefits of treating allergies with honey. The problem is that the studies have been too small, and the results too inconsistent, to draw concrete conclusions. For example, one promising study on honey and allergies that often gets referenced had only 44 subjects. It also involved artificially adding pollen to the honey, rather than using unadulterated local honey. And in other studies, honey didn’t appear to help with allergies at all.

“In medicine, we like to use meta-analysis or systematic reviews to collate data from numerous studies (ideally high-quality randomized controlled trials) to make decisions, “said Dr. Ceppie Merry, Ph.D.

Since honey and allergies haven’t been widely studied, there are no systematic reviews or meta-analyses to work with yet. It will take a lot more research to definitively say whether honey can ever help allergies or not, but right now, the evidence doesn’t look promising.

How to Treat Allergies

If you can’t use honey, how should you treat your annoying allergies?

“Avoidance, anti-histamine supplements and/or medications, and immunotherapy (allergy shots) are the best treatment,” said Dr. Schreiber.

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Treat your symptoms with a bit of self-care (and cooling pressure).

In short, stay away from pollen sources if you can. Otherwise, you can take allergy meds or get a shot. In fact, allergy shots actually do use pollen to treat allergies according to Dr. Djordjevic who said injections slowly increase pollen amounts. While honey is a gamble that typically won’t have enough pollen to work, allergy shots let doctors adjust the dose until your body responds, making it a much more effective solution.

With that in mind, there’s nothing wrong with eating honey for your allergies to see if the placebo effect will do any good. Unless you’re seriously allergic to pollen, adding local honey to your diet won’t hurt you.

In the end, these experts all suggest seeing a doctor to get treatment for your allergies, instead of trying to do it all yourself. While honey might be delicious, a medical professional will do a much better job of making you feel better.

Elyse Hauser Elyse Hauser
Elyse Hauser is a freelance and creative writer from the Pacific Northwest, and an MFA student at the University of New Orleans Creative Writing Workshop. She specializes in lifestyle writing and creative nonfiction. Read Full Bio »
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