Herbal Hay Fever Medication
Healthnotes Newswire (September 12, 2002)—An extract of the herb butterbur (Petasites hybridus) is as effective as the prescription medication cetirizine (Zyrtec®) for the treatment of hay fever and causes fewer side effects, according to a recent study published in the British Medical Journal (2002;324:144–6).
In this study, 125 men and women complaining of seasonal allergy symptoms were randomly assigned to take either one tablet of butterbur extract four times per day (each tablet was standardized to contain 8 mg of petasine) or cetirizine (10 mg per day) for two weeks. Both treatments improved the symptoms of nasal allergy, and no significant difference in efficacy was noted between the treatments.
Hay fever, also known as seasonal allergic rhinitis, occurs when the immune system becomes sensitized to specific inhaled particles (e.g., pollen). The immune response causes runny nose, sneezing, watery eyes, and fatigue. Roughly 20% of adult Americans suffer from hay fever. For unknown reasons, the prevalence of hay fever has risen sharply over the last 20 years.
Hay fever has traditionally been treated with antihistamine medications. Drugs in this class, while often very effective against nasal allergy symptoms, commonly have a sedative effect. Older antihistamines, such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl®), can even impair the ability to operate a motor vehicle.
Although cetirizine is considered to be a non-sedating anti-allergy medication, 11% of the participants in the new study who took the drug reported fatigue or drowsiness. In contrast, only 3% of those taking butterbur reported either of these side effects. No severe adverse effects were seen with either treatment.
While butterbur may not be familiar to many American herbal medicine practitioners, it has been used for centuries as a treatment for conditions as diverse as asthma, skin wounds, and the plague. Butterbur is thought to work by blocking the inflammatory process.
The authors of the new study concluded that the safety and efficacy of butterbur makes it a good choice for the treatment of hay fever in people wishing to avoid the sedating potential of antihistamine medication.
Matt Brignall, ND is a graduate of the University of Michigan and Bastyr University. He works at the Seattle Cancer Treatment and Wellness Center, where he specializes in complementary medicine approaches to cancer. He has been published in several journals, including Alternative Medicine Review, Coping With Cancer, and the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. Dr. Brignall also teaches clinical nutrition at Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. He is a regular contributor to Healthnotes, Healthnotes Newswire, and the Healthnotes Quick!Reference series.
Copyright © 2002 Healthnotes, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.