7 Cheap Treatments for Year-Round Allergies

If you’re like me, your allergies don’t always stop with the changing of the seasons. Well into winter weather, I’m still sniffling and sneezing up a storm. The allergy medication my doctor prescribed to me is only available through my insurance at $60 a month. If you too are unwilling or unable to budget more than $700 a year on allergy medication, read on for frugal solutions to help treat your allergies.

Generic Drugs
Many name-brand prescription and over-the-counter drugs have generic counterparts. For example, the generic name for Claritin is Loratadine; the generic name for Zyrtec is Cetirizine Hydrochloride (HCI); the generic name for Sudafed is Pseudoephedrine HCI. These names are of the active ingredients contained in name-brand drugs. Generics are often sold under store brands – for example, generic Claritin at Walgreens is called Wal-itin.

To combat the symptoms of my allergies, I make sure I have three types of generic medication on hand: an antihistamine (like Claritin or Zyrtec), a decongestant (like Sudafed), and an instant decongestant spray (something like Affrin). Generally, I take an antihistamine every day to keep my allergic reactions to a minimum. I take decongestants when I find myself getting stuffed up. And I keep the spray on hand for those times when I’m so congested I can’t breathe through my nose at all.

Generics drugs are a cost-effective way to treat allergies when they’re particularly bad, but sometimes taking pills can be hard on my system. Luckily, there are more natural ways to find relief.

A Neti Pot
Neti pots are a tool used in nasal irrigation – running water through your sinuses to clean them out. Unlike getting water up your nose when you swim, using a neti pot doesn’t hurt or sting in any way.

To begin, you mix a saline solution (salt and water) and fill the neti pot with it. You place the spout of the pot in one nostril, bend down and tilt your head to one side. The liquid runs through your sinuses and drips out the other nostril. This is an Ayurvedic technique used commonly in India to clear the sinuses of mucus and allergens and improve breathing. Because it’s a chemical-free process, you can use a neti pot several times a day to find relief from congestion.

I purchased my neti pot from the local health food store, but you can also order them online. My neti pot came with packets of saline powder to mix with water, but the ingredients in the powder are sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) and sodium chloride (salt), ingredients you can find at home.

You can watch an instructional video on using the neti pot here.

The neti pot can take some getting used to, but it’s worth it. Used regularly, the neti pot can help prevent congestion or recurring sinusitis.

In the summer months, I go out of my way to eat local honey every day. Though lacking in scientific study, many people believe that eating local honey is a homeopathic way to treat allergies. The idea is that by ingesting honey from the same plants that cause your allergies, your body builds up a tolerance to those particular pollens. This is the same idea used in vaccinations – that a small amount of something can help the body ward off a larger illness.

Disclaimer – honey is not suitable for children under the age of one due to the risk of botulism. Some people may have an allergic reaction to the honey itself. It’s best to start with a small amount of local honey every day and work your way up, if you’re concerned about your reaction. However, if you’re like me and use honey regularly anyway, you might make a conscious effort to have a tablespoon or so of local honey every day, spring through fall. (It’s a delicious routine.) Local honey is generally available at your local health food store or farmer’s market. The bottles will be marked with the location of the apiary where it was made. The closer to you, the better.

Wash Your Pets
If you’ve got both allergies and pets, you probably know enough to keep them out of your bedroom. After all, there’s no good night’s sleep with Fido’s hair all over your pillow. But washing your pets regularly can help keep the dander in their fur down, and dander is what most people are allergic to when they say they’re allergic to animals. People are usually pretty familiar with the idea of washing dogs or sending them to a groomer, but cats can be bathed too. I’m not saying they’ll like it, but with two pairs of hands and a big kitchen sink, you can scrub down the kitties with a gentle shampoo in about ten minutes flat. (If your cats have claws, wear long sleeves and gloves.) Washing your pets regularly can reduce airborne allergens dramatically in your home. And if you’re sick and tired of sneezing, you may even find you don’t mind wrestling the cats into a bath.

General Tso’s Chicken
When you’re so stuffed up you can hardly breathe, eating tends to be a mundane chore. If you can’t breathe, you can’t taste. But if your meal is chock full of chili peppers or horseradish, your sinuses will be clear in no time! Go for Asian cuisines – Chinese, Japanese, Indian and Indonesian all have spicy dishes – or slather a capsaicin-based hot sauce on whatever you’re making for dinner. In a pinch, spicy foods work like a charm. And hey, you gotta eat anyway. Throw on some Tabasco.

Keep a Food Diary
On the other end of the spectrum, some foods can make your allergies worse. By paying close attention to what you’re eating and when, you may notice cause-and-effect relationships between your allergy symptoms and what you’ve recently eaten. For instance, I like to enjoy a latte in the morning, but I swear up and down that after having that much milk, my congestion gets much worse. So when I’m already stuffed up, I have tea instead.

Food allergies and intolerances can present themselves in many ways. You may associate food allergies with throat-swelling or nausea, but if you’re intolerant to a food, it may manifest itself in your asthma or sinusitis.

Clean, Clean, Clean
It’s pretty cheap to vacuum. When you’re stuck indoors in the winter, your familiar surroundings may be the biggest culprit to blame for your allergies. Dust mites, mold and pet dander can keep you sniffling all winter. By ramping up your cleaning efforts, you can effectively cut down your allergic reactions. If you have carpet, vacuum twice a week. Dust everything regularly. Wash bedding weekly, including comforters and pillows. Be aware that humidifiers can house mold. HEPA filters are helpful against animal dander, mold, and pollen (but don’t work against dust mites). HEPA filters are only worthwhile when the windows are closed, or you’ll undo all the benefit of filtering the air. Dust covers on the box spring and mattress can help cut down on dust mites and are available in fabric (not just plastic anymore). With a little extra effort, cold weather and re-circulated air don’t need to result in your suffering.

Allergies can be tricky. Often times, combining tactics and using trial and error can help you find the best way to combat your symptoms. How do you keep your allergies under control year round?


For more information on allergy treatments, check out the following links:

8 Top Ways to Care for Your Allergies Without Damaging the Budget

Breathe Easy this Allergy Season (Whole Foods podcast about allergies and homeopathy)

Medications for Allergies (the basics from WebMD)

Allergy Treatment Begins at Home (tips on cleaning from MedicineNet)



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Will Chen's picture

Another great article Lana. =)

I just heard a story on NPR about an opera singer who uses neti pots to clear out his sinuses before a performance. It sounds really neat I think I might try it.

Myscha Theriault's picture

I'm a big fan of generic meds, and have had several friends sing the praises of local honey. The neti pot I've only recently heard of, but with this most recent confirmation, I just might give one a try. Thanks for the great tips!

Guest's picture

I would hugely recommend a Dyson vacuum if you have allergies and a lot of carpet, and especially if you have pets as well. It's leaps and bounds better than the vacuum I had before.

Guest's picture

In my younger days I had 10 colonies of bees..sigh!!..I do miss them.

But anyway my brother had a roomate who had severe allergies to most pollens...the very elderly widow of a local Doctor had told him to get Unfiltered, Unheated Honey from LOCAL beekkeeper and to take about 1 to 2 tablespoons every morning and after about six months he should see a great improvement.

He scoffed at her but the the final straw was the day my brother opened the fridge and a whole bunch of his roomies medicines hit the floor again...(I thought it strange but most of his medicines required being kept cool so in the fridge they went).

Anyway my brother told him he was going to try the Honey routine. After about six months Mikes allergies subsided and now even during the worst seasons here in Florida he only gets a slight red nose and rarely needs the medicines.

The Honey routine has to be kept up all year to maintain the effectiveness but the biggest and most important requirement is that the Honey be LOCAL as well as unfiltered and unheated...Unfiltered will have lots of Pollen in it and it will still be LIve as is was not killed by heating.

A good deal cheaper than even Generic drugs too!!!

~ Roland

Lana Goodrich's picture

A good deal cheaper and about a thousand times more pleasant to take! I think people are starting to realize that new treatments do not always equal more effective treatments. Sometimes the best thing for what ails you is right outside. Honestly, I've learned just as much talking to the "Bee Lady" at my local farmer's market as I have talking to my general practitioner. I think the recent news that honey is an effective cough suppressant just backs this up, too.

Guest's picture

Eating honey to help with allergies is not homeopathy. In homeopathy, the supposed active ingredients are diluted to the point that they cannot even be detected in the final product, i.e., until they may as well not have been used at all. Honey really does retain pollen; its use for allergies is not at all homeopathic.


However, while the theory sounds good, it is probable that honey does not help with allergies. A study (albeit a small one) was conducted wherein the test subjects were given one of three things: local, raw, unfiltered honey; national, pasteurized, filtered honey; or honey flavored corn syrup. None of the three groups showed more improvement than the others.


As a side note, vaccinations are not homeopathic either. They function more like the theoretical honey-for-allergies (except they really work). A vaccination introduces a dead or weakened version of a virus to the body such that the immune system can learn to "recognize" it--that is to say, produce antibodies for it. While the amounts of the virus are small, they are certainly present, whereas in homeopathy no virus would be detectable in the vaccine. Interestingly, homeopathists oppose vaccination.


Guest's picture

I coulnd' find out how long the University did the allergy study with the two types of honey and the syrup..

From what I saw with my brothers roommate and others who have tried the treatment idea their is virtually no visible effect for almost six months and then it starts to kick in....and you can't stop taking the honey its ongoing...but not a bad thing to have on your toast every morning!!

As a side note the same general thing can be said about the Glucosamine Chondroiten complex they tell you to take for Arthritis and Joint problems.

I was skeptical as a lot of people I knew had taken it and said they had no results....EXCEPT those who had persisted in taking it...seems the effects don't start to be felt until after 4 months and they were right. After 5 months my knees and elbows stopped hurting and I got a lot of motion back.

Americans have been lead to believe that if the Medicine doesn't make you feel better before its even hit your stomach its Quackery or a Fraud.

~ Roland

Guest's picture

I wasn't able to find out how long the study went either. It is an interesting question, though. I wish I could find the answer.

I am certainly not unwilling to accept alternative medicines. Before looking into it today, I was among those who believed the honey thing probably did work, and had suggested it to many allergy-suffering friends. On the surface it seems to make a lot of sense.

After researching it some, though, I'm now of the opinion that it probably (note that I am not saying definitely) does not help most people. It seems that the pollens most likely to cause allergies are tree and grass pollens, which are airborne and dust-like, not the heavy, sticky pollens found in bee-pollinated flowers, which are unlikely to be inhaled.

For all I know some people are allergic to bee-pollinated flower pollen, and perhaps those people could be helped by honey. I did glean that some allergies can be treated through regular shots of the allergen, thus allowing the body to build up an "immunity" (though this doesn't make a lot of sense to me, seeing as allergies are an immune reaction themselves). If that works, which apparently it does, then strict regular exposure to pollens in honey seems like a logical extension. But I don't know what kinds of allergies these shots are for, and I'm pretty sure they don't work for all kinds.

It actually looks like people develop allergies to the kinds of pollens that are in honey with regular exposure, such as by working as a florist. That makes me think that regular exposure to said allergens is unlikely to reduce those same allergies.

But the placebo effect is very powerful indeed.


Guest's picture

Actally, using (pollen-containing) honey to treat allergies would be ISOPATHY not homeopathy (assuming it's the pollen that does it and not something else). Same for allergy shots, and maybe for vaccines.

Isopathy means "same suffering," so prescription is by the CAUSE of the symptoms. This is exactly what allergy shots are doing.

Homeopathy means "similar suffering," so prescription is by the SYMPTOMS, not by the CAUSE of the symptoms. For example, if your ragweed allergies give you red, burning eyes and bland nasal discharge, you would want to take Allium Cepa (Red Onion), NOT a remedy prepared from ragweed, since it has a different set of symptoms (I know that remedy exists, but I don't know it's symptoms).

One other thing--the preparation of a remedy does not make it homeopathic. Only it's application. For example, when I burn myself cooking, I run warm water over the burn. Nothing special about the water, but boy does it produce the same pain as the burn! And yes, it does heal faster and much less painfully (anecdotally, at least).

Guest's picture

The nurse at the allergist I was seeing kept bugging me about doing saline treatments to my sinuses when my allergies were really bad. They suggested the neti pot also. She said even the saline nasal spray you can buy in the store would work but your paying $2 for salt water in a bottle. I noticed a huge improvement using the spray saline so I was glad I finally tried it.

Another trick an allergist showed me years ago was to get a huge water drop on the end of your finger or underside of your fingernail and snort it. It has helped in a pinch if I got a nose full of something really irritating to flush out your nasal passages.

Another drug that is cheap but is still prescription is Allegra (Fexofenadine). I get it for a $10 copay through our insurance.

Guest's picture

Years ago, my son's allergist told me to remove all of his stuffed animals to control dust mites. As if! Try telling a five-year-old that you're taking his favorite toys away due to invisible bugs.

What I learned later is that while most stuffed animals can't be washed, they can be put in the freezer. In fact, many unwashable and hard-to-clean household items can be put in the freezer (or outside if it's cold enough) overnight to kill dust mites - books, knick knacks, decorations, lamp shades, bedding, etc.


Lana Goodrich's picture

Jill -

How clever! How often did you freeze these items?

Guest's picture

I only learned this recently, in the last few years. My "little" boy is 16 now and the stuffed animals have long since been relegated to the shed.

However, in the interest of discovery, I have done a bit of research on the life span of dust mites. They take about one month to develop from an egg into an adult and have an adult life span of about two to four months. A single adult female may lay up to 100 eggs.

I'd guess freezing the buggers every 2-4 weeks would be adequate, but there are a lot of factors involved - whether the child was playing with the animals in an environment where everything else had been boiled, frozen and/or scoured or not for example. The degree of the child's allergy would be another factor to consider. How big of a freezer you had might be another.

I like the idea of freezing because it’s free and very easy to do for most people.


Guest's picture

As an avid rinser for years, I've done my fair share of Neti potting. Experience has taught me, however, that it's nearly impossible to keep everything sterile enough. Tap water is never truly clean... and can lead to more problems than you started with.

Over the counter *pressurized* saline is the only way to go. (Squeeze bottles can easily become infected) The only thing you have to keep clean on pressurized saline is the nib that goes into the nose, easily done with soap and water.

Yes you're essentially paying for salt water, but it's guaranteed sterile for the entire contents of the can. Worth the price in my opinion!

Guest's picture

A good and inexpensive way to clean your in-house air is to invest in a good quality furnace filter and set your furnace fan to run continuously. I have to change my filter more often but it costs a ton less than an expensive air cleaner would and it works on my whole house instead of just one room.

Guest's picture


Guest's picture

sneezing back dc

Guest's picture

Excellent article! I, too, suffer from allergies year-round. The medications either don't work, are too expensive or make me so tired that I sleep day and night.

Always, I keep a neti pot, Breathe Right strips and Sinus Buster nasal spray (all natural) around. I'm getting ready to try butterbur and nettles, which have been in the news a lot over the last year. I also do spicy Chinese food and add jalapenos to everything. (I pickle them in the summer months so I have them year-round, which is a lot less expensive than buying them.)

I have found a mixture of warm water, apple cider vinegar and honey really helps. It takes away the aches and seems to help me breathe easier. Since milk products do thicken mucus, I avoid them whenever possible - or choose goat products, which don't seem to cause as much trouble.

One thing I've noticed about the neti pot: It works too well. Sometimes I sneeze for two hours straight after using it.