Living with food allergies—both her own and her family's—has driven Chris Telden's lifelong interest in diet, health, and cooking.
Ragweed is one of the worst of the pollen allergens
All I Wanted Was an Effective Natural Sinus Remedy
Sometimes even I can't believe that I treated my seasonal allergies successfully with just an onion ... but I did. It was early autumn in Atlanta, Georgia, when I leafed through the pages of that thick opus of alternative medicine, The Swiss Nature Doctor, by A. Vogel, which is written in a quaint, old-fashioned way but still has relevance today. Although I was suffering from fall allergies, it wasn't an allergy remedy I was seeking. I was looking for natural remedies for sinus pain. I get both migraine headaches and sinus headaches. Forever suspicious of allopathic medicine and hopeful that natural alternative remedies could help me, I was seeking a way to naturally treat the sinus headaches I was getting caused by the ragweed allergy season.
I was single at the time, so when I hit on the page suggesting an onion poultice, I didn't even blink. If I could stand my own smell, I was free to experiment with an onion poultice around my neck. I had high hopes. I'd always believed in the healing power of garlic and was intrigued by the idea that more than one herb in the onion family Alliaceae might have healing powers.
I waited until the weekend, then carefully prepared the onion poultice. After I'd mastered the technique of keeping the pieces of onion inside the cheesecloth, I placed the poultice around my neck.
The only way to describe the experience of wearing an onion poultice directly against your bare skin, mere inches away from your nostrils, is with one word: smelly. A crushed onion that's been aging for hours smells like nothing you ever want to experience, short of being in dire need of a treatment for my allergy-born sinus headache, which I was. Eager to try out this alternative cure, I wore my natural onion remedy to bed.
In the morning, I brushed old onion bits off my bed and out of my hair. Then I took a shower, at which point I realized that my skin reeked of onion. (This smell was not to go away for another couple of weeks.) Despite this, and though my sinus headache persisted, I was determined to stay the course. I prepared a new poultice and wore it most of the day.
I wore an onion poultice on and off for about three days, then went back to work. To my great disappointment, my sinus headache didn't ease one iota.
What I Got Was a Natural Allergy Elimination Strategy
I returned to work, trying to keep from getting too close to anyone. My nights I spent wrapped in onion poultices. As time went on, I noticed I was feeling a little better. This floored me, since it wasn't my headache that was improving, but my sneezy, itchy-throat, teary-eyed hayfever allergies.
I'd suffered from seasonal allergies since I was a child—regular as clockwork—depending on where I lived. In the Midwest, where I grew up, my two annual allergy seasons were early summer and late summer, which made summer a pretty unpleasant time of year for me. In steamy Atlanta, I experienced slightly different allergy seasons, one in early spring and one lasting from late summer to early winter. That year, I had my first fall of virtually no allergies to speak of.
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What Are Seasonal Allergies?
The kind of allergies I suffer are seasonal allergies, also known as seasonal allergic rhinitis, or hay fever. The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology notes that over 35 million Americans experience hay fever.
What is hay fever? Hay fever is an autoimmune response—in other words, allergy—to allergens such as pollen and mold spores. If you've had sneezing, sinus congestion, itchy eyes, ears, nose or throat, or a runny nose after being outside or being exposed to pollen indoors, you may suffer from allergic rhinitis. Seventy-five percent of American allergy sufferers are reacting to ragweed, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. But there are other tree and plant pollens that cause outdoor allergies, as well.
When your allergy season begins depends on where you are. Late summer is a common time for ragweed allergies in the southeastern and midwestern U.S., enduring until the first frost.
Medical treatment for seasonal allergies, once diagnosed with a scratch test or blood test, may include allergy shots, medicated nose drops and sprays, or antihistamines. Some of the newer antihistamines don't make you drowsy. Still, if I can opt for an alternative natural treatment over allopathic, I will.
How to Make the Onion Poultice Treatment
These are the steps I took to make my poultice:
- Chop a yellow onion into small pieces.
- Scatter the onion pieces inside a long piece of cotton gauze, cheesecloth, or flour sack and wrap up the sack carefully with rubber bands or twisties.
- Crush the onion through the cloth so the juices get soaked into the cotton.
- Let it sit for ten minutes so you won't be breathing the worst of the onion juices' fiery heat.
- Wrap the cloth around your neck. Voila, you're wearing the latest fashion in onion poultices.
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I Tested the Treatment During the Spring Allergy Season
I was so impressed by the results of my onion poultice that I boasted to my friends, family, and work colleagues that I'd come up with the mother of all natural remedies for allergic rhinitis. And come March, after a couple of weeks of suffering returning seasonal allergies, I repeated the treatment. To my disappointment, this time the effect was minimal. I acknowledged that my "onion cure" for allergies was no cure, but merely simple coincidence. The pollen season must simply have been unusually mild the previous fall.
Still, that next autumn, I tried the onion poultice again—and to my astonishment, my very own herbal allergy remedy came through for me again! No hay fever, or at least, very little allergy suffering. That was when I made the connection; rather, one of two possible connections. Either the onion was "fighting" only the ragweed allergies of fall, and ineffective against the pollens responsible for my spring allergies, or the issue was timing.
I remembered reading about bee pollen and raw honey. Royal jelly, bee pollen, and raw, unfiltered honey had, I knew, been touted as natural and effective treatments for seasonal allergies. Though I've never tried them, what I remembered was that their efficacy was supposed to hinge on whether you start taking them early enough in the allergy season. What if that were the missing link here?
Years of Spring and Fall Allergy Seasons
Over the next few years, I experimented. Given my different living and working arrangements, it wasn't always possible for me to use the "onion allergy treatment," as I called it, each and every year. Even when I did, it wasn't always possible to treat my allergies within the first week of allergy season. Yet I noticed with amazing consistency that if I made myself a week-long barrage of onion poultices just a few days into a new allergy season, my allergies that year were far, far milder.
The Problem With Onion Remedies
I have no idea why this particular natural allergy treatment works. I don't even know if it actually works, or if it's simply coincidence. Although I've tried to find research—any research—linking the breathing in and absorption of onion essence and seasonal allergies, I've found nothing. Since I'm not the superstitious sort, I'll buy the explanation of "coincidence" ... intellectually. Emotionally, I have faith that it's truly a temporary cure for my hayfever allergies.
An onion is cheap, and it's effective at least for me. Mercifully, it washes out of the linens and, with time, my skin's pores. It does, however, take a good week of living, breathing, and sleeping the herb—and as I said, Allium cepa is not one of the appealingly aromatic herbs. It smells, and everything it touches smells, and family doesn't like that. Nor do workmates. I haven't actually used the treatment in a few years because of this, and my nose suffers as a consequence. And allergies are so fickle; they come and they go. If I try my natural remedy again and it doesn't work, I won't be surprised. But I won't be surprised if it does, either. Just grateful.
(Oh, and by the way, I did find a natural treatment for my acute sinus pain. It works almost every time. Only, it's even worse than the onion treatment, so I only use it as a last resort. If there's interest, I'll post that article another time.)
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
Questions & Answers
Question: What is your treatment for acute sinus pain?
Answer: I haven't done it in years, because I forgot it, but your question reminded me. I crushed garlic and spread the juice over my face, in the sinus areas. It feels like it's burning so don't do more than you feel comfortable with. You need to keep it out of the eyes. Don't ever do it to kids or anyone with sensitive skin. Test a bit of skin first. Check with your doctor first. But yeah, it helped me.
Flora Miles on December 07, 2010:
*Hendrika, yes, living near the sea really cures several respiratory-related ailments.
*Chris, I've also read somewhere that eating a lot of onions can help, with the raw option more effective. I'm currently researching if there's a high incidence of allergic rhinitis in countries that have a lot of onions in their diet. I've been trying to convince my daughter to eat a lot of onions, but I've been failing as she prefers suffering AR over suffering the smell of onions.
Hendrika from Pretoria, South Africa on April 16, 2010:
When my son grew up I would have tried this as he suffered terribly until we moved to Durban in South Africa and he could swim in the sea every day. The sea water cured him for good. Before that we would have done anything as he really suffered BAD!!! Thanks for a very interesting Hub.
C. C. Riter on May 07, 2009:
I use a Netti pot and allegra. Sinus headaches are terrible.
Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on April 22, 2009:
What I now do with infected sinuses is to use salt water spray. I became allergic to penicillin by having the secondary sinus infections treated with antibiotics (which is a shame.) Wiped out an entire category of antibiotics if I ever need them for something serious.
What I found.........the salt water spray acts JUST AS QUICKLY as the antibiotics ever did! Not pleasant........use often with a sink and kleenix nearby. But the gunk gets cleared out and no more headache!
Good luck with your onion cure. I know that my family would not appreciate it. LOL And best of luck with your seasonal allergies.
Yes.......do let us in on any other natural treatments!
goldentoad from Free and running.... on April 21, 2009:
I'll say that's a different approach