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Herbal Extract Works as Well as Popular Drug for Hay Fever

Also known as intermittent allergic rhinitis or IAR, hay fever affects up to one in five Americans. Ironically, hay is not considered a leading cause of hay fever; the main culprits are airborne pollens and spores, along with dust and animal dander. The symptoms of hay fever range from sneezing and nasal congestion to a runny nose, itching, and watery eyes. All told, it is estimated that the direct and indirect health costs of hay fever average between $4.5 and $7.7 billion per year - and that's just in the United States.

In a recent study, scientists in Germany and Switzerland looked at the role a popular herb, butterbur, may play in fighting the symptoms of hay fever. More than 300 patients throughout Europe, all of whom suffered from hay fever, were randomized into three groups. The first group took a specialized butterbur extract, at a dosage of three 8-milligram tablets per day. The second group took a 180-milligram tablet of a popular antihistamine, fexofenadine (better known by its brand name, Allegra). The third group received placebo pills that contained no active ingredients.

The scientists evaluated the effects of the different treatments using each patient's total symptom score. Factors measured in the symptom score included incidences of sneezing, congestion, and other hay fever symptoms, both during the day and at night.

At the beginning of the study, patients in all groups had similar total symptom scores. By the end of the study, scores in the butterbur group had dropped an average of 3.86 points per patient. In the fexofenadine group, symptom scores were an average of 3.51 points lower. Perhaps most importantly, butterbur did not cause any patients to feel drowsy - a rather common side-effect associated with antihistamines.

The authors concluded that the butterbur extract and the antihastime were both "significantly superior to placebo," and that both treatments were well-tolerated. They added that despite the fact that the extract is an herbal drug, it "has now been subject to a series of well-controlled trials and should be considered as an alternative treatment for IAR."


Schapowal A, et al. Treating intermittent allergic rhinitis: a prospective, randomized, placebo & antihistamine-controlled study of butterbur extract Ze 339. Phytotherapy Research, June 2005;19(6):530-537.


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Date Last Modified - Wednesday, 17-Dec-2008 12:43:00 PDT