CHICAGO (CBS) — The sneezing, the wheezing, those watery, red eyes; seasonal allergies are in full swing. For many, relief is just a drugstore counter away.
But as CBS 2’s Mary Kay Kleist reports, more and more allergy sufferers are taking a road to relief that’s paved by Mother Nature.
The buzz is that this allergy season could be one of the worst, all thanks to our cool, wet weather pattern this spring. So it may be a bigger headache than in years past for sufferers like Sheila O’Donnell.
“I had really red, itchy watery eyes,” she said. “I also sneezed a lot and I had recurrent sinus infections, which were caused and exacerbated by my seasonal allergies.”
O’Donnell tried allergy medication and it worked. But the side effects were so bad that she turned to Mother Nature for relief.
The local honey from bees at the Chicago Honey Co-op is what O’Donnell believes worked for her.
“I take a tablespoon of local honey every day. And it’s important to start at the beginning of allergy season, so I start in March. And I take it all the way through the frost,” she said.
Ben Walker, a beekeeper with the Chicago Honey Co-op, said, “We have a number of customers who come back and sing the praises of the honey.”
The theory is that the bees carry the sniffle-causing pollens back to the hive where they make the honey. When people like Sheila eat it, she’s exposed to the allergen that makes her sick, slowly immunizing her against the effects.
Doctors are skeptical.
“Unfortunately, there is no evidence currently, no scientific evidence whatsoever, that honey can treat allergies,” Dr. Anju Peters, associate professor of allergy at Northwestern University, said.
The pollen in the honey could make some allergic people sick.
“In fact, I just saw a patient with this yesterday — where potentially a person could get an allergic reaction to honey consumption,” Peters said.
O’Donnell has never had an allergic reaction to the honey. And she said she is convinced it worked for her because she can now enjoy spring walks in her neighborhood, sneeze-free.
“It’s sort of the best the best tasting medicine that I think you could ever find,” she said.
Dr. Peters also says never to give honey to little children or babies. That’s because their immune systems are not fully developed, and they could get infections.
Honey can contain spores of a bacterium called Clostridium botulinum, which can germinate in a baby’s immature digestive system and cause infant botulism, a rare but potentially fatal illness.
These spores are usually harmless to adults and children over 1 year old, because the microorganisms normally found in the intestine keep the bacteria from growing.
Botulism attacks the nervous system and causes double vision, droopy eyelids, and difficulty in swallowing and breathing. It also can cause vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain.
Symptoms of infant botulism include lethargy, weakness, loss of head control, and a wail or altered cry. Symptoms typically develop within 18 to 36 hours and can last weeks to months. The severity can range from mild illness to severe paralysis and sudden death, if not treated. Even with treatment, it can cause nerve damage.