Can Probiotics Reduce the Symptoms of Allergic Rhinitis?

Allergic rhinitis, commonly known as hay fever, occurs when your body has an allergic reaction to an allergen such as pollen, dust mites or dander. Probiotics are healthy bacteria or yeast that can provide health benefits when eaten. There have been a few recent studies showing that probiotics may be beneficial in reducing the symptoms of allergic rhinitis. Make sure to consult a doctor or pharmacist with any questions about probiotic use.

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Imagine you walk outside to get some fresh air, and the sun is shining, there is a nice cooling breeze, and you can even hear birds chirping in the background. 

It feels like the perfect spring day until all of a sudden, “achoo!”  You let out this giant sneeze, then your eyes start watering, and everything on your face feels itchy. 

Allergies have come back to get you once again!

Seasonal allergies are just one type of allergic rhinitis.

Those symptoms of itchy, watery, red eyes, sneezing, and coughing are very common in people that suffer from allergic rhinitis. 

While there are many options for treatment or symptom management, would you have ever thought that probiotics may be one of them?

What is Allergic Rhinitis?

Allergic rhinitis, commonly known as hay fever, occurs when your body has an allergic reaction to specific types of allergens, such as pollen, grass, or dust mites. 

This reaction can cause inflammation in the nose.  There are two kinds of allergic rhinitis, seasonal and perennial. 

Seasonal allergic rhinitis is triggered by airborne mold or pollen from trees, grass or weeds and occurs in the spring, summer or early fall. 

Perennial allergic rhinitis is triggered by dust mites, pet hair, dander, or mold and can occur year-round.

Common symptoms of allergic rhinitis include:

  • Runny nose
  • Stuffy nose
  • Nose, mouth, eyes or throat itching
  • Red, watery eyes
  • Swollen eyelids
  • Sneezing
  • Coughing

What are Probiotics?

Probiotics are certain types of healthy bacteria or yeast that provide health benefits when eaten. 

They can be taken as supplements, but they are also found in fermented foods such as yogurt, sauerkraut, tempeh, and kimchi.  There are many different strains of probiotics, but the two most common groups are Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium.

Probiotics are generally well tolerated and considered safe for most people.  The most common side effects are gas and mild abdominal discomfort.  Make sure to consult a doctor or a pharmacist if you have any questions about taking probiotics. 

Probiotics are healthy bacteria, and having the right balance of healthy bacteria in your gut can help with weight loss, improve immune function and digestion, and may help reduce the risk for certain diseases.  One of the potential benefits of probiotics is reducing systemic inflammation. 

Probiotics and Allergic Rhinitis: What’s the Evidence?

There have been a few studies looking into the potential use of probiotics to reduce the symptoms of allergic rhinitis.

A 2005 study based out of Japan looked at 49 patients with perennial allergic rhinitis.  Patients were split into two groups – one group received 100 mL of heat-treated fermented milking containing Lactobacillus acidophilus strain, L-92, probiotic, while the other group (placebo group) received acidified milk without the lactic acid bacteria. 

The group that received the milk containing L-92 showed statistically significant improvement in nasal symptoms, and patients had clear decreases in swelling and color inside the nose. 

These results suggest that L-92 can relieve symptoms of perennial allergic rhinitis.

The Brazilian Journal of Otorhinolaryngology published a review article in 2011 that aimed to review original articles published between 2000 and 2008, about the use of probiotics, Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, in allergic rhinitis patients. 

The authors narrowed it down to 26 articles to review, and all of them showed that probiotics promote improvement to the immune response in the body. 

The results of the review indicate that probiotics appear to prevent allergy recurrences, reduce or eliminate symptoms and improve the quality of life in patients with allergic rhinitis. 

A 2002 study based out of Finland showed something a little bit different.  In this study, 36 patients were split into two groups – one group received Lactobacillus rhamnosus probiotic, and the other group did not (placebo group). 

The patients received this treatment before, during and after the birch-pollen season.  The results showed that treatment with the probiotic did not alleviate symptoms.

Bottom Line

  • Further studies are required to thoroughly scrutinize and determine if probiotics are beneficial for reducing the symptoms of allergic rhinitis 
  • Before starting a probiotic, make sure to consult your pharmacist or primary care physician as they may not be appropriate for all individuals 

References, Studies and Sources:

Hay Fever (Rhinitis): Symptoms & Treatment. ACAAI Public Website. https://acaai.org/allergies/types/hay-fever-rhinitis Accessed July 14, 2020.

Hill C, Guarner F, Reid G, et al. Expert consensus document. The International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics consensus statement on the scope and appropriate use of the term probiotic. Nat Rev Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2014;11(8):506-514. doi:10.1038/nrgastro.2014.66

Kligler B, Cohrssen A. Probiotics. Am Fam Physician. 2008 Nov 1;78(9):1073-1078.

Lescheid DW. Probiotics as regulators of inflammation: a review. Functional Foods in Health & Disease. 2014;4(7):299-311. doi:10.31989/ffhd.v4i7.2

Ishida Y, Nakamura F, Kanzato H, et al. Clinical effects of Lactobacillus acidophilus strain L-92 on perennial allergic rhinitis: a double-blind, placebo-controlled study. J Dairy Sci. 2005;88(2):527-533. doi:10.3168/jds.S0022-0302(05)72714-4

Nogueira JC, Gonçalves Mda C. Uso de probióticos na rinite alérgica [Probiotics in allergic rhinitis]. Braz J Otorhinolaryngol. 2011;77(1):129-134. doi:10.1590/s1808-86942011000100022

Helin T, Haahtela S, Haahtela T. No effect of oral treatment with an intestinal bacterial strain, Lactobacillus rhamnosus (ATCC 53103), on birch-pollen allergy: a placebo-controlled double-blind study. Allergy. 2002;57(3):243-246. doi:10.1034/j.1398-9995.2002.1s3299.x

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