Can Vitamin C Help With Seasonal Allergies?

Allergies are among the most common health issues experienced in the United States, and they are the sixth leading cause of chronic disease. Although there are many different types of allergies, including allergies to food and medication, seasonal allergies are among the most common. Seasonal allergies impact 6.1 million children and 20 million adults in the United States every year and cause a collection of symptoms known as allergic rhinitis. The sheer number of people experiencing seasonal allergies has driven extensive research for treatments of the condition, the majority of which include antihistamines and corticosteroids such as Claritin and Flonase. Although the consumption of local honey has been used as a natural remedy for allergies for years, those looking for alternative treatments for seasonal allergies have found a new possibility in recent years with exploratory studies examining the treatment of seasonal allergies with vitamin C. Can vitamin C help with seasonal allergies?

What is vitamin C?

Vitamin C, sometimes called ascorbic acid, is a water soluble essential vitamin. The body cannot produce vitamin C, so people need to get all of the vitamin C that they need from their diets. As a water soluble vitamin, vitamin C is not stored in the body, and excess amounts are excreted through the urine. As a result, overdosing on the vitamin is not a concern, so daily treatment with a high dose of vitamin C for a variety of conditions is possible. Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that the body needs in order to perform many different functions, including maintaining proper functioning of the immune system, forming collagen, wound healing, absorbing iron, and maintaining the health of the cartilage, bones, and teeth.

Antioxidants are substances that protect against cellular and DNA damage caused by harmful byproducts of cellular reactions called free radicals. When the body does not have enough antioxidants, free radicals can build up in the body and damage the cells and DNA, which contributes to the development of chronic health conditions like heart disease, arthritis, and cancer. In addition to helping to prevent damage caused by free radicals, vitamin C can also help minimize the damage caused by exposure to toxic chemicals and pollutants like cigarette smoke. 

In addition to the many important roles that vitamin C plays in the body, it may also be able to help minimize the symptoms of allergic rhinitis that are experienced as a result of seasonal allergies.

What is allergic rhinitis?

The term “allergic rhinitis,” or hay fever, is commonly used to describe the group of symptoms that people experience when suffering from seasonal allergies. These symptoms primarily affect the nose and sinuses and occur when the body is exposed to an environmental substance that usually causes other people no problems, which is called an allergen. People with seasonal allergies have an immune system that overreacts to certain allergens because their bodies perceive this otherwise harmless substance as an invader and begins to attack, causing the symptoms of allergic rhinitis. During an allergy attack, the body responds by starting to release inflammatory mediators such as histamines, causing inflammation in the body. The symptoms triggered by inflammation include: 

  • Itchy/watery eyes
  • Itchy nose
  • Running nose
  • Sneezing
  • Nasal congestion
  • Sinus pressure

There are many different triggers of allergic rhinitis, some of which occur outdoors and some of which occur indoors. Outdoor allergens include things like tree,  grass, flower, or weed pollen, while indoor allergens include mold, dust mites, pet dander or hair, perfume, and smoke. Seasonal allergies typically occur as a result of outdoor allergens, which means that people experience symptoms only when certain plants are in bloom or spreading pollen. People with allergies to indoor allergens are more likely to experience symptoms all year unless they change their internal environments. It’s possible to experience both perennial and seasonal allergic rhinitis, depending on the specific allergens that cause symptoms in an individual. Some people have seasonal allergies in response to certain allergies and perennial allergies due to others, resulting in symptoms that are experienced all year but worsen during certain seasons. 

Allergic rhinitis can be very unpleasant and affects hundreds of millions of people around the world. Although there are now dozens of over the counter and prescription antihistamine medications designed for the treatment of seasonal allergies, several studies have been conducted in the past two decades to determine if vitamin C can help with seasonal allergies.

Can vitamin C help with seasonal allergies?

Everyone knows about healing and immune-boosting properties of vitamin C, but few people think to use it to treat allergies. A 2018 study examined the use of vitamin C as a treatment for allergies and found that the powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of vitamin C can be effective in the treatment of allergies. Specially, high doses of vitamin C taken intravenously could reduce allergy symptoms after they had already begun, but even more importantly, people who were deficient in vitamin C were at increased risk of developing allergy-related diseases. That means that by doing something as simple as taking a daily multivitamin, you could diminish your seasonal allergy symptoms. A 2000 study showed that taking two grams of vitamin C daily could act as a natural antihistamine. Vitamin C is found naturally in foods like bell peppers, cantaloupe, citrus fruits like oranges and lemons, strawberries, winter squash, broccoli, cauliflower, kiwifruit, and tomatoes.

What are natural sources of vitaminC?

Vitamin C is found naturally in many fruits and vegetables. Most people receive an adequate supply of vitamin C to meet their body’s daily needs, but people who do not eat many fruits and vegetables may experience a vitamin C deficiency. Whole grains are not naturally a good source of vitamin C, but some breakfast cereals and other grains are fortified with the vitamin. Other good sources of vitamin C include red peppers, oranges, kiwifruit, broccoli, brussel sprouts, tomatoes, cantaloupe, tomato juice, cabbage, cauliflower, potatoes, spinach, green peas, orange juice, grapefruit juice, green peppers, strawberries, and grapefruit. In general, it is best to consume fruits and vegetables containing vitamin C raw or cook them with minimal water, because as a water-soluble vitamin, vitamin C begins to dissolve when cooked in water. The body absorbs vitamin C from foods relatively easily, and iron is more easily absorbed by the body when eaten with vitamin C. 

How much vitamin C should I take to help with seasonal allergies?

The studies that examined the use of vitamin C for the treatment of seasonal allergies explored treatment with a much higher daily dosage of the vitamin than the recommended daily intake. The recommended daily intake of vitamin C is based on age, gender, and whether or not the person is a smoker. Vitamin C daily recommended intake is as follows:

  • Infants 0 – 6 months: 40 mg per day
  • Infants 7 – 12 months: 50 mg per day
  • Children 1 – 3 years: 15 mg per day
  • Children 4 – 8 years: 25 mg per day
  • Children 9 – 13 years: 45 mg per day
  • Males 14 - 18 years: 75 mg per day
  • Females 14 - 18 years: 65 mg per day
  • Males 19 years and older: 90 mg per day
  • Females 19 years and older: 75 mg per day
  • Smokers require 35 mg more vitamin C per day based on the recommended daily intake for their age and gender

The treatment of seasonal allergies with vitamin C sometimes requires intravenous administration of the vitamin at clinical doses. The 2018 study treated study subjects with an average of seven infusions of 7.5 grams of vitamin C, which correlates to 7500 mg, or about 100 times the recommended daily intake for women ages 19 and older. This study demonstrated that taking very high doses of vitamin C intravenously could improve chronic systemic symptoms, such as difficulty sleeping, lack of focus or concentration, and fatigue associated with allergic rhinitis by minimizing the incidence of oxidative stress and inflammation in the body. By contrast, the 2000 study study the effects of receiving two grams of vitamin C via nasal spray on a daily basis, which correlates to 2000 mg, or the maximum recommended daily dose. The 2000 study showed that 74 percent of patients with symptoms of allergic rhinitis due to seasonal allergies experienced decreased nasal secretions, blockages, and edema compared to only 24 percent of patients receiving the placebo. The studies show promise for the treatment of seasonal allergies with vitamin C and demonstrate that clinical studies should be conducted in order to gather more information and evidence as to the effectiveness of treating seasonal allergy symptoms with vitamin C.