With all the benefits of Echinacea as a natural immune system booster, it's easy to gloss over some of the side effects of this herb. However, it's important to be aware of some of the potentially dangerous side effects of Echinacea so you can recognize them if they occur.
Potential Side Effects of Echinacea
Throughout history, people have used Echinacea as a treatment for blood poisoning, malaria, scarlet fever, infections, diphtheria, and other ailments. Current uses include treatment for coughs, fever, flu, vaginal yeast infections, ADHD, and chronic fatigue syndrome.
Most people do not experience side effects when taking Echinacea as directed for one of these conditions. However, a small percentage of those taking this herb may experience the following symptoms, according to Drugs.com. If you have any of these side effects, or anything else that is bothersome or seems unusual, stop taking the herb immediately and call your doctor. You may need to avoid taking Echinacea and try a different treatment.
Nausea and other stomach issues are some of the most common side effects to taking Echinacea. Though it's common, you should still check with your doctor about your stomach symptoms before continuing to take the herb.
Nausea or Dizziness
Feeling dizzy is another common symptom that shouldn't be overlooked but won't necessarily land you in the ER. If you experience dizziness, consult your doctor before taking Echinacea again.
Increase in Asthma Symptoms
Depending on the severity of the spike in asthma symptoms, you may need to seek immediate medical attention if you experience this side effect. Difficulty breathing, wheezing, or tightness in the chest should alert you to head to the doctor or hospital for immediate treatment.
Some people who take Echinacea could experience rashes or swelling. If these are severe, do seek medical attention immediately.
Unless the fever is very high, speak to your doctor or pharmacist about this side effect, as recommended by Drugs.com. This is a less serious side effect than allergic reactions and difficulty breathing or swallowing, but you should still consult with a medical professional before continuing to take the Echinacea.
Echinacea Side Effects Are Hazardous for Some People
Most medical practitioners regard Echinacea as safe for most people to take for up to six weeks. It is also safe for children ages two to eleven when taken for ten days or less.
It is not, however, recommended for some people, who are more likely to experience severe side effects:
- People who are allergic to ragweed, marigolds or similar plants
- People with autoimmune disorders, HIV, tuberculosis, or those with white blood cell or collagen disorders
- People on immune-system suppressing drugs
- Women who are nursing, planning to become pregnant soon, or pregnant
Many of the diseases mentioned above affect the immune system. Because Echinacea is an immune-system stimulant, it may have the side effect of actually speeding the progression or worsening the symptoms of these diseases.
Long-Term Side Effects
In addition to people who should avoid taking Echinacea, there are other potential problems associated with the herb, especially if it is taken for a long period of time without interruption. Some risks to taking Echinacea for more than six to eight weeks in a row include the following:
- Liver problems in those who are taking steroids
- Decreased immune system functioning
To avoid these long-term side effects, it is important to restrict Echinacea usage to six to eight weeks at a time.
Drug Interactions as a Side Effect
One potential side effect of Echinacea is its interactions with other drugs in the system. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, you should avoid Echinacea if you are taking immunosuppressants.
Although the University of Maryland only cautions against the use of Echinacea when taking drugs to suppress the immune system, Drugs.com lists 40 medications that potentially interact with Echinacea. Among them are the following:
- Crestor (rosuvastatin)
- Lexapro (escitalopram)
- Lipitor (atorvastatin)
- Nexium (esomeprazole)
- Singulair (montelukast)
- Synthroid (levothyroxine)
- Xanax (alprazolam)
- Zyrtec (cetirizine)
Not all drug interactions are negative or dangerous side effects. It is interesting to note that Echinacea may be useful when combined with econazole to treat yeast infections. In studies where Echinacea is used with this drug, recurrence rates have been reduced.
Taking Echinacea as an Immune System Booster
Echinacea is an immune system booster and may help you get through the winter without colds or flu. If, however, you have any sudden allergic reactions or unusual, severe symptoms when taking Echinacea, go to the emergency room. It is always better to be safe than sorry.