The Sneezin’ Season
You waited eagerly for spring to arrive, with its warm breezes and budding trees. Now it’s here, and there’s a big problem: You can’t set foot outside without getting all stuffed up, sneezing constantly or wanting to rip out your eyes. And if allergy-inducing pollen gets into your house or you have lots of dust, mold or pet dander, you may not feel any better indoors. Yes, allergy season is here again, and it’s back with a vengeance. According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI), allergic rhinitis (aka hay fever or seasonal allergies) affects between 10 percent and 30 percent of all American adults, and its prevalence is increasing. Thanks to global warming and other factors, the average pollen season is longer and more pollens are being produced, and this may be a part of the reason, says allergist Clifford Bassett, M.D., assistant clinical professor of medicine at New York University School of Medicine and Long Island College Hospital. Seasonal allergies result when your immune system overreacts to pollens from plants, mainly weeds, grasses and trees. Your body then releases a substance called histamine to fight off the allergens as if they were viruses, causing symptoms like nasal congestion, sinus pressure, sneezing, coughing, a scratchy throat and red, itchy or watery eyes as well as fatigue. If allergies are not adequately treated, Bassett says, sufferers often develop related sinus symptoms, ear infections and/or asthma. Over-the-counter and prescription meds such as antihistamines, decongestants and corticosteroids (in the form of pills, nasal sprays and eye drops) can provide temporary relief but can also cause unpleasant side effects such as drowsiness and dry mouth. And immunotherapy (aka allergy shots), while often effective, can be time-consuming and expensive. So before you go to the drugstore or see your doctor, try the following lifestyle changes and natural remedies.
Distance yourself from pollen
Minimizing your exposure to pollen is your first and simplest line of defense. Here’s how:
CHECK THE COUNT When the pollen level is high, it’s best to stay indoors, says allergist Andy Nish, M.D., of the Allergy and Asthma Care Center in Gainesville, Ga. Learn the pollen count by checking your local TV weather report or newspaper. Or go to Pollen.com and type in your ZIP code for a four-day forecast. Bonus: You can sign up for allergy alert emails or download a smartphone app that will notify you when the pollen count is on the rise.
WATCH THE WEATHER AND THE CLOCK “Pollen levels are typically higher on sunny, dry and windy days and lower on cooler, moist and windless days,” Bassett says. Many grasses and other plants pollinate early in the day, making mornings (particularly between 5 a.m. and 10 a.m.) notoriously problematic for allergy sufferers. So wait until the late afternoon or early evening to take your dog for a long walk or weed your flower bed.
WORK OUT INDOORS Exercise can often help alleviate nasal congestion so you can breathe better—unless you’re outside sucking in pollen, says Bassett. Whenever possible, stick to indoor workouts, especially when the pollen count outdoors is moderate to high.
FLUSH OUT THE POLLEN Research shows that using a neti pot to rinse allergens out of your nasal passages can ease congestion and sinus pressure. Elana Gelman, N.D., a naturopathic doctor at the University of Bridgeport Naturopathic Medicine Clinic in Connecticut, recommends filling the device with 8 ounces of warm purified (distilled or deionized) water mixed with 1⁄4 teaspoon salt. Or buy a neti pot that comes with premixed saline. (Never use tap water; doing so was recently associated with a few fatal brain infections in Louisiana.) For best results, use it in the morning and again just before bed, Gelman suggests.