Allergies can trash an entire season. Some sufferers endure occasional watery eyes or sniffles. For others, it’s debilitating. People with serious symptoms often dread the arrival of spring or summer. Unfortunately, they can’t just lock themselves in a box for three months. The good news is that there are simple steps for preventing seasonal allergy symptoms.
The Body’s Overreaction
Allergies are triggered when your immune system overreacts, treating benign particles like pollen or dust as deadly viruses. It’s similar to when you’re conquering a cold. You suffer a runny nose or a cough––which is actually a sign that your immune system is doing its job. With allergy symptoms, it does the job way too well.
Most people who suffer from seasonal allergies have multiple triggers like ragweed, grass pollen, and mold. This can mean your house has its own layer of allergens. Controlling your indoor environment is easier––a good vacuum with a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter can help. Knowing when you are likely to be triggered is important. Ragweed, for example, begins blooming in August with its highest pollen counts in mid-September. Grass pollen is often a problem in places with warm days and cool nights––like California in the springtime. Allergies to pollinating trees also generally begin in the spring.
Avoidance is a major part of preventing seasonal allergy symptoms. You needn’t become a recluse. Instead, if you have air conditioning in your home or car, keeping it running and your windows closed can help. Use high-efficiency filters in your home AC units along with a portable air machine in your room. Dehumidifiers are helpful for preventing the moist, warm air that cultivates allergens. Keep in mind that anything you wear outdoors can harbor stowaways––tiny specks of pollen you may not even see when you go inside. It’s a good idea to remove footwear in your foyer and have outfits meant to be worn exclusively indoors. You should keep outdoor clothing separate from what you wear in the house and launder it frequently. However, if you usually line dry your clothes you’ll want to switch to a dryer or hang them up inside. Pollen and other seasonal allergens are carried by the wind and can easily contaminate clean clothes hung outdoors.
Be proactive. Keep up with pollen levels via weather apps or follow the information in your local news. If you can, don’t go outdoors in the early morning because that’s when pollen counts are usually their highest. At night, run your AC and keep the windows shut since this is when pollen activity is also high. You may also want to take medication before the onset of symptoms.
There are nearly as many different ways to treat seasonal allergies as there are allergens. Many with mild symptoms have found short-term relief with antihistamines. These drugs work by blocking your body’s reaction to allergens. There are also decongestants that can help, including nasal decongestants. These sprays can provide fast relief, but you shouldn’t use them for more than a few days in a row as they can worsen symptoms. Over the counter steroid nasal sprays are also available and can be helpful. It can take two weeks to feel better from them so if you don’t notice any change in your symptoms after that, it’s time to visit an allergy doctor. This specialist will likely start by testing you––it can be surprising to learn of triggers you didn’t think you had. The doctor can also prescribe medications or recommend shots which slowly build up a tolerance to allergens.
Saline nasal rinses can help clear your sinus passages. You can use a neti pot or squeeze bottle filled with water that’s distilled, sterile, previously boiled, and cooled, or filtered water. These should be used before other medicated nasal sprays.
There are a number of natural remedies as well. These include a flavonoid responsible for the color of fruits and vegetables called quercetin, shrub butterbur extracts, dried algae (spirulina), and Vitamin C for its antihistamine effect. However, there is limited data on natural treatments’ efficacy with seasonal allergies. Although it’s normal to assume natural means safe, nothing could be further from the truth. Herbal remedies aren’t as regulated or tested with the same scrutiny as prescription drugs. Some have serious side effects or can interfere with medications. So, make sure to speak with your Allergist before embarking on a new regimen.
Finally, acupuncture has its adherents. Although there’s limited evidence that it can successfully treat allergies, it’s generally considered safe. Anything is better than spending August in self-imposed hibernation.
Written by John Bankston