A beautiful, sunny spring day can quickly turn ugly for more than 35 million Americans who suffer from seasonal allergies. Thanks to a seemingly heaven-sent mild winter, plants and grass were able to bud sooner than normal, causing a premature release of pollen in the air. Which means your annual battle with a runny nose and itchy, red eyes probably got off to an early start.
“This winter was a lot warmer than usual and that’s why pollen levels may seem higher than in the past,” says Preeti Parikh, M.D., Medical Director of Programming at HealthiNation. “Intervals of heavy rainstorms don’t help,” she adds. While a good downpour may wash away pollen at first, water ultimately nourishes plants, promoting the production of tree and grass pollen.
Pollen isn’t a serious threat but it can cause discomfort. “When you have an allergic reaction to pollen, your body releases chemicals called histamines to protect itself from the foreign substance, which then triggers symptoms like congestion, runny nose, irritated eyes, even exhaustion,” Dr. Parikh says. “While having allergies doesn’t make you more susceptible to an infection, it can make you feel miserable.”
To breathe easier this spring and early summer, follow these eight easy tips from Dr. Parikh to outsmart seasonal allergies before they start.
#1 Check the Weather Before you head out, listen to the radio or look online or at TV for the forecast for the day’s pollen count. When levels are highest, pollen will be your biggest airborne enemy around midday and in the afternoon, so plan your outdoor errands and activities in the morning or evening.
#2 Come Clean Pollens and other allergens can stick to you, so as soon as you get home, be sure to change your clothes and take a shower to wash it all away.
#3 Plan Ahead If you’re going to be outside all day, or most of it, consider taking antihistamine medications, which you can get over-the-counter, or prescription-strength medicine, like intra-nasal steroids (talk to your doctor), to help reduce inflammation. Warning: These solutions work best before symptoms start, not afterward.
#4 Equip Yourself Nasal sprays containing saline can help clear congestion, and antihistamine eye drops can relieve some eye symptoms. If you wear contacts, use the drops before putting them on to avoid clouding the lenses. Or better yet, temporarily switch to glasses on high pollen days.
#5 Avoid Certain Foods One in five people with grass allergies and more than 70 percent of people with birch tree allergies suffer from a condition called oral allergy syndrome, which makes them more sensitive to some fruits, vegetables and nuts that share similar proteins to allergy-causing pollen. If you’re allergic to birch or alder trees, you may have a reaction (tingly lips, itchy mouth) to celery, cherries or apples. Tomatoes, potatoes and peaches may bother you if you have grass allergies.
#6 Clear Your Air Research that ionic electrostatic room cleaners aren’t as helpful in keeping your home pollen-free as their manufacturers’ claim. Instead, room cleaners may actually cause irritation rather than provide relief. The best thing you could do is keep your whole-house filtration system clean by changing filters regularly.
#7 Shut Your Windows Don’t invite pollen into your home or car through an open window. Like your clothes, it’ll latch on to your carpet, furniture and car upholstery. Unless you’re cleaning these items daily, keep your windows closed during high-pollen periods.
#8 Give It a Shot If you’ve tried all of the above and nothing is making a difference, you should talk to your allergist about getting immunotherapy allergy shots. These injections can help your immune system become more resistant to allergens and, as a result, lessen your symptoms. Talk to your allergist and ask your insurance company if it covers the treatment (most do).
American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, March 2012
Associated HN videos:
*Allergies & Colds: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ngoMNVA2saY&feature=plcp
*Allergies & Honey Myth: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IqUPezllkJ8&feature=plcp
*Allergies & Weather: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5BY-eFr477Y&feature=plcp
*Allergies & Moving: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dAkO3_P3ewg&feature=plcp