Seasonal allergies: How to nip them in the bud

Rachel Dove rbaldwin@civitasmedia.com

May 5, 2014

By Rachel Dove


WILLIAMSON - Spring means flower buds and blooming trees - and if you’re one of the millions of people who have seasonal allergies, it also means sneezing, congestion, runny nose and other bothersome symptoms.

Seasonal allergies, also called hay fever and allergic rhinitis, can make you miserable. But before you settle for plastic flowers and artificial turf, try these simple strategies to keep seasonal allergies under control.

To reduce your exposure to the things that trigger your allergy signs and symptoms (allergens), you should follow the following recommendations.

Stay indoors on dry, windy days - the best time to go outside is after a good rain, which helps clear pollen from the air. Delegate lawn mowing, weed pulling and other gardening chores that stir up allergens. Remove clothes you’ve worn outside; you may also want to shower to rinse pollen from your skin and hair. Don’t hang laundry outside - pollen can stick to sheets and towels, and make a point to wear a dust mask if you do outside chores.

Allergy sufferers need to take extra precautionary steps when the pollen count is high. Seasonal allergy signs and symptoms can flare up when there’s a lot of pollen in the air. These steps can help you reduce your exposure:

Check your local TV or radio station, your local newspaper, or the Internet for pollen forecasts and current pollen levels. If high pollen counts are predicted, begin taking allergy medications before your symptoms start. Close doors and windows at night or any other time when pollen counts are high, and avoid outdoor activity in the early morning when pollen counts are highest.

It is very important to keep indoor air clean. There’s no miracle product that can eliminate all allergens from the air in your home, but these suggestions may help:

Use the air conditioning in your house and car. If you have forced air heating or air conditioning in your house, use high-efficiency filters and follow regular maintenance schedules. Keep indoor air dry with a dehumidifier. Use a portable high-efficiency particulate air filter in your bedroom and clean floors often with a vacuum cleaner that has a HEPA filter.

Several types of nonprescription medications can help ease allergy symptoms. They include oral antihistamines such as Claritin, Zyrtec, Allegra and Benadryl, to name a few, which may have side effects that include drowsiness. Decongestants, such as Afrin and Sudafed, will also help bring relief, but these products are only recommended for short-term use.

Rinsing your nasal passages with distilled, sterile saline solution (nasal irrigation) is a quick, inexpensive and very effective way to relieve nasal congestion. Rinsing directly flushes out mucus and allergens from your nose. Look for a squeeze bottle or a neti pot, which is a small container with a spout designed for nasal rinsing - at your pharmacy or health food store.

Use water that’s distilled, sterile, previously boiled and cooled, or filtered using a filter with an absolute pore size of 1 micron or smaller to make up the saline irrigation solution. Also be sure to rinse the irrigation device after each use with similarly distilled, sterile, previously boiled and cooled, or filtered water and leave open to air-dry.

When home remedies aren’t enough, see your doctor. For many people, avoiding allergens and taking over-the-counter medications is enough to ease symptoms. But if your seasonal allergies are still bothersome, don’t give up.

A number of other treatments are available. If you have bad seasonal allergies, your doctor may recommend that you have skin tests or blood tests to find out exactly what allergens trigger your symptoms. Testing can help determine what steps you need to take to avoid your specific triggers and identify which treatments are likely to work best for you.

For some people, allergy shots (allergen immunotherapy) can be a good option. Also known as desensitization, this treatment involves regular injections containing tiny amounts of the substances that cause your allergies. Over time, these injections reduce the immune system reaction that causes symptoms.

Whatever steps have to be taken to control seasonal allergies, the end results are always worth it when the warm, spring days can be enjoyed without the aggravation of sneezing and watery eyes.