If you are one of the 40 million Americans who suffer from seasonal outdoor allergies, the sight and smell of spring flowers may get you teary eyed – literally.
After all, watery and itchy eyes, a runny and stuffed up nose and plenty of sneezes are commonplace for those susceptible to outdoor allergens brought on by blooming buds, fresh grass and plants. Dust mites – which thrive in the spring and summer's humidity – and mold from trees can also be allergy inducers.
If you are ready to stop the sneezing, take these steps to avoid the achoos all season long.
This fine, coarse powder distributed by bees is as abundant in the spring as chirping birds and blooming buds. Those allergic to pollen suffer from symptoms brought on by allergic rhinitis (also known as hay fever), meaning a walk in the park may induce a fit of coughs, sneezes, wheezes and other aggravating maladies.
Sneeze-free solutions: Pollen is most prevalent generally between 5am and 10am. So whenever possible, stick to indoor activities during those hours as well as throughout windy days, when pollen can run rampant. When at home or while driving, keep your windows closed (especially in the early morning) and the AC running (or a whole-house fan with a filter) to prevent pollen from circulating through your home and your car. And while cutting your grass or gardening, wear a medical mask to avoid inhaling all of the pollinated air.
These pesky, microscopic organisms (well, bugs) live in house dust and come alive with the spring and summer's humidity. Thriving off of discarded skin scales or dander from humans and pets, dust mites can trigger asthma-like symptoms as well as those similar to pollen allergies.
Sneeze-free solutions: Dust mites tend to make their homes in your home – especially in softer surfaces like pillows, bedding, carpets and couches. Reduce their presence by covering those surfaces with hypo-allergenic casings, washing your sheets weekly in hot water, and vacuuming twice a week. (Vacuum cleaners with HEPA filters are available to keep you from blowing the dust and pollen around your house.)
April showers may bring May flowers, true... but they also create an abundance of mold. When inhaled, mold spores -- which are usually found in damp areas like basements, bathrooms, grass and mulch -- may produce allergens, triggering a multitude of symptoms, from watery eyes to an itchy throat and a runny nose.
Sneeze-free solutions: Be sure that your home is well-ventilated -- too much moisture is the cause behind most mold growth. You can use a bleach-solution in some areas (and again, be sure there is good ventilation -- this time to avoid toxic fumes from the cleanser). You may also want to regulate your home's humidity. It should remain below 40 percent, and this can be tested regularly with a hygrometer. You can also keep the AC running, which zaps excess moisture.
When you first feel a sneeze coming on or get a bit of a runny nose, remember that this is your body's way of trying to expel an allergen from your system. Don't instantly stifle your sneeze and use a tissue to gently blow your nose. If you're lucky, you may escape having a full-fledged allergy attack.
Swish out your sinuses
Whether before your body goes into full allergy mode or during a sneezing fit, you can try washing out your sinuses with a saline solution. This kind of cleansing is called "neti," from its origins in India, and the goal is to rinse the allergens away.
It's generally recommended that you make your own saline to ensure there are no preservatives or other ingredients that could make the situation worse. Use about 1/2 teaspoon of salt (the more natural and unprocessed the salt, the better) for each 8 ounces of lukewarm water. The end result will be very much like your body's natural tears.
The process isn't much fun, but it can be very effective. You tilt your head back and gently pour a small stream (you can use a cup, a neti pot or a clean squeeze bottle), in each nostril to get the saline up into the sinuses, then let the solution drain out into the sink or a tissue. You may need to repeat the process every hour or so or as needed to get your body to calm down its allergic response. (Of course, if you have a history of sinus or ENT problems, check with your caregiver before trying saline irrigation.)
Sleep on it
Anecdotally, several people say that taking the simple action of lying down with your head facing up or slightly to the side can calm an allergy attack. The results, though, generally are not long-lasting: soon after you go upright again, the sneezing and other symptoms may come right back. But it might offer you enough of a reprieve so that other therapies might have a chance to work ... not to mention the simple joy of having a few minutes to relax without bracing for another sneeze!
If all else fails, you may need to take an allergy medication. Many symptoms may be sapped with over-the-counter antihistamines like Claritin and Benedryl (and their generic equivalents). These tend to work best if you take them at the very first sign of an allergy attack. Once your body has had a full reaction, you may well lose the whole day to sneezing and itchy watery eyes and nose. If your doctor suggests it, consider taking an allergy pill, such as a 24-hour loratadine with decongestant, each night before bed to stop the histamine response before it can begin. Get information about more medical treatments for allergies here, and talk to your doctor or pharmacist for suggestions, particularly for antihistamines that won't make you drowsy.
Beyond OTC treatments
If you suffer from severe and persistent allergy attacks, you might want to consider immunotherapy, a series of shots that expose you to tiny doses of culprit allergens. Immunotherapy builds up your defense cells and may help your body from overreacting when exposed to allergens in the future. Consult your doctor to determine the best treatment for you.
In addition to the sneeze-free solutions listed above for the different types of most common spring allergens, here are a couple other tips to try:
Aim to avoid
Avoid exposure to airborne molds by staying away from damp soil, compost piles, sandboxes and fertilizers. Recruit your husband or a friend to take on tasks like leaf-raking and grass-cutting (if you do the raking and cutting, at least wear a mask), and keep away from dense woods—where mold tends to latch on to fallen logs and trees -- especially after a rainfall.
You don't want to let allergies rule your life. But at the same time, may want to plan your schedule – especially the time you spend outdoors – so you are not unwittingly exposing yourself to even more allergens. If you are going to travel, time your trip to coincide with low levels of pollen, mold or dust-mites. Check out pollen.com for a local four-day allergy forecast.
How do you manage your allergies? Let us know in the comments section below!
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