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By Emily Dwass, Special to Lifescript
Published September 04, 2009
Think spring is the only time allergies strike? Think again. Read on for top tips to fight the
triggers. Plus, test your allergy IQ with our quiz…
More people in the U.S. are suffering from allergies than ever before, says John Joseph Costa, M.D.,
director of allergy services at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.
Some 40 million Americans are stuck dealing with sneezy, sniffly, stuffed-up nostrils, itchy eyes and
skin, and even upset stomachs.
And it's not easy to find relief. One of the trickiest tasks is figuring out the triggers. Is it airborne
pollen grains from grass, weeds, trees and flowers?
Mold spores also are suspects. As are indoor allergens like dust mites and pet dander. Plus, cigarette
smoke and air pollution can aggravate symptoms.
“It’s important to keep track of your symptoms. Knowledge is power,” says Katharine Fast, M.D., an
allergy and immunology fellow at University of California, San Francisco.
Because once you know what's setting off your misery, it’s easier to come up with a treatment plan.
You’ll have to play detective to find out your allergic triggers. But if you can’t, it may be time to visit
an allergist for a skin prick test.
In this quick procedure, a small amount of a possible allergen is placed on your arm or back with
needle pokes. A red, raised bump usually signals an allergic reaction.
Through a combination of medical treatments and avoidance strategies, “you should get to a point
where allergies aren't interfering with your daily life,” says Sean McGhee, M.D., an allergist at UCLA's
David Geffen School of Medicine.
Experts suggest these 9 tips to help you deal with allergies:
1. Clean up the house. When you spruce up your home, wear a filter mask to avoid breathing in all
that dust. Carpets and furniture are breeding ground for many allergens. Wash bed linens weekly in
hot water. Invest in a vacuum cleaner with a true HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filter. It traps
a lot of minute particles that traditional vacuum cleaners don’t.
2. Give up lawn duty. Find someone else to rake leaves, mow the lawn and do gardening. If you get
stuck with the outdoor chores, wear a filter mask.
3. Keep tabs on pollen counts. At www.pollen.com, you can sign up for pollen alerts based on your
zip code. On high pollen days, minimize outside activities, use air conditioning, and keep your home
and car windows shut.
4. Don’t smoke. And stay away from people who do.
How to Outsmart Your Allergies
HEALTH | BODY | LIFE | SOUL
Page 1 of 4How to Outsmart Your Allergies
2. 5. Wear wrap-around sunglasses. It will keep allergens out of your eyes.
6. Keep pets out of the bedroom and main living areas. Dogs and cats can bring pollen from outside
into your home. Plus, pet dander itself is an allergen. Do your best to keep pets out of your bedroom.
7. Shower and wash hair before bedtime. This will prevent allergens from landing on your clean
8. Use washable or hypo-allergenic pillows and bed linens. Dust mites and fungi can infest bed
pillows, so it's best to buy washable ones and/or to encase your pillows in impermeable covers.
9. Don’t line-dry your laundry outside. While it’s good for the environment, it might aggravate your
allergies if your clean clothes are doused with pollen and spores.
Despite your best efforts to make practical day-to-day lifestyle changes, you’ll probably still need
modern medicine to minimize your seasonal suffering. Here are some options:
Over-the-counter and prescription oral antihistamines
If you have mild allergies, over-the-counter pills may offer all the relief you need.
Some first-generation antihistamines, such as Benadryl or Tavist, are effective but can cause
Newer meds, like Claritin and Zyrtec, are less likely to cause sleepiness.
The drugs are “most effective when taken before exposure, so they can sit on the histamine receptor
of your cell like a pit bull in a doorway,” says Suzy Cohen, R. Ph., Lifescript’s pharmacist. They
prevent allergy triggers (like dander or pollen) from getting on the receptor and sparking all the
But beware: Antihistamines can interact with other medications, such as sleeping pills, muscle
relaxants and high-blood pressure medications.
And people with certain medical conditions, such as overactive thyroid, glaucoma, high blood
pressure, diabetes and stomach ulcers, should consult their doctor before taking any antihistamine.
So should breast-feeding women.
Prescription steroid nasal sprays
“For those with more intense allergies, prescription medications can completely suppress seasonal
eye and nose symptoms if you start treatment early and use on a consistent daily basis throughout the
pollen season,” Costa says.
To relieve stuffy noses, doctors often prescribe prescription steroid nasal sprays in combination with
an oral antihistamine. They’re usually effective and easy to tolerate.
But don’t confuse prescription steroid nasal sprays with over-the-counter decongestant sprays.
Although non-prescription sprays may clear your nasal passages at first, when you stop using them you
can get rebound congestion and end up feeling more stuffed up than when you started.
Prescription eye drops
For red, watery, itchy and irritated eyes, antihistamine and steroid drops may help. Doctors often
recommend using these drops in combination with another allergy medication.
Experts caution against using over-the-counter drops that promise to “get the red out.” These too
carry the risk of rebound symptoms: After some temporary relief, your irritated eye might get worse.
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3. Allergy shots or immunotherapy
This is a long-term option for people whose symptoms do not respond to medications.
After determining what your allergies are, you’ll get injections of specific allergen extracts monthly.
It may take up to five years to desensitize your body to the allergens and there’s always a chance
that the treatment won’t be effective.
This low-tech, natural method of cleaning out the nasal passages has been around for centuries and is
enjoying a surge in popularity, thanks to greater promotion and a mention on "The Oprah Winfrey
Using a ceramic neti pot or a plastic squeeze bottle, a saline solution (1/2 teaspoon salt in 1 cup of
lukewarm water) is poured into one nostril. As the solution exits through the other nostril, it washes
out irritants, pollen and mucous.
“It’s a very safe and easy thing to do,” McGhee says. “Some studies show it is as effective as steroid
Your fight against allergy symptoms can get a big boost by avoiding triggers, but that isn’t always
If, for example, you know you’re allergic to birch tree pollen, pulling up every birch tree in your yard
won’t really help. Pollen is a frequent flier and travels miles, so a tree in another neighborhood might
be the culprit.
Beware of Food Sensitivities
People with seasonal allergies should be alert for food reactions, Costa says.
Recent research has found that hay fever sufferers may not be able to tolerate foods that have
proteins similar to those in certain pollens.
For example, some people allergic to ragweed may react to bananas, melons, zucchini, and
cucumber. Sensitivity to birch pollen may cause a reaction to different raw fruits, including apples,
pears, peaches, cherries and plums.
Typical symptoms of oral allergy syndrome include swelling, itching and irritation of the lips, mouth
Sometimes the offending food can be eaten if it's cooked, because heat alters the protein.
But food allergies can be tricky to diagnose. If you suspect an allergic reaction to a particular food,
it’s best to avoid it and see your doctor.
Check out Could You Have a Food Allergy?
Warding Off Vulnerabilities
Hay fever sufferers also may be more vulnerable to other ailments, including sinus infections, ear
infections and eczema.
You may also have a greater chance of developing asthma, a potentially fatal but highly treatable
condition that compromises breathing.
If you have nasal congestion with a nagging cough that doesn’t go away, see a doctor right away, says
Fast, because this can be a precursor of asthma. Don’t ignore wheezing and tightness of the chest
either, because these are also asthmatic symptoms.
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