FAMILY HOME REMEDIES By Nadeem Y. MuftiALLERGIES - 20 Ways to Feel BetterSprings pollens. Summers smog. Autumns falling leaves. Winters house dust. For millions ofAmericans, each change of season brings its own brand of allergens and irritants. For peoplewith common hay fever and allergies, these pollutants can bring on symptoms ranging from acontinuous, annoying postnasal drip to a full-scale, coughing-sneezing-itchy-eyed allergyattack. For other allergy sufferers, such as those with allergic asthma or an allergy to beestings, attacks can be fatal. In many cases, allergy symptoms are difficult to differentiate fromthe symptoms of other disorders and illnesses, such as a cold, a deformity of the nose, or a foodintolerance. For this reason, many doctors suggest that allergies be properly diagnosed by aboard-certified allergist (a medical doctor who treats allergies) to avoid the self-administrationof inappropriate medications or other remedies. Also, many allergy sufferers can benefit fromtodays wide range of available treatments, such as new prescription antihistamines that dontcause drowsiness, nasal corticosteroids, and allergy injections that can provide immunity to aspecific allergen (an allergen is the name for any substance, such as pollen, that causes anallergic reaction). If you dont go to the doctor, you may be missing out on a treatment that maybe of great help to you. However, many mild allergies, such as seasonal hay fever or an allergyto cats, can be treated with a combination of properly used, over-the-counter antihistaminesand a wide range of strategies to reduce or eliminate your exposure to particularly annoyingallergens. The following tips are designed to help reduce the discomfort caused by the mostcommon allergies. They may be used in combination with an allergists treatment or, if yourallergies are mild, by themselves. Avoid the culprit.Sometimes, the best way to reduce thediscomfort of an allergy is to avoid exposure to the allergen as much as possible, according toEdward J. OConnell, M.D., professor of pediatrics at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester,Minnesota, and past president of the American College of Allergy and Immunology. "Take allpractical measures," he says. For example, if you are allergic to cats, avoid visiting the homesof friends who own them. If you must be around a cat, make the visit as short as possible andavoid touching or picking up the animal, he says.Rinse your eyes.If your eyes are itchy andirritated and you have no access to allergy medicine, rinsing your eyes with cool, clean watermay help soothe them, OConnell says. Although not as effective as an antihistamine, thisremedy certainly cant do any damage.Try a warm washcloth.If sinus passages feel congestedand painful, a washcloth soaked in warm water may make things flow a little easier, accordingto OConnell. Place the washcloth over the nose and upper-cheek area and relax for a fewminutes, he suggests.Use saline solution.Irrigating the nose with saline solution may helpsoothe upper-respiratory allergies by removing irritants that become lodged in the nose,causing inflammation, according to Anthony Montanaro, M.D., associate professor of medicinein the Division of Allergy and Immunology at Oregon Health Sciences University in Portland."The solution may also remove some of the inflammatory cells themselves," he adds.Washyour hair.If youve spent long hours outdoors during the pollen season, wash your hair afteryou come inside to remove pollen, suggests Clifton T. Furukawa, M.D., clinical professor ofpediatrics at the University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle and past chairman of
the Professional Education Council for the American Academy of Allergy and Immunology.The sticky stuff tends to collect on the hair, making it more likely to fall into your eyes.Take ashower.If you wake up in the middle of the night with a coughing, sneezing allergy attack, ahot shower may wash off any pollen residues youve collected on your body throughout theday, says Furukawa. The warm water will also relax you and help you go back to sleep, headds.Wear sunglasses.On a windy day in pollen season, a pair of sunglasses may help shieldyour eyes from airborne allergens, according to OConnell. For extra protection, try a pair ofsunglasses with side shields or even a pair of goggles.Beware of the air."Air pollution mayaugment allergies and may actually induce people to have allergies," Montanaro says. Herecommends staying outside as little as possible on smoggy days or wearing a surgical mask,especially if you exercise outside. "The mask wont remove everything, but it will help," headds.Make your house a no-smoking zone."Dont allow smoking in your house or apartment,"OConnell says. Tobacco smoke is a notorious irritant, either causing or aggravating respiratoryallergies.Keep the windows shut.Most Americans, except for those who have jobs that keepthem outdoors, spend most of their time inside. During pollen season, this can be a terrificadvantage for those with pollen allergies, according to OConnell. "The bottom line, for pollenallergies, is keeping the windows shut," he says. "Closed windows will keep pollen out of thehouse or apartment. For pollen sufferers, during the pollen season, there is really no such thingas fresh air." Air purifiers may help eliminate indoor pollen, but they tend to stir up dust, headds.Filter your vacuum."It is very important to not recycle the allergy factors back into yourhome as you clean," says Furukawa. "For example, youre not doing much good if yourvacuum cleaner allows small particles of dust to be blown back into the air as you vacuum." Herecommends putting a filter on the exhaust port of your vacuum, if your machine is the canistertype (uprights dont usually have an exhaust port). If dust really bothers you and youve got themoney, you can invest in an industrial-strength vacuuming system, Furukawa says. Someallergists recommend a brand called Nilfisk, he adds, which has an excellent filtering systemand retails for about $500. To find out where you can purchase filters or special vacuums, talkto your allergist or write to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, Department CG,1125 15th Street NW, Suite 502, Washington, D.C., 20005.Dust with a damp cloth.Dusting atleast once a week is important--but if done improperly, it may aggravate respiratory allergies,OConnell says. He recommends avoiding the use of feather dusters, which tend to spread dustaround, and opting instead to contain the dust with a damp cloth. Dusting sprays may give offodors that can worsen allergies, he adds.Dont dust at all.If dusting aggravates your allergies,dont do it. Instead, ask a spouse or family member to do the dirty work, or hire a housekeeper,if possible, OConnell recommends.Dehumidify."Dust mites (microscopic insects that areusually the allergy culprits in dust) grow very well in humid areas," OConnell says. Herecommends investing in a dehumidifier or using the air conditioner, which works equallywell. A dehumidifier can also help prevent mold, another allergen, from growing. Whencooking or showering, take advantage of the exhaust fan--another way to help keep humidity toa minimum.Think before you burn.Although it is common to burn household and constructionrefuse, this may not be such a wise idea, says Furukawa. "Wood that is treated with heavymetals or other chemical-laden materials will irritate everybody, but the person who is allergicor asthmatic will have proportionately more difficulty," he says. "Also, pay attention to whatyou are throwing in the fireplace." Of course, your best bet is to stay away from the fireplacewhen its in use.Cut through the smoke.Many people with respiratory allergies find that woodsmoke poses a particular problem, Furukawa says. With wood stoves, the biggest problem is
"choking down" the stove, or decreasing the amount of oxygen in order to cool down the fire,he explains. Choking down throws irritating toxins into the air, which will be breathed in byyou and your neighbors.Leave the lawn mowing to someone else.During pollen season, agrass-allergic person is better off letting someone else--anyone else--mow the lawn, Montanarosays. "Find out when the pollination season in your area is," he advises. "Here in theNorthwest, I tell people not to mow between May and the Fourth of July."Wash your pet.Alittle-known trick for cat or dog owners who are allergic to fur: Bathe your pet frequently."There is strong evidence that simply bathing the animal in warm water substantially reducesthe amount of allergen on the animals fur," Furukawa says. "Animals secrete substances fromtheir sweat glands and their saliva--it is water soluble and you can rinse it off." If youre a catowner and cant imagine bathing your beloved feline for fear of being scratched near to death,take heart: Furukawa says that in an informal survey that he conducted, he discovered that oneout of ten cats will purr when bathed. If they are started as kittens, chances are higher that bathtime will be a harmonious experience, he says. He recommends a bath in warm water, with nosoap, once every other week. In addition to bathing your pet, try to wash your hands soon afteryouve had direct contact with your furry friend.Make sure your final rinse reallyrinses.Chemicals in detergents and other laundry products can cause skin irritation in manypeople, OConnell says. "There really are no mild detergents," he explains. "Its important thatthe final rinse cycle on your machine thoroughly rinses the detergent from your clothes."Callahead.When planning a vacation or business trip, call ahead to find a room that will be easieron your allergies. Ask for a room thats not on the lower level, because a room on the lowerlevel may have been flooded in the past and may still be a haven for mold growth. Shop aroundfor a hotel or motel that doesnt allow pets, so you wont be subject to the leftover dander of thelast travelers dog or cat. If possible, bring your own vinyl- or plastic-encased pillow.