Do you have the sniffles? Are your eyes watering? If so, you may be a victim of spring’s abundance of pollen that’s triggering your runny nose and watery eyes. A warm February caused trees and plants to bloom early, with many blossoming a full month ahead of schedule, allowing for a longer pollen season. As a result, experts say we’re in for a monster of an allergy season.
Before you blame your misery on pollen, however, make sure you don’t have a cold instead. Symptoms of both allergies and colds include stuffy noses, post-nasal drip, and headaches, but if you have fever, muscle aches, and a loud, violent cough, you probably have a cold. Also, if you’ve been suffering for more than about two weeks, you can place the blame on seasonal allergies, which typically last two or more months.
Although you can’t escape pollen, you can use these 10 tips to minimize your exposure:
• Stay indoors during peak pollen times — usually between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology.
• Keep pollen from entering your home by keeping doors and windows shut, and don’t use fans that will bring in pollen-bearing air.
• Run air conditioning or air cleaning systems to remove allergens from indoor air. Use high-efficiency filters (HEPA) for best results, but replace them regularly or they become a breeding ground for bacteria.
• When gardening, wear a mask to reduce breathing in pollen and mold, and wash your face and hands when you come inside.
• Shower and wash your hair at night instead of in the morning to remove the pollen your body has collected during the day.
• Keep car windows closed.
• Monitor pets. If your indoor pets go outside, keep them off furniture and bathe them frequently to reduce the pollen they bring inside.
• Wear sunglasses to help shield your eyes from pollen.
• Watch your diet. Certain foods can make your seasonal allergies worse. Those allergic to ragweed could have problems with bananas, melons, zucchini, cucumber, and chamomile tea.
• Use salt lamps. Salt lamps are made from a chunk of salt that has been hollowed out to make room for a small light bulb or candle. Heating the salt produces negative ions which help purify the air of pollen, dust, and other pollutants.
You can also use these five natural remedies to fight the symptoms of allergies:
• Probiotics. An analysis of 23 randomized studies at Vanderbilt University Medical Center found that probiotics, the “good” bacteria found in yogurt, improved the symptoms of people with seasonal allergies, such as sneezing and a stuffy nose, in 17 of the studies. Researchers theorize probiotics change the composition of bacteria in the intestines in ways that modulate the body’s immune response and stop it from reacting to pollen and other allergens.
• Butterbur. A Swiss study published in the British Medical Journal found that one tablet four times a day (32 mg total) of this European herb relieved hay fever symptoms as effectively as the drug cetirizine, the active component of Zyrtec, with none of the drowsiness. Another study compared butterbur to Allegra with similar results. (Caution: Do not combine a drug for allergy relief with butterbur — you may overdose.)
• Quercetin. An antioxidant found in many fruits and vegetables, including apples and onions, quercetin acts as an anti-inflammatory that helps ease allergic symptoms. A double-blind, placebo-controlled Japanese study found that taking quercetin daily for eight weeks significantly reduced itching and irritation of the eyes in people with pollen allergies. Other research has found that quercetin reduces the amount of histamine produced by and released from cells.
• Stinging nettle. In a double-blind trial published in Planta Medica, 57 percent of patients found the herb was better at reducing the sneezes and sniffles of allergy than a placebo. Researchers believe the herb reduces the amount of histamine the body produces in response to an allergen, such as pollen.
• Acupuncture. A study published in the American Journal of Chinese Medicine found that acupuncture reduced the hay fever symptoms of all study participants. Another study found that acupuncture eliminated allergy symptoms in more than half of participants after only two treatments.
Of course, you can always take over-the-counter non-sedating antihistamines, such as Allegra, Claritin or Zyrtec Take them 30 minutes before going outside.
If your misery doesn’t ease or if your symptoms worsen, see your doctor. Physicians can prescribe cortisone nasal sprays, and immunotherapy in the form of shots or drops under the tongue may be prescribed for those with the most severe symptoms.