Itchy eyes, running noses and nonstop sneezing make springtime rough for seasonal allergy sufferers. These reactions are prompted by an explosion of tiny pollen grains from blooming plants.
The pollen in the air gets in our eyes, nose, and mouth and causes seasonal allergies when a sensitive immune system overreacts to its presence.
But we aren’t powerless against it.
“There are three phases to treating seasonal allergies: environmental control, medication, and immunotherapy,” explains Dr. Sakina Bajowala, a board-certified allergist based in Illinois.
Medications act after the fact, calming our body’s allergic reaction after pollen has already set it off — though some doctors actually recommend starting medication before you notice any symptoms. And immunotherapy lessens symptoms long-term by slowly training the immune system not to overreact to allergens.
But before taking more drastic steps, we can strengthen our first line of defence against pollen: shielding ourselves from it as much as possible.
1. Keep your windows closed. The last thing you need is pollen from outside floating in to contaminate what should be a safe, inside zone. Keeping the windows in your car and in your home closed stops these tiny particles from entering your safe zone.
2. Clean yourself and your clothes frequently. “Pollen is microscopic,” Bajowala says. “We don’t see it, but it gets in our hair and our clothing.” That means you should bathe or shower before you hit the sack. When you go to sleep without washing, you bring that microscopic pollen right into your bed and onto your pillowcases, breathing it in for all the hours you’re asleep. For the same reason, remove your outside clothing before lounging around inside your home.
3. Wash your bedding in hot water. No matter what you do, some pollen will probably end up in your bed. This is problematic in large part because your bed is a place where you spend an inordinate amount of time. Don’t let that time be spent breathing in pollen: Wash your sheets as often as you can — and make sure the water is hot, says Bajowala. One study found that hot-water washing (at 140F) removed 97% of pollen from laundry, compared to just 69% removed at 86F.
4. Don’t hang your things to dry outside. While drying, your clothes act like a lightning rod for the sticky pollen. If hung outside, they will already be covered with it before you even wear them. This is especially true on a day with a high pollen count.
5. Use a HEPA filter. A high efficiency particulate air filter will reduce the amount of airborne allergens in your indoor environment. “It sucks in the air like a vacuum, then scrubs it and spits it back out,” says Bajowala. Keep in mind a HEPA filter doesn’t do much for heavier allergens like dust mites.
6. Wear large sunglasses. They will keep a lot of pollen away from your eyes — and you’ll look glamorous, too.
7. Use nasal saline. Neti pots, nasal sprays, and other solutions for nasal irrigation can wash away the pollen you’ve already inhaled, giving it less time to irritate your nasal cavity and aggravate your immune system.
8. Use eye drops. If you suffer from seasonal allergies, your eyes are probably dried out and itchy. Eye drops can help both with flushing the pollen out of your eye area and remoisturizing dry eyes.
9. Avoid certain fruits, nuts, and herbs. If you have tree pollen allergies, you should avoid fruits like apples, pears, and peaches as well as almonds and hazelnuts because they can cause a “cross-reaction,” according to Dr. Bassett. This cross-reaction can cause a tingly mouth and itchy throat, in addition to your baseline pollen allergies. Similarly, if you’re allergic to ragweed, avoid echinacea.
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