YOU’RE NOT THE only one who does it. Right around this time of year, when it’s kinda spring and kinda also summer, the outdoors becomes the theme of every plan made for the weekend. We leave the treadmills for the trails. We take our dinners to the backyard grill, our sleep to the tent, our grocery lists to the farmers’ market. We want to maximize moments spent in peak sunlight because man oh man, “it’s just so nice outside!”
But nothing spoils that quite like a bout of allergic reaction—the result of our overzealous immune system producing antibodies, readying to wage a war against the harmless little yellow specks that invade our lungs. You know the symptoms: a barrage of achoos followed by itchy eyes and a nose runnier than an English bulldog’s. We love this time of year, but we can so easily hate this time of year.
For some, pollen is enough to turn on the waterworks. For others, it’s more than just that. Aside from seasonal irritants, there are year-round, indoor allergens, too—household critters, flecks of pet dander and that pink mold, which has been slowly but surely climbing its way up your shower curtain. “Sometimes people describe it as an allergy bucket,” says Dr. Nancy Zuerlein, allergist-immunologist at the Arkansas Allergy and Asthma Clinic, who we turned to for our allergen education this month. “The more things that you put into the bucket, the more likely it is to overflow with symptoms.” But whatcha gonna do, you know? Turns out, quite a few (mostly) simple things.
“When people are outdoors for a long time, and when pollen lands in their eyes and their nose and mouth, the longer it sits, the more likely it is to stir up symptoms,” Dr. Zuerlein says. Small measures like shutting your windows at home and keeping them rolled up in your car go a long way. If you can’t avoid being outside, make sure to wash your face and hands, as well as swish and spit water every now and then. “When you get home, you don’t want to bring the pollen inside with you, so you want to wash your hair. A lot of people will change their clothes as soon as they get home.” Even better? Take a shower, and don’t forget about wiping the pollen off your pets as well.
Keep the dust mites at bay.
Just because pollen is the main springtime offender, it doesn’t mean you should forget about year-round triggers, such as dust mites. The pesky microscopic bugs like to hunker down in locations such as mattresses, bedding, carpets and upholstered furniture, and feast on skin cells that people and pets shed. “You want linen that’s easily washable, that you can throw into hot water and double-rinse to make sure all the dust mites are gone,” Dr. Zuerlein says. “If your child has a stuffed animal, or you have something that’s down and you cannot throw it in the washing machine, you can wrap it in plastic and stick it in the freezer overnight. That’ll actually freeze the dust mites.”
Break out that neti pot.
It’s been quite a while since you’ve last laid eyes (or nose) on your neti pot. In fact, you’re probably already going over the geography of your house, wondering where the neti pot is stashed. Word to the wise: Find it, and put it to good use. If you tend to wake up in the morning feeling bogged down by mucus buildup from resting flat all night, try incorporating a neti pot into your bedtime routine so you get your much-needed zzzs with a clean slate. “It’s a nice, natural thing you can do that’s simple,” Dr. Zuerlein says. “You can do that as much as you want for symptomatic relief. It soothes the nose; it soothes the airway passages without having to go to medication.”
Give over-the-counter antihistamines a try.
If you’re still a red-eyed, sniffling mess even after putting avoidance measures in place, you might want to pick up some antihistamines for symptoms such as sneezing and an itchy, runny nose. Don’t worry about slipping into an unplanned nap on your keyboard. Medication such as Zyrtec, Xyzal, Allegra and Claritin are nonsedating and claim to work for 24 hours—although Dr. Zuerlein says the medication typically doesn’t last that long for most people. “The other thing that underlies a lot of allergies is inflammation and swelling,” she says. “The antihistamines don’t address that as much. That is where we use the nasal steroid spray. Steroids work well in getting rid of underlying swelling or inflammation.”
Look into air filters and vaporizers.
Dr. Zuerlein is quick to say that air filters shouldn’t be your first line of defense—that practicing avoidance always comes first. But sometimes, controlling your environment isn’t the most feasible thing to do, particularly when you’re at work. In that case, you might want to spring for an air purifier with a true HEPA technology. (HEPA is a type of filter that works best in trapping a high percentage of the airborne allergens and irritants). “Some people have real thick mucus and might benefit from getting the cool-mist vaporizer,” Dr. Zuerlein says. “But you have to be really meticulous about cleaning it so it doesn’t get mold. You don’t want to be blowing mold out.”
Consider allergy shots.
The truth is, nobody likes shots. Also true: Nobody likes suffering through fits of sneezing, either. If you’re still slogging through your days after upping your cleaning game, trying your luck with antihistamines and putting that neti pot to good use, you might want to consider a more serious—and lasting—approach to putting your allergies to bed. “Allergy shots are the third line of defense,” Dr. Zuerlein says. “With allergy shots, rather than covering up symptoms, you’re retraining your own immune system.” The shots are typically concocted using the very same things you’re allergic to and are introduced to the body slowly over time in an effort to decrease the body’s sensitivity to specific allergens. “It just takes time and commitment. Those are the things that you have to consider if that works for your lifestyle.”