By Melanie Ayotte, Boomerang staff writer
Runny nose, sneezing, red watery eyes, nasal congestion, itchy throat and a cough; yes, it is allergy season again. Truth is, though, allergy season is year-round, and an estimated 40 million Americans suffer from some type of indoor or outdoor allergy. When symptoms strike, we often rely on over-the-counter and prescription medications, or even shots, to lessen the severity or avoid potentially life-threatening reactions. But, there are three battlefields on which you can take on allergens with healthy habits to reduce your exposure.
Pollen counts often are the highest between 5 and 10 a.m. Limiting your outside exposure during those times can help diminish your allergies. Be particularly wary of mornings that are especially warm and dry, as pollen counts tend to be higher in those conditions. Dry and windy days also tend to have high pollen counts. The best time for outdoor activities for someone allergic to pollen is immediately following a heavy rainfall. There are many websites on which you can check the daily pollen activity in your area, and some will even send you a notification of high activity via e-mail or text message.
While outside, wear sunglasses or other eye protection to reduce pollen getting into your eyes, and wear a wide-brimmed hat to prevent pollen from landing on your head. If you are particularly susceptible to pollen, wear a pollen mask.
If you are working in the yard, use gloves and avoid touching your eyes and face. Avoid any plants and flowers to which you know you have an allergy. Some to generally avoid are daisies, chrysanthemum, amaranthus, dahlia, sunflower, black-eyed Susan, zinnia, privet and lilac. For an allergy-friendly garden, plant gladiolus, periwinkle, begonia, bougainvillea, iris and orchid, as these species won't aggravate your allergies.
John Salerno, DO, a family practitioner at Patients Medical holistic wellness center in New York City suggests, "When it's still a little cool at night and indoor humidity is low, using a cool-mist humidifier can help get allergens out of the air." He explains, "Water droplets bind to the allergens, and they get heavy and fall to the floor so you don't inhale them. Using a HEPA filter-especially in the bedroom-is the best way to remove spores and pollen from the air."
However, be careful not to over-humidify, because mold, mildew and dust mites thrive in humid environments. A dehumidifier or air conditioner can help remove moisture from your home and reduce allergens.
Vacuum your rugs and floors frequently with a vacuum equipped with a HEPA filter. Wash bedding in hot, soapy water once a week. Do not line-dry your clothes or bedding outdoors when the pollen count is high. Remove your shoes as you come inside to eliminate tracking pollen throughout the house. If you have pets, bathe them when you can and wipe them down with a damp towel after any time spent outdoors with pollen counts are high.
Many of your daily health and beauty routines may inadvertently increase your exposure to allergens, but small changes can make a big difference. After spending time outside, particularly when pollen counts are high, change your clothes and wash your face and hands as soon as you come inside. Bathe and shampoo daily before going to bed to reduce carrying allergens into your bed. Never sleep in clothes you've worn outside. Some hair styling products (gels, mousses, hairspray) and makeup products can act as pollen magnets and trap it in your hair and on your skin. Avoid these products when you will be spending time outside when the pollen count is high.
How you choose to treat your allergic symptoms can affect how you feel, as well. Lack of sleep is one of the most common complaints of allergy sufferers. Nasal blockage or drainage at night can interfere with restful sleep, and some sinus medications can make you drowsy during the daytime, disrupting your body's natural sleep patterns. Know the side effects of any prescription or over-the-counter remedy you take, and make appropriate lifestyle changes to counteract them. If possible, begin taking allergy medication about four weeks prior to when you typically experience symptoms. During allergy season, eat food known to boost immunity, such as berries, apples and fruits high in vitamin C.
Many people will try to self-diagnose and treat their own allergic symptoms, but only an allergist can determine what triggers your reactions and predict the severity of attacks. If you have persistent or severe allergic symptoms, consult your doctor or an allergist.
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