When you have allergies, you know how tough it can be to make it through a spring day — let alone a spring hour.
"Your body's natural defenses are overreacting to substances that are usually not harmful," says Dr. Carol G. Baum, an allergist at New York City's ENT and Allergy Associates, about how allergic reactions start. And lately, as you've probably heard, the conditions for these springtime vexations are only getting worse.
"Every year we hear that this is the worst allergy season ever, but I think there is an understanding that with climate change our winters are warmer — and certainly that was the case this year," Dr. Baum says. "Because of that, the allergy seasons tend to start a little earlier and last a little longer, and also the pollen levels tend to be a little higher. All those things are a perfect storm for causing allergies."
Thankfully, you can find comfort amidst the budding trees. These ideas will make you breathe a little easier.
Option A: Avoidance
Simply put: Learn your triggers and get out of their way. "If someone is allergic to pollen, I try to encourage them to run air-conditioning," Dr. Baum says. "If they're in the car, have the windows closed, run the air-conditioning. I always try to encourage people not to get a home close to a highway where there's a lot of pollutants. I try to encourage pets to be out of the home and certainly out of the bedroom — you spend a third of your life sleeping in a bedroom, [and] dander can get into the bedding."
Option B: Medication
"There's a lot of medications available," Dr. Baum says. "They include oral antihistamines as well as topical antihistamines or steroids that may be applied as sprays to the nose or as drops to the eyes." The good news is you can find a combination that works best for you. "You can certainly take an antihistamine, you can certainly use a topical nasal spray, you can certainly use anti-inflammatory medication, you can at the same time get allergy shots," she adds. "They're not all mutually exclusive."
Option C: Allergy shots
Allergen immunotherapy, or allergy shots, exposes your body to allergens in small doses. "You give minute amounts of the allergen very gradually, on a weekly basis, usually over a period of about six months," Dr. Baum says. "Then they get monthly injections for a period that can run usually between three and five years. What it's doing is basically making the patient tolerant to these allergens that they're exposed to so that they don’t have these allergic reactions. It tends to be very effective."
Option D: Neti pots
Don’t fear these little contraptions. Dr. Travis Stork, an emergency doc and host of "The Doctors," assures us that their healing capabilities are legit.
"Your sinuses are interconnected. The saline water is going through your sinuses and washing them up. It's mechanically washing away all the congestion during spring allergy season — you're washing away allergens and pollen. It's very refreshing if you've been suffering from congestion.”
And if you're a little squeamish about trying one for yourself, don't worry: You'll get used to it.
"Everyone's a little hesitant, because the first time you do it it's slightly awkward. But after the first time, it's like riding a bike. You have to commit the first time you do it to the fact that, OK, saline water is going in one nostril and out the other. The first time people do it they should do it in the shower. A great time to do it is at night before you go to bed. You can do it as much as you want. I do it every night."
Just make sure you use the right type of water: distilled or previously boiled, with a lukewarm temperature. "You want the water to be sterile," he says. That will ensure you avoid any weird bacteria getting into your system, which could have fatal results.
Dr. Baum recommends oral steroids for severe cases that aren't responding to
anything else. Surgery is another option.
"Nasal allergies can lead to blockage of the sinuses, causing infections that may require surgery," says Dr. Baum.
Try these at home:
1. All free clear removes 99 percent of grass, tree and ragweed pollen, dog and cat dander and dust mite matter with every wash, hot or cold. 32 load size for $6, www.amazon.com
2. The Honeywell True HEPA Tower Allergen Remover is energy-star rated and removes 99.97 percent of microscopic airborne allergens. $190, Home Depot