Four Ways to Combat Your Allergies

Roughly 50 million Americans dread "allergy season" each year... And I'm one of them.

I start to experience seasonal allergic rhinitis – or "hay fever" – in spring. I then spend about three weeks coughing, sneezing, and rubbing my itchy eyes. And it's no wonder... Spring is the worst season for most allergy suffers.

Experts say we'll see one of the worst allergy seasons in years. I've seen it already in our Baltimore office. Just the other week, one of my colleagues was desperately searching for allergy medication to help lessen his severe symptoms.

Exactly how and when you experience symptoms depends on your trigger allergen...

Seasonal allergies occur when your immune system treats pollen as an invader... producing antibodies to defend your body... and causing stuffiness, sneezing, itchy eyes, and coughing.

There is no cure for seasonal allergies, and the most common drugs folks use to relieve symptoms have harmful side effects. For example...

Claritin is a popular drug that blocks histamine (the chemical that causes allergy symptoms) binding to prevent allergies. But its side effects include drowsiness, headaches, constipation, and dry mouth. It can also raise your blood pressure.

Allergy shots work by regularly injecting small doses of the allergen causing your allergic reaction. However, they can take years to become effective and can have dangerous complications, like anaphylaxis (a life-threatening allergic reaction).

Nasal sprays are a popular over-the-counter medicine to treat congestion. But the relief is only temporary and can actually cause your nasal lining to swell, leading to even more congestion. And overuse can lead to holes in your nasal septum. Worse, the drugs can permanently kill your sense of smell.

I try not to use these potentially harmful drugs.

If you're like me, you want to avoid drugs... so try these alternative solutions...

Here are some tips to reduce symptoms without the pills...

Plan your day. Pollen counts often soar around midday, so you can still enjoy going outdoors in the mornings and evenings.

Plenty of websites track pollen counts and help you plan your outdoor activities. My research assistant uses an allergy tracker on the Weather Channel's website to plan her activities. The tracker breaks down which allergy triggers are most active on any given day. For example, she checks for low-grass-pollen days to plan on mowing her lawn. also offers a tracker and more information on allergies.

Choose where you vacation carefully. If you are allergic to mold, for example, destinations with cooler temperatures will have fewer mold allergens. If you are allergic to pollen, places near the coast have lower levels of pollen. You can look up the allergy forecast for a specific state or county at AirCompare or find state-specific allergy triggers at The Weather Channel.

If you have allergies to feathers or common dust mites, it's a good idea to bring your own pillow. Small inns and bed-and-breakfast places are popular, but make sure to double check with the owners about their pets. They may allow their dog or cat in common areas. If you have a strong allergy to either, check first. And remember, the air conditioner won't just keep you cool... It will filter out common allergens, too, so make sure to run it in your hotel room.

So do what I do and plan ahead. And pack a hypoallergenic pillow cover just in case.

Keep your air filters clean. I keep a HEPA air filter in my bedroom and I clean it once a week. But it's not the only filter to think about...

Clean out and replace filters on your central heating and cooling system as well as your gas furnace. Dirty filters reduce airflow, which puts a strain on your system.

In the kitchen, be sure to clean the filters on your range hood and microwave fans. Not all models contain filters. But if they do, take them out and clean off all the grease and debris. That way, the fan won't blow out all the germs and grit next time you run it.

Use a Neti Pot. The Neti Pot is another one of my preferred methods to cut down on allergies. This is an old Hindu device used to wash the sinuses.

But if you try it, be careful... and follow the instructions. If you don't use sterilized or distilled water, brain-eating organisms found in tap water can enter the brain through your sinuses. In late 2011, two deaths in Louisiana were blamed on the improper use of a Neti Pot.

If my allergies get especially bad, or my eyes get itchy, one of the drugs that I will sometimes use is Zatidor, a histamine-receptor blocker. It helps me with nasal and eye reactions. I also like to use nedocromil sodium eye drops.

And if your allergy symptoms are severe enough... your doctor can prescribe other medications. (One colleague in our office says his airways get so constricted in the spring, his doctor prescribes asthma medications.)

What We're Reading...

Here's to our health, wealth, and a great retirement,

Dr. David Eifrig and the Health & Wealth Bulletin Research Team
April 30, 2019