If your house is anything like mine, this time of year becomes a battle of wills between the “windows open” and “windows closed” people. My husband would prefer the windows of the house to be open as often as possible: It saves money on air conditioning, helps the house smell fresh and is generally good for the soul. I agree with him on all counts — but I suffer from seasonal allergies. I love the idea of having the smells of a fresh-mown lawn and a hint of peonies drifting in on a breeze from the garden, but I’m more worried about coping with my seasonal allergies. So this time of year finds me battening down the hatches in a desperate attempt to avoid congestion, headaches and eyes so itchy I can only use steel wool under strict supervision.

If you’re one of the roughly 60 million Americans who also suffer from hay fever, you are probably familiar with this phenomenon. The trees are budding, grass is growing and flowers are blooming, but instead of enjoying the beautiful spring weather you’re stuck inside just as if you were in the dead of winter. (That, or you’ve ventured outside and will pay the price for it later.)

Allergy symptoms can be treated in a number of ways, thankfully. Instead of just muddling through the most beautiful time of year, here are a few tips for coping with seasonal allergies. 

dandelion seeds scattering in wind
Dandelion pollen is one of many examples of the powdery substance produced by seed-plant flowers. Image by zwawol from Getty Images, via Canva.com

Simple Solutions

As a refresher, we suffer from allergies when our body’s protection mechanisms overreact to certain triggers. (Like the pollen that is all over everything right now.) When our body detects an allergen, it releases histamines, which are like bouncers at a nightclub. Their job is to get the irritant out of our body by sneezing, tearing up, producing more mucus or itching. If these histamines are in overdrive, we can feel miserable. You can reduce your histamine response with a few simple preventive measures:

Check pollen count: Most weather apps include an air quality index measurement that takes the local pollen count into consideration. On high pollen count days, take extra precautions to protect yourself.

Masks: Wearing a mask can significantly reduce nasal and ocular symptoms, so dig out all those KN95s you collected during the pandemic and put them to good use. 

Keep things clean: Wash pollen off your car and other outdoor spaces like patios and porches, if possible. Then be sure to wash yourself! Pollen can cling to your hair and clothing, so take a shower and change your clothes afterward.

Have a safe retreat: If you, too, battle a spouse about the household window policy, at least ensure your bedroom is as allergen-free as possible. Vacuum, dust and wash linens in warm water frequently to reduce allergens that settle onto household surfaces. Using air conditioning with a HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filter will help a lot, or you could opt to use a stand-alone air filter, too.  

Over-the-counter Allergy Medications

Over-the-counter antihistamines (like Claritin, Allegra, Xyzal and Zyrtec) are typically effective with minimal drowsiness against allergy symptoms. Their generic counterparts are just as effective and less expensive. Try different brands to see which one you like best, or ask your doctor to recommend one based on your particular symptoms. 

Nasal steroid sprays (such as Flonase and Nasacort) work well when partnered with antihistamines by bringing down the inflammation in your nose and sinuses to relieve congestion, runny nose, sneezing and watery eyes. These can be used once or twice daily for the duration of allergy season, but you need to take them on a consistent basis for them to be effective.

Decongestants (Sudafed, for example) can help relieve stuffiness, although they’re kind of a last resort. With side effects that include higher blood pressure, increased heart rate, irritability and insomnia, decongestants are only recommended for short-term use when allergies are severe — three to five days, max.

Be Consistent

Once you’ve figured out the right combination of OTC medications, stay ahead of those pesky histamines. Doctors recommend you start allergy medications about two weeks before allergy season (and your symptoms) begin. Then, be sure to take them regularly throughout the rest of the season. It’s easier to prevent inflammation from histamines than it is to relieve it! If you experience drowsiness while taking antihistamines, try taking the 24-hour dose at bedtime — you will sleep off the worst of the side effects, but it will still be effective through the next day.

neti pot
A neti pot can be used to administer a sinus rinse. Image by NightAndDayImages from Getty Images Signature, via Canva.com.

Nasal Flushing

Some people just don’t like taking medicine. If you’re part of that group, don’t fret; you can reduce your allergy symptoms without resorting to pills or sprays. Sinus rinses can be used in conjunction with OTC medications or on their own, and are relatively effective at relieving allergy symptoms. Sinus rinses are frequently administered by a neti pot, which you can find at just about any local drugstore or online. Using the pot, simply pour the solution through your nasal cavities to flush out gunk and allergens and reduce congestion. It seems nasty, but it can be immensely satisfying. 

Safety note: Please, follow the instructions carefully when using a neti pot. You should only use sterilized or distilled water to mix with the solution included in the package. You can make your own saltwater solution as well (the Mayo Clinic provides helpful instructions here), but be sure you don’t just put tap water up your nose. 

If All Else Fails…

If you feel as if you’ve tried everything on this list and you’re still miserable, it might be time to ask a doctor about immunotherapy. First, they would need to perform an allergy test. Then depending on the severity of your reactions, they might recommend allergy shots to help reduce (or possibly eliminate) your body’s reaction to environmental allergens. This treatment requires regular trips to a doctor’s office for injections or under-the-tongue tablets, and can take three to five years, but is effective for almost 85% of allergy sufferers.

Top image by bluecinema from Getty Images Signature, via Canva.com.

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