Ahh-choo! If you seem to be sneezing all the time lately, you’re probably a victim of the dreaded allergy season.
Susan Abouhassan MD shares a few tips that may offer allergy relief this spring. And no, living in a bubble isn’t one of them.
What Causes Allergies?
An allergy is an immune response or reaction to specific substances.
Common allergens include:
- Food (like shellfish or peanuts)
- Insect venom
- Pet and other animal dander
Why are More People Suffering from Allergies?
Millions of people suffer from allergies and the number continues to grow.
Dr. Abouhassan says the “hygiene hypothesis,” which came from the observation that infants on farms tend to have fewer allergies than those who grow up in more sterile environments, may explain this. “Our environments – growing up now – are just too clean, and we’re not exposed to enough infectious agents, so our immune systems start reacting against seemingly benign things . . . like dust mites or pollens or animal dander.”
Preventing and Managing Allergies
“The mainstay of allergy therapy is always avoidance,” Dr. Abouhassan points out. She recommends:
- Learning what triggers your allergies and avoiding them
- Avoiding the outdoors during peak pollen hours (pollen counts are highest during early morning hours)
- Showering (or wiping your face and hair) immediately after spending time outdoors
She also suggests taking any prescribed allergy medications at least a couple weeks before the anticipated pollen season, “because it does take a few weeks to take effect.”
Generally, intranasal steroid sprays are the only medicine people need for allergic rhinitis (typically triggered by ragweed, grass, tree pollen and mold spores); however, if people are getting incomplete relief, she says pairing intranasal steroids with antihistamine medicines may help. Over-the-counter antihistamines, like Allegra, Zyrtec and Claritin, often help with itching and sneezing. On the other hand, leukotriene blockers, like Singulair, may relieve stuffiness or nasal drainage.
“Then, there are allergy shots. Allergy shots are the only interventions that modify the immune response,” she explains. “All the other medications are Band-Aids. They are treating symptoms. They aren’t getting to the root of the problem.”
5 Ways to Allergy-Proof Your Home
While it’s not possible to completely allergy-proof your home, a few simple changes can reduce the amount of allergens you and your family are exposed to.
Tip #1: Decorate with Less Fabric
In general, it’s better to live in a house with less fabric. For example, it’s much more difficult to remove animal dander, dust mites and pollen out of carpet or other cloth materials. “Things that can be easily wiped down on a regular basis would be ideal,” Dr. Abouhassan says.
Tip #2: Vacuum with a HEPA Filter
For those who do own pets or are allergic to dust mites or pollen, using a vacuum with a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter can trap these pollutants and minimize exposure.
Tip #3: Keep Your Bed Clean
Your bed is a haven for dust mites and animal dander (if you own pets). Dr. Abouhassan suggests encasing your mattress, box spring and pillows in special dust mite covers to decrease your exposure to dust mites. However, she reminds patients, “These are fairly pricy measures, so you’d probably want to get evaluated, and make sure you know what your triggers are.”
Tip#4: Shut Your Windows and Run the A.C.
It’s not exactly cost-effective, but keeping your windows shut and running either the air conditioning in the spring and summer or heat during the winter, can greatly benefit those with pollen allergies. “Run something at all times, because that filters out about 90 percent of the pollen,” she adds.
Tip #5: Keep the Plants Outdoors
Houseplants, because the soil stays moist and harbors mold, can be an allergy trigger for those allergic to mold. For this reason, avoid collecting plants indoors, or at the very least, keep houseplants at a minimum.
*All professionals quoted in this article were affiliated with TriHealth at the time of initial publication.