By Clifford W. Bassett, MD FACAAI, FAAAAI Medical Director, Allergy & Asthma Care of NY
Due to several years of record-breaking levels of seasonal pollens, it is essential to have an allergy survival plan in place. Why such high levels? Climate change, the rise in worldwide temperatures and greenhouse gases, record amounts of precipitation, and overplanting of male plants have resulted in longer allergy seasons. All these factors have created a perfect storm for those who suffer from seasonal and mold allergies.
Stay one step ahead for an allergy-free season! First, you need to know if you have seasonal allergies so you can customize a successful allergen avoidance and management plan.
Second, many sufferers don’t realize that medications (nasal antihistamines/steroids, oral antihistamines and eye drops) often work better before symptoms take hold. You may actually need less if started before peak allergy periods.
Allergies can take a toll on many areas of your life. Sleep is big one. Allergy sufferers are often sleepy during the day, especially if you are hooked on drowsiness-causing OTC medications or insomnia-causing oral decongestants. Daytime fatigue can actually be caused, in part, as a result of blocked nasal passages that disrupt sleep patterns. That’s what I refer to as "allergy fatigue syndrome."
Get the right treatment to control your seasonal and indoor allergies, so you can breathe better at night and have better quality rest. It’s time to break the cycle, get treated successfully, and sleep better. Eventually, you won’t even need that extra latte!
Here are some allergy survival strategies that I have found to be extremely helpful to allergy sufferers:
Stay Cool: Cool eye compresses may improve appearance and reduce unwanted eye allergy symptoms.
Be a Star: Wear big sunglasses to block pollen entry into your eyes and eyelids, especially on windy days.
Rinse Wisely: Wash your eyelids gently when you wash your face each morning. Shampoo your hair in the evening if you have been out on high-pollen days (or after being outdoors) to remove and wash away unwanted seasonal pollens and molds. This will stop them from landing on your pillow and bed sheets during the night. Change your clothing before entering your bedroom to reduce pollens from being brought into your bedroom.
Wear a Hat: Get a sombrero! Wear a wide-brimmed hat to prevent pollens from landing on top of your head.
Say No to Hair Gel: Don’t use hair gel and similar hair-care products that can act as “pollen magnets” during the height of allergy season.
Avoid the Pollen Problem: Consider exercising indoors on very high-pollen days. Higher levels of pollens are usually found on warm, dry and windy days.
Plan Ahead and Know Your Pollen Count: Go to AAAAI.org/NAB for accurate pollen and mold levels in your area. Pollen levels are typically higher on warm, sunny, dry and windy days, and lower on cooler, moist, wet and “windless” days.
Mask It: Wear a pollen mask, use gloves and avoid touching your eyes and face. This can really help during gardening or lawn mowing.
Don’t Line Dry: Never line dry clothing outdoors on high-pollen days, as it will adhere to your linens, towels, etc.
Avoid Certain Plants and Flowers
They may be pretty, but it’s better to keep your distance. Many flowers will drive up your allergy symptoms, especially if you really inhale their aroma up close. Avoid the following: Daisies, chrysanthemum, amaranthus, dahlia, sunflower, black-eyed Susan, zinnia, privet and lilac.
Try an Allergy-Friendly Garden: Plant gladiolus, periwinkle, begonia, bougainvillea, iris and orchid. These plants won’t aggravate your allergies.
Start Your Allergy Treatment Early: See an allergist for simple, fast, reliable allergy tests so you can get relief.
Get Shot: Allergy injections are the only immune-based therapy we have that will actually reduce and slow down “allergic disease” progression. It will provide excellent long-term relief in over 85% of patients.
The Next Wave, Allergy Drops: During the last 70 years, state-of-the-art treatment for allergies has been shots, also known as allergy immunotherapy. By receiving small quantities over time of the exact allergens the patient is allergic to, physicians can reduce and potentially eliminate the patient’s allergies. But oral allergy drops could be the wave of the future. An exciting new study recently released offers allergy sufferers an alternative treatment to the traditional shots.
The study, out of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. This scientific review of more than 60 published studies on the use of oral allergy drops, in more than 5,000 European patients, proves them to be an effective option in treating allergy symptoms. The typical allergens used in this review included pollens, dust mites, pet dander and molds. This could potentially be good news for the 40-plus million allergy sufferers in the United States, especially those who hate getting stuck with a needle.
Allergy drops are similar to shots; however, the allergen is taken underneath the tongue, instead of being injected into the arm. Children, adolescents and adults who have allergies in the US may find this approach appealing, as the drops can be taken at home, as opposed to the doctor's office. Researchers cautioned allergy sufferers to weigh the pros and cons of receiving this treatment before making a decision. There are some side effects associated with the oral allergy drops, including itchiness of the mouth, but no life-threatening reactions were reported.
The drops are currently only available in Europe, as well as some other countries abroad. At the present time, there are no companies producing an oral allergy drop in the US that's been approved by the Food and Drug Administration. In my opinion, it appears likely the sublingual oral allergy drops for treatment of allergic asthma and allergies will be widely available at an allergist’s office near you in the coming years. As always, see an allergist for recommendations on the best course of effective allergy care and treatment.
Medications Work: Effective and safe choices for relief include: OTC nasal saline sprays/rinses, prescription nasal steroid and antihistamines, oral antihistamines, leukotriene blockers and allergy eye drops.
Clean the Air: At home or when driving, keep windows closed and set the air conditioner on “re-circulate” to keep out the pollens. Clean filters in air conditioners frequently during allergy season to get the best efficiency. The MERV is a rating scale that tells you how good a filter is at removing allergens in your home. The higher the rating, the better off you are. Look for a MERV value of 11-12.
Avoid Window Fans: This is a rather good way to bring in unwanted pollens or mold spores. If you don’t want that, skip window fans.
Avoid Cross-Reactions: As many as 1 in 3 seasonal allergy sufferers may experience “oral allergy syndrome” (tingling of the mouth or itchy throat) after ingesting certain foods (apples, pears, carrots, celery, peaches, cherries, as well as almonds and hazelnuts). If you have seasonal tree pollen allergies, this is due to a cross-reaction between the proteins in these foods and the pollens. Melons, tomatoes and oranges may cross-react with grass pollens. If you are sensitive to weed pollens watch out for melon, chamomile tea, and banana. Review this Seasonal Allergy Cross-Reaction Chart.
Enjoy the great outdoors this season with these simple, practical and proven ways to stay allergy-free!