An estimated 50 million Americans suffer from some type of allergy, according to the Centers for Disease Control, and many of them are probably sniffling as they read this. Though spring can bring a welcome respite from the winter cold, the season also brings with it the release of allergens like tree pollen and, in humid areas, mold spores, which can trigger reactions in those with allergies. The symptoms include a stuffed or runny nose with a clear discharge, violent sneezing, wheezing, coughing, and watery and itchy eyes. (A yellow nasal discharge, a high temperature or an achy body are signs of a flu). Want to soothe your seasonal symptoms? Here's our short list of tips:
1. Purify the air in your home. Allergists recommend purifiers that can filter out particles at least as small as 20 microns, the size of pollen (so-called HEPA filters, which must meet certain government standards, will do the trick). Be sure the air filtration unit is large enough to clean the air in the room. You can also try running the air conditioner to reduce humidity, which can help cut down on mold. Close the vent on a window unit to block outdoor air. And, even if you have screens, keep your windows shut.
2. Irrigate your nose to remove allergens and excess mucus. You can squirt in salt water with a bulb syringe, spray your nose from a bottle, use a water pick with a nasal adapter, or try the traditional Indian irrigation device called a neti pot. If salt water isn't handy, ordinary tap water will do the job, albeit less comfortably.
3. Eat foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which help fight inflammation. They can be found in cold-water fish like salmon, walnuts, flaxseed and other foods. Although there's no proof that omega-3s specifically fight nasal allergies, allergists say they might. Omega-3 fatty acids have other health benefits, too, though they have been found to have negative effects on some people with congestive heart failure or chronic recurrent angina (chest pain) due to insufficient blood flow to their heart.
4. To treat a stuffed nose, add a dash of horseradish, chili peppers or hot mustard to your food; all of them act as natural, temporary decongestants.
5. Be especially careful to avoid any foods that you may be allergic to. When your body is fighting spores in the air, "the immune system is already active and angry," says Dr. Neil Kao, of the Allergic Disease and Asthma Center in Greenville, S.C., and food-allergy reactions can be more severe. Studies show that people allergic to birch pollen are more likely to react to raw apples, carrots and potatoes. It also works the other way around: eating foods that your body reacts to can aggravate your airborne allergies. Dr.Leo Galland, a New York internist who uses integrative medicine to treat patients with multiple allergies, has observed that allergies to milk aggravate reactions to ragweed and elm, while allergies to legumes and soybean and cottonseed oil aggravate reactions to grass spores.
6. Take a cold shower or run, for temporary relief. "When I was camping at the peak of ragweed season near a cold river, I found that if I dove in and swam for a few minutes, I was good for the rest of the day," says Galland.
7. Don't rule out herbal remedies. Studies reported in the British Medical Journal and other medical journals have shown that the herb Butterbur can work as well as antihistamines. Galland prescribes it in an extract called Petadolex, which has been treated to prevent ill effects on the liver. Some of his patients, he says, have also had good results with quercitin, a bioflavonoid derived from onions. Both are available in health food stores.
8. If you're still suffering, consider medications. Among the remedies available without prescription, Benadryl is the most powerful, though Claritin is less likely to cause drowsiness. Nasal steroids are still the most effective preventive treatment for congestion, says Dr. Jay Portnoy, president of the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. Galland prefers to prescribe medications that block leukotrienes, another chemical involved in allergic reaction, rather than histamines (like Singulair or Accolate). Talk to your doctor to see what might be best for you.