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Your jacket, pants and shoes will inevitably trap pollen when you’re outside. There is no escape from the tiny grains surrounding you. “You don’t want to take them into living quarters,” Dr. Borczuk says. Keep that in mind especially on windy days that keep pollen circulating through the air.
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“The hours between 5 a.m. and 10 a.m. when pollen levels are highest are the worst,” Dr. Hadjiev says. Work out inside or at night, if you insist on exercising outside. Wear a hat because your hair can store a lot of pollen. “You must if you don’t want to take medication,” Dr. Peters adds.
The smell of fresh grass may seem appealing, but it’s also when pollen is dispersed in the air, Dr. Borczuk says. The only way to get around it is by not being near it. If there is no one to take over your duties as landscaper, always wear a mask, she recommends.
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Contact lenses can be extremely hazardous during the spring allergy season, Dr. Hadjiev says. “Pollen gets trapped behind the lenses.” You end up rubbing up against the inside of the eyelid which can lead to more serious damage then itchy and red eyes. “Avoid lenses for at least two months during the spring season,” he adds.
Also, you can’t use allergy eye drops when the lenses are in, Dr. Borczuk says. You can cause corneal abrasion, a scratch on the eye's cornea, from rubbing your itchy eyes with contacts in.
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Sleeping with the windows open may be tempting to save on your electric bill, but in doing so you’re welcoming annoying pollen into the house. All ACs should have a filter on them, Dr. Hadjiev says. Make sure you have a special filter designed to prevent the air conditioner from sucking pollen inside the house.
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Among the many benefits of sunglasses is their ability to block pollen. “Wrap-around sunglasses are the best idea but you won’t get teens to wear them,” Dr. Borczuk says. They don’t look very cool. “As long as you keep any sunglasses on and your heads clean, you should be fine,” she adds.
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“Wearing a properly fitted mask can go a long way but it has two disadvantages,” Dr. Hadjiev says. “The only mask that truly removes pollen is very big and bulky and it is very impractical to wear unless you are working on a demolition site.” Needless to say, you don’t see people wear it. “The smaller pliable mask people use with the common cold or the flu can help, but it will not remove pollen 100 percent –it is cumbersome and may send the wrong message; it still leaves the eyes unshielded,” he adds.
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Don’t confuse sea salt with table salt. Stir two teaspoons of iodide-free sea salt in 8 oz. of lukewarm boiled or distilled water, Dr. Peters says. Squeeze the solution in one nostril first. Tilt your head downward over a sink and rotate. Breathe through your mouth. Blow your nose very gently to prevent the solution from going into your ear. Saline sinus rinses can bring relief to patients with chronic sinus or rhinitis problems without the use of medication, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.
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Artificial tears help to wash away pollen from eye tissues, according to Dr. Borczuk. Allergic conjunctivitis, an eye inflammation, occurs when the eye comes into contact with an allergen in the air, which is usually pollen. Rinse your eyes with warm water and let the tears wash away the pollen. There are many over-the counter artificial tears to calm the itching. You can also use a cold wet compress to help reduce any swelling.
You need a HEPA filter that removes all particles from air 0.3 microns or larger, Dr. Hadjiev says. This kind of air purifier captures the pollens in the room. They usually clean the air about 5-10 times an hour. You can be fairly certain your bedroom is at least 99.97 percent free of all airborne particulate matter.
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You want to wash off all the pollen your clothes, hair and body may have trapped. Don’t wait too long before taking a shower, Dr. Peters says, and make them an everyday habit. “I’ve seen people whose asthma really kicks in [in the spring allergy season] from not showering every day,” Dr. Borczuk adds. The downside of washing so often may be dryer skin but moisturizing can counteract that condition.
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You can rarely alleviate allergy symptoms without taking medication, Dr. Hadjiev says. “It would require one to stay indoors almost all of the time and to have perfect filtration of the outdoor air.” Medications are often warranted. “I usually tell people to start taking their various forms of allergy pills, eye drops or sprays during the first or second week of April in the Northeast, regardless whether or not they have symptoms,” he adds.
“Some meds take time to rev up the system,” Dr. Lockey says. This is called “priming of the system.” You are preparing your body for action. But if you start to take medication when you exhibit symptoms and they are too severe, “the meds may not even work,” he adds. How long before the allergy season starts depends on the medicine.
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Using herbs as an alternative treatment is fairly controversial. “There is no scientific evidence that proves that herbs work,” Dr. Lockey says.
“Often people want to use an herbal approach,” Dr. Borczuk says. “These may include, but are not limited to, butterbur, quercetin and bromelain. I believe there may be a place for these therapies in allergy treatment, but most board certified allergists are not well versed in the use of these remedies and will gear you more to use our more standard, DEA-approved therapies.”
Acupuncture treatment has shown some promise, according to Dr. Peters, but the side effects have not been well studied.
Dr. Hadjiev says there are several home remedies for allergies: Stinging nettle tea or extract of the stinging nettle plant. Local unheated unprocessed bee honey when used regularly for at least eight weeks can also help. You can put a small amount of the honey under your tongue, let it sit there for a minute and then eat it, he says. “You are teaching yourself sublingual immunotherapy,” Dr. Hadjiev says. This is an alternative way to treat allergies without injections. “It’s not as effective as modern medicine,” he adds.
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Mascara, hair gels, mousse and sprays trap a lot of pollen too close to your eyes and nose, according to Dr. Hadjiev. It’s important to rinse your hair when you come home every day.
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It’s not just your hair that traps pollen. Animals’ hair can carry the particles too. “Washing your pets off after every walk is really all you can do,” Dr. Hadjiev says.
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Dr. Lockey says that if allergy symptoms have not improved after taking two pills, there is no reason to take more. “Every pill is given in optimal doses as approved by the FDA,” he says. “If two haven’t helped, six or seven won’t either, but then you may have to deal with side effects.”
“There are a sundry of allergy medications now available over the counter,” Dr. Borczuk says. “Many people are comfortable using antihistamine pills, for example, Claritin, Zyrtec, Allegra or Benadryl. There can be a problem with overuse/abuse of the antihistamines as they might not work effectively or completely.”
“It is difficult to ‘overdose’ on OTC allergy medicines,” Dr. Hadjiev says. “I have to specify that I am talking about antihistamines as a group which can be subdivided into first and second generation antihistamines.” The first generation, such as Benadryl, tend to make most people very sleepy or groggy. “Most people these days take one of three second generation antihistamines or their derivatives – loratadine, aka Claritin, fexofenadine, aka Allegra and cetirizine, aka Zyrtec. It is even harder to overdose on second generation antihistamines — as the prevalent side effect is drowsiness,” Dr. Hadjiev adds.