Illustration: Bee Johnson

Smart strategies including watching what you eat, help tame seasonal allergies.

April 18, 2017

We think of spring as prime time for seasonal allergies. But depending on where you live and what you're allergic to, more than half the year is "allergy season." Allergies are tied to the weather, and the sneezing, sniffling, and itchy, watery eyes triggered by "spring" allergies can now start as early as February. Climate change may be to blame, at least in part. "It's been a little warmer, so the growing season is longer," explains Lily Pien, MD, an allergist with the Cleveland Clinic.

What's your first line of allergy defense? "Knowing what you're allergic to is very helpful," says Pien. Sounds obvious, but people commonly mistake one allergy for another—for example, assuming roses are the problem when they're really allergic to grass.

It's also easy to mistake the sneezing and sniffling for a common cold. But there are some key differences: A cold typically lasts only about a week, whereas seasonal allergies kick in the same time every year and trigger symptoms for as long as the allergen lurks in the air. An itchy nose and eyes are more common with allergies than colds. If you suspect an allergy is to blame, see your doctor. "A simple allergy test can pinpoint your problem," says Clifford W. Bassett, MD, founder of Allergy & Asthma Care of New York and author of The New Allergy Solution.

Fortunately, there is help. "There are a lot of prescription medications now available over-the-counter," says Pien. These include oral and nasal antihistamines and, more recently, nasal steroid sprays. Even though these don't require a prescription, it's a good idea to consult with your doctor to avoid potential side effects. You may be a better candidate for prescription allergy shots or sublingual (under-tongue) tablets, which provide long-term relief. Timing is important, too. "Many medications work better if you start them before symptoms begin," Bassett adds.

Whether or not your take medication, minimizing exposure to allergens will help you stay comfortable. Lessen your allergy ordeal before it starts with these tips.

An Ounce of Prevention

Slight tweaks to your daily routine can help make a big difference when it comes to bidding your achoos adieu.

DRESS FOR SUCCESS
"Wear oversize of wraparound sunglasses to block airborne pollen from entering your eyes," Bassett advises. A wide-brimmed hat also keeps pollen out of your face. Don a pollen mask when you work in the garden (ignore strange looks from your sneezing neighbors).

WATCH POLLEN COUNTS
"Pollen levels are highest on windy, dry, sunny days," Bassett warns. Check the local weather for pollen counts or visit the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology's National Allergy Bureau's website at aaaai.org/nab.

EXERCISE LATER IN THE DAY
That's when pollen counts are at their lowest. On high-pollen days, work out indoors, Pien says.

CLEAN THE AIR
Keep doors and windows closed, and set the air conditioner to "recirculate." Clean filters frequently, Bassett adds, and opt for HEPA filters, which trap pollen.

BATHE BEFORE BED
"Shampoo and shower nightly to rinse pollen from your skin and hair," says Bassett. It's also smart to change clothes before entering the bedroom to keep pollen out.

RINSE YOUR SINUSES
"Saline [saltwater] nasal rinses have been used for thousands of years, and they're very safe," Pien says. Whether you prefer a neti pot or a prepared saline solution, use body-temperature distilled water, and don't rinse your sinuses more than twice per day.

The Food Connection

Many allergy sufferers find food to be their source of strife, but food can help, too. A slew of studies have linked the Mediterranean diet with fewer allergy symptoms. There's also some evidence that probiotics, found in fermented fare like yogurt, sauerkraut, and miso, could help prevent or lessen allergy symptoms, says Robin Miller, MD, a physician who specializes in integrative medicine. And what about eating local honey, long touted as a remedy to prevent allergy symptoms? "That's a myth," says Miller.