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While there is no official start to allergy season, William Berger, M.D., author of Allergies and Asthma for Dummies, says the first day of spring is a good marker. With the mild winter bringing spring-like temperatures, seasonal allergy sufferers may have been noticing symptoms for several weeks already. Right now tree pollen is circulating; by the end of April grass pollen will be in the air, too.
The best way to deal with allergy symptoms, says Dr. Berger is to prevent them. Start taking antihistamines now to block the histamine reaction that causes symptoms before they can start. "If you get on the bus and a person is already sitting in a seat, you can't sit there." The antihistamines will already be in the seat, so to speak, so when you come in contact with an allergen, those histamines have nowhere to go.
Berger suggests over-the-counter (OTC) antihistamines Claritin or Allegra to treat sneezing, runny/itchy nose and eyes, though they won't necessarily treat all of your symptoms. "The number one complaint of nasal allergy sufferers is nasal congestion.” You'll have to use some other strategies to conquer that.
"One way we treat allergy (and cold) symptoms is by using steam, a natural decongestant," says Berger. Rather than stand in a steamy bathroom or with you head over a boiling pot of water, Berger recommends MyPurMist, a handheld steam inhaler. "It uses a warm mist to soothe irritated tissues in the nose and throat. It's drug-free, so it does not conflict with any other medications." And, he adds, you can it as many times you want.
A less expensive option is the tried-and-true Neti pot, another drug-free approach to treating congestion. Using a small pot, you "wash out" your nasal cavity, clearing it of mucus and other irritants.
If neither of those options works for you, a prescription nasal spray may do the trick. Talk to your doctor about intranasal steroids or antihistamines. Not only will they relieve your congestion, they can be used to treat all of your symptoms, like sneezing, itching. "The nasal sprays I most often recommend to my patients are either intranasal antihistamines, like Patanase and Astelin, or intranasal steroids, like Nasonex and Flonase," says Berger.
Other ways to prevent or ease seasonal allergy symptoms
Besides a daily regimen of antihistamines and alternative cures for congestion, you can take steps to minimize how much pollen you let into your life. "The biggest thing you can do if you've been out all day is take a shower. Wash off the pollen instead of bringing it to bed with you,” says Berger.
He also recommends:
- Keep allergens out by keeping your windows and doors shut to limit the amount of pollen and mold entering your home or car.
- Since trees tend to pollinate in the morning, plan your outdoor activities for later in the day to avoid heightened tree pollen.
- Vacuum once or twice a week to keep dust to a minimum -- it's an allergy trigger, too.
If your symptoms persist, Berger suggests that you see an allergist to identify specific allergens so you can treat and avoid them.