How to Combat Seasonal Allergies
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How to Combat Seasonal Allergies
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PESKY POLLEN

The arrival of spring brings welcome warmth after winter's chill, but allergy sufferers know that the change of season also brings itchy eyes, runny noses, sore throats, and sneezing. Thanks to the increase in pollen from trees, grasses and weeds, more than 20 million adults and 6 million children are affected by allergic rhinitis (also known as hay fever) — and those numbers seem to be on the rise, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. The good news is that just like with fall allergies, there are plenty of steps to take to combat spring allergies. Here are helpful tips to make springtime a more pleasant season.

See a Doctor
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SEE A DOCTOR BEFORE ALLERGY SEASON

If you know you suffer from allergies, it's a good idea to visit a doctor in late winter or early spring before pollen levels peak. An appointment with an allergy and sinus specialist may be especially helpful, as they can test to determine what triggers allergies, and there may be new treatments or combinations of therapy that could help reduce the severity of your reactions. If you took medications that were effective, make sure those prescriptions are filled early.

Be Aware of Pollen Levels
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BE AWARE OF DAILY POLLEN LEVELS

If you have springtime allergies, chances are you're most allergic to tree pollen, which can come from a wide variety of species, including oak, maple, and pine. The body's immune system sees harmless pollen and other allergens as dangerous substances, and reacts by producing chemicals such as histamine and leukotrienes, which in turn inflames the lining of nasal passages, sinuses, and eyelids. Check daily pollen levels before heading out and take allergy medications and precautions before symptoms start. There are websites and apps that provide detailed pollen counts, including The Weather Channel, Pollen.com, and the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.

Plan Outdoor Time Wisely
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PLAN OUTDOOR TIME WISELY

While avoiding pollen completely is impractical — unless you've found a way to travel around in a bubble — you can still plan outdoor time to reduce exposure. Stay indoors as much as possible when pollen counts are high, especially on dry, windy days, to help minimize allergic reactions. A good time to go outside is after a heavy rainfall, which can help reduce the pollen in the air.

Exercise Indoors
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EXERCISE LATER IN THE DAY OR INDOORS

If you typically run or exercise outdoors in the morning, try postponing the workout until later in the day. Most plants pollinate from 5 to 9 a.m., so if you can avoid running around outside during those times, your body will thank you. Warmer weather may make an outdoor workout more tempting, but consider exercising indoors at least on days with high pollen counts.

Keep Your Grass Trimmed
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KEEP THE GRASS TRIMMED AND CONSIDER REPLANTING

While spring may be the time to spruce up lawns and gardens, for allergy sufferers those chores can be particularly unpleasant with all that pollen. But there are steps you can take outside to reduce your symptoms. By keeping the grass trimmed short — around 2 inches — you can cut the leaves before they produce flowers and pollen. Just be sure to wear long sleeves and pants, eye protection, and a mask when you do, or delegate someone else to do it. By fertilizing, you can also thicken the thatch of your grass to minimize allergenic weeds. And you may want to consider replanting high pollen trees, plants and grass with low pollen alternatives.

Protect Your Eyes
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PROTECT YOUR EYES

When you go outside, be sure to wear tight-fitting or wraparound sunglasses to help keep wind-borne pollen from irritating the eyes — though glasses are considered better than contact lenses specifically because pollen won't get trapped behind a lens and cause more harm. Be sure to clean glasses regularly to keep pollen from traveling with you.

Take a Shower and Change Clothes
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TAKE A SHOWER AND CHANGE YOUR CLOTHES

After spending time outside — whether working out, gardening, or just walking around — its a good idea to change clothes and take a shower to minimize the amount of pollen brought back into the home. Leave shoes at the door for the same reason, and ask guests to do the same. If you have pets, minimize the amount of pollen they bring inside by wiping them down with pet wipes.

Close Windows and Use A/C
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CLOSE WINDOWS AND USE A/C WHEN POSSIBLE

As tempting as it may be to open the windows for that warm spring air, it's a good idea to keep them closed — especially on days with high pollen counts. Instead, use the air conditioner in cars and homes, and be sure to clean or change filters regularly.

Use an Air Filter Indoors
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USE AN AIR FILTER INDOORS

Keep the air clean in a home and reduce the amount of pollen in the air with the help of a high-efficiency particulate air purifier. While whole-house HEPA purifiers can get costly, there are some well-priced portable units, such as the GermGuardian (about $85 on Amazon), that are effective for cleaning the air in individual rooms.

Start Spring Cleaning Early
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GET STARTED ON SPRING CLEANING EARLY

In addition to taking steps to keep pollen out of a home and using an air purifier, it's a good idea to get started on spring cleaning as soon as possible. Give extra attention to areas where allergens tend to gather, such as carpeting, upholstered furniture, bedding, and curtains, but even bare floors and other surfaces should be cleaned thoroughly. Be sure to wear a mask while cleaning, and consider non-toxic cleaners over those that contain irritating chemicals. Also, eliminate allergen-collecting clutter, and take steps to banish cockroaches and other pests, which can trigger allergy symptoms.

Eat Smart
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EAT SMART TO COMBAT ALLERGENS

Boosting your immune system with smart food choices is a great — and delicious — way to help reduce the severity of spring allergies. Berries, peppers, onions, and parsley are thought to help reduce histamine reactions, as are kiwis, which also offer immune system-defending vitamin C. Doctors recommend two weekly servings of fish, particularly salmon, mackerel, and tuna, which are high in omega-3 fatty acids that reduce inflammation. Some people also find teas made from peppermint, stinging nettle and other herbs helpful for reducing allergy symptoms. And as much as we might enjoy local honey in our tea, most reports suggest that it won't help your allergies.

Clear Your Sinuses
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CLEAR YOUR SINUSES WITH SALINE

While nasal irrigation with a saline solution may sound intimidating, the ancient process has been shown in studies to be effective in clearing mucus and allergens from nasal and sinus passages, while also reducing inflammation. It's inexpensive, easy to do, and many find they don't have to rely as much on allergy medications with frequent rinses. While you can use simple saline sprays, bulb syringes and neti pots — a ceramic container with a spout — are considered most effective. Buy saline mixes or use 2 to 3 teaspoons of iodine-free salt, quarter- to half-teaspoons of baking soda and 1 liter of sterile or distilled water. Be sure to clean and dry the device thoroughly.

Explore Homeopathic Options
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EXPLORE OTHER HOMEOPATHIC OPTIONS

In addition to nasal irrigation, many people have also found other natural or homeopathic remedies to be effective in reducing the severity of spring allergies. For some, regular sessions of acupressure or acupuncture have helped relieve runny noses, itchy eyes, and other symptoms. Studies have shown that probiotics may also help reduce allergy symptoms by boosting the level of beneficial bacteria in the digestive system.

Over-the-Counter Medication
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FIND THE RIGHT OVER-THE-COUNTER MEDICATION

There are a wide variety of over-the-counter medications available that can help combat seasonal allergies. From antihistamines to decongestants to corticosteroids, there are a variety of options and delivery methods, each with benefits and side effects. The key is finding the one that works best for you, which can be done by consulting a health care professional.

Consider an Allergy Shot
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CONSIDER PRESCRIPTION REMEDIES AND ALLERGY SHOTS

For allergy sufferers who find over-the-counter medications to be insufficient, doctors may prescribe other options such as Clarinex, Astelin nasal spray, or Optivar eyedrops. Depending on the severity of symptoms, a health care provider may recommend allergy shots, which may help develop a tolerance to seasonal allergens and reduce symptoms.

Take a Vacation from Allergies
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TAKE A VACATION FROM ALLERGIES

While there's no absolute cure for spring allergies, if you have the time and means to spare, taking a vacation to a destination with lower pollen levels can be an excellent — if temporary — remedy. While no place will be completely pollen-free, good options include places that have ocean breezes and regular rainfall to clear the air; snow-covered resorts; arid desert destinations; and ocean-bound cruises.