Jennifer McCabe Lentz, MD
Sneezy is more than just one of the Seven Dwarfs
You may not consider allergies a chronic disease, but it actually one of the most common! You can actually develop allergies at any point in your life and it has everything to do with your immune system. When your immune system finds a foreign substance (pollen, animal dander, mold, insects, grass etc.) and overreacts to it, you will develop symptoms of allergies (runny nose, itchy watery eyes/itchy throat, drainage, cough, sneezing, rash, hives, etc). More serious symptoms do occur to some people, like trouble breathing and swelling in the mouth or throat and may be life-threatening (anaphylaxis). Allergies occur because your immune system makes antibodies that identify the allergen as harmful, even though it isn't. When you come into contact with the allergen, the overreaction of the immune system leads to inflammation and symptoms.
Seasonal allergies usually start in spring and for some people can last through the fall. The best ways to really reduce your exposure to triggers and thus symptoms are:
Stay indoors on dry, windy days - after a good rain when the pollen gets cleared from the air is the best time to go.
Avoid outdoor chores that stir up allergens including lawn mowing and weed pulling.
Remove clothes you've worn outside and shower to rinse the pollen from your skin and hair.
Don't hang your laundry outside to avoid pollen sticking to your sheets, towels and clothes.
Wear a face mask if you need to do your outside chores.
When pollen counts are higher, take extra steps
Look at daily pollen counts prior to planning your day (5 day pollen count).
If pollen counts are high, start taking allergy medications before your symptoms start.
Close your doors and windows at night or any other time if pollen counts are high.
Avoid outdoor activity in the early morning when pollen counts are high.
Keep indoor air clean
Air conditioning in your house and car help with this
Make sure you use high-efficiency filters in your forced air heating and A/C units, changing them regularly.
Use a HEPA filter in your bedroom.
Vacuum often using a HEPA filter in your vacuum.
Over-the-counter remedies can be very helpful
Oral antihistamines are very helpful in relieving sneezing, itching, runny nose and watery eyes. These include cetirizine, fexofenadine, levocetirizine and loratadine.
Steroid nasal sprays can improve nasal symptoms. These include Flonase, Rhinocort and Nasacort - if you plan to use these, talk to your doctor or other health care provider about long-term use.
Cromolyn sodium nasal spray can alleviate some allergy symptoms. It does this by blocking the release of the immune system particles that cause symptoms. This works best if it is used before you are exposed to the allergens. This can be very effective but is more labor intensive as you must use it 4-6 times per day.
Oral decongestants can provide temporary relief from congestion - sudafed or an antihistamine with decongestant (usually followed with a D such as Zyrtec-D) are examples of this.
Rinsing your sinuses can be helpful. You will use a saline solution (can be homemade, recipe is 1 quart of bottled water, 1.5tsp of canning salt and 1 tsp of baking soda) in a neti pot or a nasal rinse bottle to directly flush out mucus and allergens from your nose. Be sure to rinse your bottle or pot after every use with clean water and air dry.
When you still can't find relief: talk to your doctor or health care provider who may try prescription medication or recommend testing to find out what your triggers are. After testing, desensitization therapies such as injections can reduce the immune system's reactions to these allergens. It may also be helpful to eat a low inflammation diet which can reduce the over-reactivity of your body. The biggest change to make in your diet is to take out sugar, flour and vegetable oils and eat real food (healthy anti-inflammatory diet).