Weekly Wellness: How to survive summer allergies

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COLUMBIA - You made it through spring and thought, “Hooray! I’m done with allergies!” Maybe not. Summer allergies can be an issue too. Sneezing. Coughing. Red eyes. It can wreak havoc on our lives, especially during a time when we’re expecting to spend most of our free time outside. Here are some tips to try to get through the season.

Pollen tends to be the biggest culprit when it comes to summer allergies. While trees are usually done with their pollen spewing by late spring, summer brings on the grasses and weeds. Obviously, the types of plants that are around will vary by location but the ones most likely to affect you include:

Weeds

  • Ragweed
  • Cockleweed
  • Pigweed
  • Russian thistle
  • Sagebrush
  • Tumbleweed

Grasses

  • Bermuda
  • Blue grasses
  • Orchard
  • Red top
  • Sweet vernal
  • Timothy

Ragweed is one of the most common summer allergy triggers. It can travel for hundreds of miles on the wind. So even if it doesn’t grow where you live, it can make you feel bad if you’re allergic to it.

Then there’s air pollution. One of the most common is ozone. It’s created in the atmosphere from a mix of sunlight and chemicals from car exhaust. Summer’s strong sunlight and calm winds create clouds of ozone around some cities.

And let’s not forget the insects! Bees, wasps, yellow jackets, hornets, fire ants and other insects can cause allergic reactions when they sting. If you have a severe allergy, a run-in with one of them could lead to a life-threatening situation.

Insect bites usually cause mild symptoms, like itching and swelling around the area. Sometimes they lead to a severe allergic reaction, though. Your throat feels like it’s swelling shut, and your tongue might swell. You could feel dizzy, nauseated or go into shock. This is an emergency, and you'll need to get medical help right away.

To reduce your exposure to potential allergen triggers, the Mayo Clinic suggests this list:

  • Stay indoors on dry, windy days — the best time to go outside is after a good rain, which helps clear pollen from the air.
  • Delegate lawn mowing, weed pulling and other gardening chores that stir up allergens.
  • Remove clothes you've worn outside; you may also want to shower to rinse pollen from your skin and hair.
  • Don't hang laundry outside — pollen can stick to sheets and towels.
  • Wear a dust mask if you do outside chores.
  • Take extra steps when pollen counts are high.
  • Close doors and windows at night or any other time when pollen counts are high.
  • Avoid outdoor activity in the early morning when pollen counts are highest.
  • Keep indoor air clean.

What can you do at home to help?

  • Use the air conditioning in your house and car.
  • If you have forced air heating or air conditioning in your house, use high-efficiency filters and follow regular maintenance schedules.
  • Keep indoor air dry with a dehumidifier.
  • Use a portable high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter in your bedroom.
  • Clean floors often with a vacuum cleaner that has a HEPA filter.

The Mayo Clinic gives this list of nonprescription (over-the-counter) medications can help ease allergy symptoms:

  • Oral antihistamines. Antihistamines can help relieve sneezing, itching, runny nose and watery eyes.
  • Oral decongestants such as pseudoephedrine (Sudafed, Afrinol, others) can provide temporary relief from nasal stuffiness.
  • Nasal spray. Cromolyn sodium nasal spray can ease allergy symptoms and doesn't have serious side effects, though it's most effective when you begin using it before your symptoms start.
  • Combination medications. A number of allergy medications combine an antihistamine with a decongestant.
  • Rinsing your nasal passages with distilled, sterile saline solution (nasal irrigation) is a quick, inexpensive and very effective way to relieve nasal congestion. Rinsing directly flushes out mucus and allergens from your nose.

For many people, avoiding allergens and taking over-the-counter medications is enough to help, but if your seasonal allergies are still driving you nuts, see your physician. He or she may recommend that you have skin tests or blood tests to find out exactly what allergens trigger your symptoms. Testing can help determine what steps you need to take to avoid your specific triggers and identify which treatments are likely to work best for you.

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