Weekly Wellness: Allergy 101

Related Story

COLUMBIA - Sneezing. Coughing. Red eyes. It's miserable. Allergy season. So many of my clients are affected by seasonal allergies. It can wreak havoc on your lives - and on your ability to exercise. When you feel lousy, it's difficult to want to do anything but lie around (sometimes with a cold compress on your eyes) and try to breathe. So here are some tips to try to get through the season.

The Physicians' Desk Reference defines allergies as a short-term inflammation of the mucous membranes that line the nasal passages generally caused by airborne pollens from trees, grasses, flowers, and weeds.

It is reported that allergies affect 40 million Americans and cost more than $1 billion in annual treatment costs. The standard reactions include sneezing, itchy throat, headache, swollen sinuses, runny nose, and itchy, watery eyes. Even more people experience a dry cough, impaired sense of taste or smell and sleep disturbances.

While some allergies can develop later in life, they generally enter our lives before age 20. The average age that allergies begin is 10 years old. Just like other immune system problems, allergies tend to run in families. More than half of hay fever sufferers have a close relative with a history of allergies.

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.
  • Decongestants. 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 ease symptoms. But if your seasonal allergies are still bothersome, 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.

In the meantime, keep your chin up and tissues close by. It should be over soon (we hope).