Alt-Health: It’s Raining Pollen!

It’s allergy season, and we all know what that means – itchy eyes, runny nose, sneezing, coughing – all the symptoms of a cold, without an end in sight. Here are some practical steps to take, even before you hit the drugstore.

Check up-to-date pollen counts in your neighborhood every day. The pollen count is the measurement of the number of grains of pollen in a cubic meter of air. As the pollen number increases, people with allergies will have an increase in their reactions. This is useful to know if you plan to go hiking; you may want to stow a gas mask next to the trail mix in your backpack.

Although you may be tempted to throw open the windows to welcome the warm spring air, resist the urge. Those windows are the portals to hell for anyone who is allergic to pollen, it floats in with the gentle breeze and coats everything in its wake. Instead, get your AC units cranking. They do more than lower the temperature in the room – they are also a very effective pollen barrier.

One of the sure signs of spring are runners on the paths and roads, but if you have allergies, you may want to switch to the gym. What Planet Fitness may lack in atmosphere, it makes up for in filtered, allergen-free air

If you wear contact lenses, you may want to ditch them in favor of fashionable shades. Contacts are going to exacerbate the itching and watering – pollen gets into everything, including your eyes.

There’s also a few other factors besides the pollen that may be affecting your symptoms, and not all of them are obvious.

Do you spend your afternoon hours cooling off by the pool? The chlorine may be causing more sniffles than the foliage. Chlorine fumes can irritate nasal passageways and increase congestion.

While we’re talking pools, are you sipping tropical drinks or enjoying an ice cold beer in the summer sun? Any kind of alcohol increases the blood flow to your nasal membranes, making allergy symptoms worse.

Did you use a humidifier during winter to combat dry air? Those things are also mega incubators for dust mites, which thrive in moisture and are the culprit in many winter allergies. Unless you emptied and disinfected your humidifier, those little buggers are probably still multiplying. Get rid of the gadget and see if your symptoms improve.

Do you notice that your sinuses are stuffier after you eat? Believe it or not, sometimes pollen allergies are exacerbated by specific foods. If your prime nemesis is ragweed, your symptoms will worsen after eating bananas, melons, cucumber or zucchini. Those with tree pollen allergies might be bothered by apples, pears, peaches, hazelnuts, kiwi, carrots and celery.

So, what can you do to combat the symptoms that you just can’t avoid? Should you get tested for allergies? My friend Dr. H tells me that it’s a waste of time unless your allergies are so severe as to be life threatening. His number one choice in allergy defense is Flonase. While most allergy medicines are effective against only one or two allergens, Flonase is effective against six, taking the guesswork out of dosing. Doctors recommend that if you plan on taking medication, start it early in the season, before symptoms have a chance to dig their feet in.

There can, however, be some major drawbacks to medication. Benadryl, which is the gold standard in antihistamines, is also used in hospitals as a sedative, and it can knock you out along with relieving your sniffles. Pseudoephedrine HDL, (brand name, Sudafed) which is taken for nasal congestion, can wire you up, especially if you make the mistake of taking it along with caffeine. If you have heart problems, this can prove to be a lethal combination.

For those who want a more natural approach, there has been a great deal of anecdotal evidence that eating a tablespoon or two each day of local raw honey will greatly alleviate symptoms. This idea is based on a concept called immunotherapy  – you get a tiny amount of the thing you’re allergic to, which can make you less sensitive to it. Scientists tend to brush off this sweet remedy, claiming that laboratory tests don’t back it up – but don’t tell that to the hundreds of people who swear by it.

Vitamin C can help too. Histamine is the substance responsible for your itching, sneezing and watery eyes, and  Vitamin C lowers histamine levels and boosts allergy-fighting hormones in the adrenal glands. Upping your intake to two 3,000-mg tablets of vitamin C a day during allergy season can do a lot to improve allergy symptoms.

Allergy symptoms are increasing every year, in part due rising carbon dioxide levels, which affect pollen production. As climate changes continue, allergies will likely worsen. Don’t believe yet in the realities of global warming? Just wait. You will.