14 Allergy Strategies that bring relief fast
DON’T RESIGN YOURSELF TO SNEEZING AND WATERY EYES.
MAKE THIS THE YEAR YOU RECLAIM THE
OUTDOORS – WITH THESE EXPERT TIPS.
Your nose is running, your eyes are itching and your brain is fuzzy. As much as you’d love to just curl up with a box of tissues, you shrug it off and soldier on. After all, it’s only allergies, right?
While it’s easy to trivialize these annoying symptoms – which plague some 20 per cent of Singaporeans – experts say they’re nothing to sneeze at. Nose allergy reduces productivity at work and gives you a poor quality of sleep, which leads to a fall in immunity, says Dr Kevin Soh, senior consultant ear, nose and throat (ENT) surgeon at the Mount Elizabeth Hospital. This makes you more prone to coughs and colds, which in turn, worsens allergy symptoms, he says.
Allergies act up especially when you’re exposed to house dust mites, pet fur and pollen from the trees and flowers. An overzealous immune system mistakes these harmless particles for intruders and releases inflammatory chemicals called histamines and leukotrines to combat them, explains Thomas B. Casale, chief of allergy/immunology at Creighton University School of Medicine in the US, and president of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (AAAAI). Consequently, your airways and nasal linings swell, triggering congestion, wheezing, and foggy thinking.
Although experts aren’t clear why people develop the lifelong condition in the first place, they say genes are partly to blame. While there’s no instant fix for nasal allergies, making a few tweaks to your environment and schedule – like showering at night instead of in the morning – can alleviate symptoms. Try these easy everyday strategies and you’ll stay sniffle-free.
- Block out allergens
The number one anti-allergy move is to keep the triggers at bay. If you’re allergic to dust mites, leave the doors and windows open; if your enemy is pollen, keep them shut whenever you can, says Dr Soh.
Then, run the air conditioner on the “recycle” setting, which filters the air that’s indoors. “That will trap any particles that did sneak inside,” says Dr Eric Schenkel, a US-based clinical assistant professor of medicine. Also, rinse or replace the filter every two weeks to remove any dust and keep it running efficiently.
- Hit the laundry room more frequently
Wash your sheets once a week on the hot cycle: Korean researchers recently found that water heated to 60 deg C eliminates virtually all allergens, including pollen and dust mites – sneeze-causing organisms that thrive in humid weather. If you have stuffed animals, wash them weekly or wrap them in a plastic bag and leave them in the freezer overnight to kill off dust mites, says Dr Soh.
- Skip the feather duster
Swinging a dry duster around will just cause you to breathe in more dust mites, says Dr Soh. Use a damp towel to clean up the dust instead.
- Clear the air
Many allergy sufferers are also bothered by fragrances and cleaning products, says Dr Soh. To breathe easier, invest in a HEPA air purifier, which filters out aggravating indoor particulate pollutants. A good pick: Honeywell 17450 air purifier (#879, allegro Healthcare). It also has a carbon filter to counter fumes from household cleaners.
- Put pets in their place
Dogs and cats that frolic outdoors can collect pollen in their fur and transport in into your home. Ban your pet from your bedroom or at least keep off the furniture, says Dr Clifford W. Bassett, an assistant clinical professor of medicine at Long Island College Hospital in New York. Bathe it as frequently as possible or wipe him down when he comes in from outside with a pre-moistened cloth.
- Rethink your bedtime routine
Hopping in the shower in the morning is one way to kick-start your day, but switching to a night-time routine can help curb your symptoms. You’ll wash away irritants that stick to your hair and face, so they won’t rub off on your pillow and irritate your eyes and nose. “If you’re really tired at the end of the day, you should at the very least gently clean your eyelids with a little baby shampoo each evening,” suggests Dr Bassett.
During outdoor workouts
- Fine –tune your fitness routine
“You breathe at least twice as fast when you’re working out, which means you’ll inhale even more allergens if you exercise outdoors,” says Dr Brian Smart, a Chicago allergist and AAAAI spokesperson. Morning exercisers are hit hardest of all because airborne allergens peak during the early hours, starting at 4 am and lasting until noon. Because pollen rises as morning dew evaporates, the ideal time for an outdoor workout is in the mid-afternoon, says Dr Christopher C. Randolph, a clinical associate professor at Yale University’s Division of allergy in Connecticut. He notes that where you work out can also matter: Exercising on the beach, an asphalt tennis court, the track at your neighbourhood stadium, or in the swimming pool are better options than working out on a grassy field.
- Run right after it rains
“The best time to hit the pavement is immediately after a downpour, because the moisture washes away the pollen for up to several hours,” says Dr Gillian Shepherd, a clinical associate professor of medicine at Cornell University. But once the air dries, take cover: The additional moisture generates even more pollen and mould, which can hang around for a few days afterward.
- Slip on shades
Not only do wraparound sunglasses shield you from harmful UV rays, they’ll also stop airborne allergens from getting in your eyes. Another way to ward off symptoms: Use allergy-relieving eyedrops, such as Naphcon ($6, pharmacies), a few hours before heading outside. This will combat histamines, which are the compounds that cause your eyes to water and itch.
- Drink up
Fill up a water bottle or hydration pack to bring on your run, walk, or bike ride. “Fluids help thin mucus and hydrate the airways, so you won’t get as stuffed up,” says Dr William S. Silvers, a US-based clinical professor of allergy and immunology. Then, use the rest to rinse off any pollen that’s on your face and hands.
At the doctor’s office
- ID your triggers
If you know what they are, you’ll know how to defend yourself against them,” says Dr Smart. Request a skin-prick test, in which an allergist applies a man-made version of the potential allergen to your forearm and makes a small prick in the skin so the solution can enter. If you’re allergic, a lump resembling a mosquito bite will appear at the site.
- Give your medication a checkup
While some may find relief with an over-the-counter medicine, such as Claritin, Alavert, or Zyrtec-D (anti-histamines), others may prefer a stronger one-a-day prescription tablet, such as Singulair. Ask your doctor for her recommendations but don’t mix your meds as that may lead to dizziness, increased heartbeat, and nausea. But what’s most important is that you take allergy medications as regularly as suggested by a doctor to ward off attacks, rather than when you’re just experiencing symptoms.
- Try a spray
If you find that pills aren’t easing your symptoms, your doctor may prescribe a preventive nasal steroid like Nasacort, Flixonase or Nasonex. “Spraying nasal steroids is one of the safest and most effective way to treat nose allergies,” says Dr Soh, who adds that you shouldn’t be scared off by the word “steroid”. “Nasal sprays are extremely safe. Very little of it actually gets into your circulatory system. The main side effects are mostly confined to some discomfort in the nose, but this resolves once you master the technique to use the spray effectively,” he says. To do that, lower your head before you spray. Also, avoid spraying directly onto the nasal septum (the wall between your nostrils). The tissues that need to be treated lie on the side, not the middle, explains Dr Soh.
- Get your shots
If medications, avoiding known allergens and surgery (to remove polyps, straighten the septum, or to widen blocked sinuses) fail to work, you may consider allergy shots called immunotherapy. An allergist will inject you with gradually increasing doses of an allergen one to three times a week over the course of up to seven months. This enables you to develop build up tolerance to the offending substance. (After that, you’ll get the shots once a month for three to five years.) “Shots change the immune system’s pathway,” says Dr Randolph. “They are effective for a number of years, and they can even prevent the development of other allergies as well as asthma.”
Is it allergies…or a cold?
Both conditions produce a runny nose and cough. But certain differences can help you pinpoint what you’re suffering from, says Dr Eric Schenkel, a professor of medicine at Long Island College Hospital.
|Itchy eyes, ears, throat||No||Yes – one of the most common complaints|
|Runny nose||Sometimes thick, yellow discharge||Always thin, clear discharge|
|Sneezing||Occasionally||Four or five sneezes in a row|
|Stuffy Nose||Occurs at onset||Develops after a few weeks|
|Sore throat||Occurs at onset||Develops later due to postnasal drip|
|Fatigue||Yes, alone with some achiness||None, but thinking may be fuzzy|
|Duration||Three to five days, with symptoms gradually easing||Weeks, or months, with variable symptoms|
Breathe easy with these natural fixes
- NASAL IRRIGATION
New research from the University of Michigan, finds that a simple saltwater solution can offer relief from symptoms, “It’s perfect for post-nasal drip or if mucus has become thick or dry, causing congestion,” says lead author, Dr Melissa A. Pynnonen. Dissolve a quarter of a teaspoon each of kosher salt and backing soda in a cup of warm water. Using a bulb syringe, squirt bottle, or netipot, gush this solution into your right nasal passage while leaning over a sink. Then, tilt your head to the left, allowing the water to drain out of your left nostril; repeat on the other side.
Taken in tablet or caplet form, this bioflavonoid, found in foods like red wine, tea, and apples, has anti-inflammatory effects. Researchers from Boston University School of Medicine found that quercetin helps block the production of symptom – causing histamines. A 1,000mg tablet, taken one to three times a day, is enough to alleviate allergies, says Dr William S. Silvers, a professor at the University of Colorado.
These anti-inflammatory fatty acids may alleviate symptoms in hay fever sufferers, reports a study in the journal Allergy. Dr Silvers recommends having a serving of cold-water fish, such as salmon or mackerel, walnuts, ground flaxseed, or a fish-oil supplement at least three to four times a week.