Runny nose, congestion, itchy eyes, and sneezing--they're a rite of spring (and fall) for the 35 million Americans plagued by seasonal allergic rhinitis. And thanks to climate change, the number of sufferers is rising, says the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.
When plants pollinate, they send pollen into the air. Some people's immune systems respond by producing antibodies that attach to cells in the nose, eyes, and lungs that release histamine, the chemical that causes the symptoms.
Here, some remedies that are new, natural, and tried and true.
Can you think yourself allergy free? Perhaps not entirely, but hypnosis may help relieve your symptoms when it's used in conjunction with other allergy treatments. In a 2005 Swiss study, allergy patients were trained to achieve a hypnotic trance and then imagine themselves in a "safe place" free of allergens (a pristine beach, for example, or a snowy mountain). Those who underwent hypnosis reported a reduction of about a third in congestion during allergy season; objective tests confirmed the self-reports.
Originally developed to treat asthma, this drug has recently come into favor as a prescription therapy for allergies. Montelukast pills (known by the brand name Singulair) block the actions of leukotrienes, inflammatory chemicals that react to allergens by tightening the airways and producing mucus.
Several studies have shown that montelukast is effective as a treatment for the seasonal allergies that typically strike in the spring and fall, when pollen levels are at their highest. Potential side effects of montelukast include headache, various sleep problems, and digestive issues. And though the drug's still prescription only, a generic form is now available.
|Sublingual Immunotherapy (SLIT)|
Immunotherapy is a preventive treatment in which you're given gradually increasing doses of an allergen to desensitize your immune system. In the United States, it's usually done by injection. But in southern Europe, 80 percent of immunotherapy patients get a needle-free treatment called SLIT, in which you place tablets or drops of allergen extract under your tongue.
These prescription drops aren't as effective as shots, but they're safer, since there's less risk of side effects such as anaphylaxis, a life-threatening allergic reaction, says Richard Firshein, DO, director of the Firshein Center for Comprehensive Medicine in New York City. The process takes just a few seconds a day, but you may need to do it at least twice a day for as long as 3 to 5 years.
|Herbs and Supplements|
Quercetin, a heart-healthy chemical called a flavonoid, found in tea, onions, grapes, and tomatoes, is a natural anti-inflammatory that can block histamine's effects before they start, says Dr. Firshein. He recommends taking a 500 mg supplement up to twice a day, starting a few weeks before allergy season.
"Quercetin works best when you take it with vitamin C, which prevents it from degrading," he says. Another helpful herb is butterbur, which may block the production of leukotrienes. Typical dose: 50 to 75 mg of standardized extract twice daily. (Curious what other supplements you should be taking? Check out 100 Best Supplements For Women.)
|Controlling Your Environment|
You'll fight allergies more effectively if you know what you're allergic to. A skin or blood test from an allergist will narrow down your particular allergens, so you can avoid them by, for example, staying indoors with the windows closed during your worst pollen days. (Watch or listen to weather reports or go to pollen.aaaai.org.)
"Also, be aware that trees predominantly pollinate in the morning, so if you are planning an outdoor activity, save it for the afternoon," says Jeffrey Demain, MD, director of the Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology Center of Alaska. Wearing a pollen face mask while gardening and using a HEPA filter to clean the air in your home can help too.
|Nasal Saline Flushing|
"It's a commonsense solution--remove the pollen, dust, and other allergens from your nasal passages so they won't bother you," says Dr. Firshein.
To flush your nose of both mucus and allergens, make a saline solution by mixing 8 ounces of warm distilled or sterilized water with 1/4 teaspoon each noniodized salt and baking soda (or buy a sterile nasal saline rinse at the drugstore). Lean over the sink with your head tilted to one side and use a squeeze bottle or neti pot to pour the solution into your top nostril, letting it flow out the bottom. Then switch sides.
Some research has found that using a neti pot can clear nasal passages without dryness or "rebound" congestion. But be sure the solution is sterile--tap water can hold organisms that cause serious infection.
These familiar drugs work by blocking the inflammation-causing histamine that your body produces in reaction to allergens.
The first generation of antihistamines, such as Benadryl, could make people sleepy and worked for only 4 to 6 hours; the second, longer-acting generation includes loratadine (Claritin), cetirizine (Zyrtec), and fexofenadine (Allegra). A third generation, levocetirizine (Xyzal), claims to prevent symptoms for up to 12 hours, though shorter-lived meds take effect faster.
"Often, the best allergy strategy is to combine an OTC oral antihistamine with a prescription nasal spray," says Mark Holbreich, MD, a fellow of the AAAAI.
Prescription sprays containing corticosteroids (including Flonase and Omnaris) reduce inflammation and mucus production, while sprays with antihistamines (such as Patanase and Astepro) block symptom-causing histamine. Dymista combines both kinds of medicine. For an OTC spray, consider a cromolyn sodium spray (like NasalCrom).
If your most irritating allergy symptom is red, itchy eyes, drops formulated from the same medications used in nasal sprays may be your go-to therapy.
Prescription antihistamine eyedrops such as Pataday (which lasts 24 hours) and OTC ones like Zatidor (which lasts 8 to 12 hours) are effective and nonsedating, says Dr. Demain. (Outside sprays, see 9 Solutions For Dry Eyes.)
|Subcutaneous Immunotherapy (SCIT)|
With SCIT--you probably call this allergy shots--you're given injections of allergens at increasing dosages until your immune system becomes less sensitive to them. Treatment typically involves weekly shots for the first 3 to 6 months, then monthly for 3 to 5 years.
The upside: They work. A 2009 review found that SCIT provides significant relief. The downsides: the time commitment, discomfort, and risk (though small) of side effects such as rash and anaphylaxis.
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