If you, like 50 million other Americans, suffer from this perennial pest, you probably think you've tried it all. You've taken the do-nothing approach, optimistic your hay fever would vanish on its own. You've tested out-there "cures" that worked for your aunt's best friend's brother (but alas, not for you). And from an Rx or two, you've gotten relief—plus pesky side effects.
To find solutions that actually work, we scoured the latest research.
Here's what we found.
Going for a jog is the last thing you feel like doing when you're stuffed up, but here's why it might be worth it: A moderate-intensity workout significantly reduced allergy symptoms in one study from Thailand.
Exercise may decrease the body's release of irritating histamines and other biological mediators, the same way some medications do, says Sindhura Bandi, MD, assistant professor at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.
Seasonal snifflers who got needled by an acupuncturist 12 times over the course of 8 weeks showed more improvement in their symptoms and used medication less frequently than people who didn't get acupuncture or got a sham treatment, according to one clinical trial published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine.
Traditional Chinese medicine teaches that acupuncture treatments can help bring the body into balance. Preliminary Western research, meanwhile, suggests that these strategically placed needles may help control inflammation by reining in various chemicals that contribute to an allergic reaction.
|Shoot for a cure|
Most treatments relieve symptoms; immunotherapy, or allergy shots, offers an actual cure—and it's usually covered by insurance.
A small dose of the allergen is delivered with each jab in order to train your body to tolerate it. Of course, it's somewhat inconvenient—immunotherapy entails getting weekly injections for about 6 months, followed by monthly boosters for 3 to 5 years.
"We typically go to that step when patients fail with other therapies or are at risk of asthma, or per patient preference," says Dr. Bandi.
The FDA is reviewing a new option: oral immunotherapy that works by dissolving a tablet under the tongue. People who took Timothy grass oral immunotherapy improved 23 percent over the entire grass pollen season and reduced their use of other allergy meds by more than a third, according to a large trial. The FDA is expected to complete its review in the first half of 2014.
|Check your fruit bowl|
Get this: Your diet could actually be making your allergies worse.
In about a third of people with seasonal allergies, the immune system sees proteins in foods as similar to proteins in pollen.
People with ragweed allergies typically have reactions to watermelon, cantaloupe, and honey-dew melon, while those with birch tree pollen allergies can react to kiwifruit, apples, pears, peaches, plums, coriander, fennel, parsley, celery, cherries, carrots, hazelnuts, and almonds.
|Call on the power of plants|
Butterbur is a potent herb—it contains compounds that block the chemicals (called leukotrienes) that get released during an allergic reaction.
A Swiss trial found that taking an 8 mg tablet of butterbur extract four times a day relieved allergy symptoms just as well as the antihistamine cetirizine (Zyrtec)—but without sedating side effects.
Other plant-based treatments that may help your struggle: stinging nettle, quercetin (an antioxidant found in tea, onions, grapes, and tomatoes), and spirulina, a nutty-tasting, nutrient-rich type of algae that can be taken in supplement form or by the scoopful in a smoothie. They've all been shown in lab studies to inhibit the chemical reactions responsible for your symptoms.
|Guard your gut|
Taking a good-bacteria pill helped people toward fewer allergic episodes, according to one analysis of seven studies.
Researchers think that probiotics in the gut may help regulate the immune system and counteract the inflammation that causes allergic symptoms. The strains and amounts of bacteria that were used varied from study to study, but most were from the Lactobacillus family (L. acidophilus, L. paracasei, and L. bulgaricus), typically taken in doses of 2 billion to 5 billion CFU (colony-forming units) once or twice a day.
Pollen clings to clothes, furniture, hair—even eyelashes. Taking a shower at night in addition to in the morning washes the stuff away and helps you avoid allergen torture while you sleep.
Gross but true: Pollen also clings to the mucus in your nasal passages, so you should rinse inside your nose, says Dr. Bandi. For a thorough sinus clearing, try pouring a saline solution into your nostrils using a Neti Pot. If you find that cumbersome, a spray-bottle cleanser, such as NeilMed Sinus Rinse or Simply Saline, may be easier to use. Either way, stick with commercially prepared saline products, rather than mixing your own, to keep from putting anything too acidic up your nose.
Steroids is a scary word, but spraying a corticosteroid into nasal passages is safe and can help control the inflammation that goes with an allergic reaction, says Jackie S. Eghrari-Sabet, MD, founder of Family Allergy and Asthma Care in Gaithersburg, MD. You'll need a prescription for steroid sprays such as Nasonex, Dymista, and QNASL, but the FDA recently approved Nasacort Allergy 24Hr as an OTC option.
|Clear the air|
One route to relief is to treat pollen like a nighttime bandit: Keep doors and windows shut tight.
"Pollen levels are highest in the morning, so an open window will blanket you in allergens when you wake up and make you miserable the rest of the day," Dr. Eghrari-Sabet says.
All air conditioners have a filter to trap allergens, and you can buy special ones designed to snag more of them, such as Filtrete Allergen Defense. Just be sure to replace the filter regularly. If you want to be really hard-core about it, accessorize your PJs with a mask that filters pollen, dust, and mold