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Controlling Allergies

Dealing With Outdoor Allergies

There are steps you can take if you're tormented by allergy symptoms.

To protect yourself from allergic reactions, you need to identify the substances that trigger your problems. The timing of attacks is a clue to what causes them. You're probably sensitive to tree pollen if you suffer in early spring. Grass pollen dominates the late spring and summer months. Ragweed takes over in late summer and autumn.

Some people are sensitive to more than one pollen or to some trees and grasses and not others.


The strategies below can help you reduce your exposure to outdoor allergens and thereby reduce your seasonal suffering:

  • Stay indoors as much as possible and keep windows and doors closed during peak pollen months. Never sleep near an open window.

  • Use an air conditioner and replace its filter at least every three months.

  • Keep the windows and vents closed when riding in a car. Set the airflow to precirculate or use the air conditioner.

  • Avoid open fields when you're outside, especially those that have just been mowed. If you're sensitive to grass, walk on sidewalks and sit on benches, not on the lawn.

  • Have someone else do your yardwork. Mowing the lawn or raking leaves can cause an attack if you're allergic to the pollen of grasses, trees, ragweed or mold.

  • Learn the safest times to be outside. Pollen counts are highest during mid-day and afternoon hours.

  • Don't hang sheets, towels, or blankets out to dry. They're natural magnets for pollen.

  • Monitor air-quality reports; avoid exercising outdoors when the pollen count is high.

  • Take an antihistamine 30 minutes before spending time outdoors.

  • Warm-up and cool-down and stretch indoors before and after doing outdoor activities to minimize your time outside.

  • Wear glasses or sunglasses to protect your eyes, and don't rub them.


These self-care strategies can help reduce your suffering from irritating allergens.

  • Don't allow anyone to smoke in your home or car. Cigarette smoke is an irritant that can further aggravate allergy symptoms.

  • Don't drink alcohol; doing so will make you feel more congested. Nasal passages naturally swell and secrete more mucus when you drink. Never mix alcohol and antihistamines; heavy sedation can result.

  • Wash your hair every day to remove pollen.

  • Limit exposure to irritating fumes. Avoid using perfume, hair spray, spray deodorant and other aerosols.

  • Be alert to food allergies. Many pollen-bearing plants are in the same families as common foods. For example, ragweed is related to cantaloupe, honeydew and other melons. If you're sensitive to a pollen, eating the related foods can make your allergic reaction worse.

  • Relax. Stress also can increase your sensitivity and cause a stronger allergic reaction.

Understanding Allergies

Like other allergies, hay fever is an overreaction by your immune system to certain proteins in the environment. Different people are sensitive to different proteins, or allergens. Hay-fever sufferers are bothered by tree or grass pollens that occur at various times in the spring, summer or fall.

As soon as it recognizes the allergen, your body pours on a strong defensive antibody called immunoglobulin E (IgE). This starts a chain reaction of chemicals that help your body fight off the invaders. Your nasal passages swell and itch and may become filled with fluid. Your eyes itch and fill with tears. You may also have profuse watery mucus discharge, postnasal drip, intense itching in and around the nose and deep within the ears and a sore throat.

The misery lasts as long as the pollen remains in the air. You could have several bouts of hay fever each year if you're allergic to more than one kind of pollen.


Allergy symptoms often are mistaken for those of a cold.

Here are ways to tell the difference:

  • Itchy ears, nose and eyes are indicative of allergies, not a cold.

  • Nasal discharge is clear, thin and watery in allergy sufferers; it's thicker and yellow or green during a cold.

  • You don't run a fever or have muscle aches with allergies.

  • Allergy symptoms appear regularly during specific times of the year, such as spring or fall. They usually disappear if you leave the environment in which you're affected.

  • Allergy symptoms can last weeks or months; colds last seven to 10 days.

Reduce Symptoms Indoors by Allergy-Proofing Your House

Indoor allergens such as dust mites, mold or pet dander are present year-round.

You could be allergic to dust if you sneeze and wheeze most of the year, but noticeably more in the winter when you're spending more time indoors. Mold could be your problem if you develop allergy symptoms when you're in a damp basement or raking wet leaves.

You're probably allergic to cats and dogs if allergy attacks suddenly occur when you're around these animals.

You may need to see an allergist if you can't pinpoint the cause of your problems. Once you know what's causing your symptoms, the following strategies can help you avoid the most common indoor allergies.


  • Have a professional clean your home heating and cooling systems twice a year. Change your system's filters monthly. Consider purchasing electrostatic filters; they're expensive but can attract dust particles more effectively than paper filters.

  • Have your home's air ducts cleaned. This can cost $300 or more, depending on the size of your home, but can make a big difference if done correctly. Screen potential service providers carefully.

  • Vacuum at least twice a week. Change bags often and consider purchasing a vacuum with an allergy-controlling system.

  • Remove wall-to-wall carpeting and cloth curtains. Clean them often if they can't be removed.

  • Replace your upholstered furniture with wooden, vinyl or leather furniture.

  • Exterminate regularly for roaches and other pests.

  • Cover all mattresses and pillows with impermeable, plastic covers. Use synthetic products instead of feather pillows and quilts. Wash blankets, mattress covers and sheets in hot water.

  • Remove dust ruffles, heavy drapes, knickknacks and stacks of books and papers from your bedroom. Clean and dust the bedroom at least twice a week.


  • Clean and disinfect bathrooms weekly. To reduce mold, always run the exhaust fan during and after a shower. Keep under-sink areas dry.

  • Eliminate carpet and upholstered furniture in bathrooms or basements.

  • Fix leaky faucets immediately.

  • Wash towels often using hot water. Dry beach towels in the dryer after use.

  • Use a dehumidifier in your basement, bathroom and any other room that's damp.


  • Wash your pets regularly with anti-allergenic pet shampoo. Wash your hands after playing with a dog, cat or other pet.

  • Keep your distance from pet birds. Their cages contain numerous allergens.

Finding Medical Relief for Your Allergies

There are no advantages to delaying the search for medical help for allergies. To the contrary, early diagnosis and treatment of allergies are now thought to be important not only for alleviating symptoms but for preventing potential complications. Plus, there are numerous treatments and therapies available that can control your symptoms.


Medical treatment for allergies can take several forms. The mainstays are antihistamines that block the effects of histamine on sensitive tissues.

Many over-the-counter antihistamines cause dryness and drowsiness.

Prescription antihistamines can control allergy symptoms effectively without causing grogginess.

Decongestants, many of which are available over the counter, also are helpful. They reduce congestion by constricting the tiny blood vessels in the affected areas. They don't cause drowsiness but can cause nervousness, dizziness and headaches. Dosage instructions should be followed carefully and individuals who suffer from high blood pressure or seizures or have had a stroke should consult their doctors before taking them.

Topical decongestants, such as nose drops or eye drops, can help relieve severe symptoms, but they shouldn't be used for long periods.

If you use them for more than the three to five days recommended on the label, you'll develop a tolerance for them and may suffer a rebound effect in which your nasal and eye tissues become redder and more swollen.

If antihistamines and decongestants don't provide relief, your doctor may recommend products with cromolyn sodium.

Your doctor may prescribe corticosteroid medications for severe attacks that can't be controlled otherwise. These powerful anti-inflammatories must be used with close medical supervision.

Finally, your doctor may suggest allergy shots, also called desensitization shots.

For More Information

  • American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology,

  • Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, visit


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© 2011 Krames StayWell 2011. The information in this newsletter is intended to be used as a general guideline and should not replace the advice of your doctor. Always consult your doctor for personal decisions. Models used for illustrative purposes only. Material may not be reproduced without written permission from StayWell Custom Communications.