Of all the things that are uncertain in the world right now, one thing many people can count on to occur like clockwork is allergy season.
But that doesn’t mean the sneezing, coughing, watery eyes and fatigue associated with airborne environmental allergens have to be in the driver’s seat. There are several methods of managing allergies and alleviating symptoms, without loading up on antihistamines.
Understanding environmental allergies
Allergies develop when the immune system identifies a foreign material as harmful and reacts against it, says Dr. Shirin Peters, founder of the Bethany Medical Clinic in New York City.
“Environmental allergy is a broad category including allergies to many materials in our environment that can trigger allergies,” she says. “Seasonal allergy is a subcategory of environmental allergy, which refers only to allergic reactions triggered by various kinds of seasonal pollen.”
Symptoms of environmental allergies can sometimes be similar to those of the common cold, but they aren’t caused by the same things. A cold is caused by a virus, while an allergic reaction is caused by particulates in our environment, or compounds in the foods we consume.
Typical environmental allergens include tree pollen, grass pollen, weed pollen, mold, dust mites, insect dander and animal dander, she adds.
Common symptoms of allergies include runny nose, itchy eyes, sneezing, cough, sinus pain, headache and fatigue, according to Peters. To determine whether an allergy is more than a sneeze or a cough, experts recommend consulting with an allergist.
Tests for environmental allergies can include a skin-prick test and blood test. To determine if a food is causing an allergic reaction, the affected person may be advised to eliminate potential allergens from the diet and track the body’s response.
Fighting off the sneezes
Once allergens are identified, doctors will suggest treatment options and medications. Antihistamines can provide effective symptomatic relief, but there are other ways to prevent and manage environmental allergy symptoms, says Dr. Sanjeev Jain, a board-certified allergist and immunologist at Columbia Allergy.
Hypoallergenic bedding and pillow covers, washing bedding on hot, using an air purifier and vacuum with a HEPA filter, and keeping windows closed during periods with high pollen counts can help reduce exposure to allergens found within and outside the home.
“Patients suffering from nasal symptoms, such as congestion, sneezing and a runny nose, can try using a saline nasal rinse to flush out irritating allergens from the sinus passages,” Jain says.
For skin allergies or conditions such as eczema or psoriasis, Peters recommends swapping out laundering products for those that cater to sensitive skin.
“Try Arm & Hammer Sensitive Skin detergent, which is dermatologist-tested and specially formulated for sensitive skin,” she says. “There are specific approaches to reduce your daily exposure and reduce your symptoms, which depend on your specific allergy triggers.”
Jain says people can also try to maintain a diet that’s rich in vitamin C, vitamin D, vitamin E, zinc, fish oil and fiber. Research has shown these vitamins and minerals help to promote regular immune function, she adds.
With spring on the horizon, people who tend to develop allergy symptoms during this time can take several measures to reduce their exposure to the known environmental allergens, Jain says.
“Wear a mask covering the nose and mouth to reduce the amount of the pollen or mold that is inhaled,” he says. “We also recommend avoiding going outside on windy days, and to delegate tasks such as lawn mowing and yardwork to someone who does not have allergy symptoms.”