6 effective ways to alleviate allergies

I will never forget the day I underwent my first allergy prick test. My primary care physician recommended I see an allergy specialist after he had treated me for multiple sinus infections over the course of a year.

I scoffed and said “I don’t have allergies!” But I scheduled the appointment with the otolaryngologist nonetheless. A few weeks later, as I sat there with my arm and back on fire, nose running like a fire hose and eyes feeling like I’d been hit with pepper spray, I thought, “Hmm … maybe I do have allergies.”

What’s followed since that day is a constant battle against my many year-round allergies. Outside of medicinal remedies, there have been many tricks I’ve learned over the last few years that have helped me alleviate allergies.

1. Get informed. I have a little app on my phone that I check every day to check what allergens are in the air and what their level is. It may seem like a no brainer, but since I know ragweed is my mortal enemy, if ragweed levels are high, I know not to spend too much time outdoors. Most television weather forecasts also include allergen information.

2. Be prepared. Until I win the lottery (fingers crossed!), I’m going to have to mow my own lawn. Being allergic to grass I’ve learned that wearing a protective mask, immediately showering after I come inside and throwing the clothes I wore to mow the lawn in the washer all help keep my grass allergy in check as much as possible.

3. Be clean. In addition to taking a shower before I get to bed to get any allergens out of my hair and off my body (lest I take them to bed with me), I also make sure to wash my bedding once a week in hot water. This helps prevent allergens from building up, including dust mites, which some people are allergic to.

Washing your bedding once a week in hot water can prevent allergens from building up Click To Tweet

4. Seriously, be really clean. High Efficiency Particulate Arresting (HEPA) filters may help keep the air in your home a bit more breathable. Do your homework as you could spend a small fortune on these if you’re not careful. Make sure you change them regularly. Rugs and carpets can become cesspools for allergens. If you have a choice, go with bare floors. You may also want to make sure you dust regularly, especially in places like mini blinds and fans that seem to get dusty very quickly.

5. Drive carefully. That’s always good advice, but I mean be smart when driving. Keep your windows up and make sure your air conditioner is recirculating air and not drawing it in from outside the car. If you’re car has cabin air filter (most newer cars do), make sure you change it at least once a year or as suggested by your car’s manufacturer.

6. Talk to your doctor. If I hadn’t had a conversation about this with my primary care physician, I wouldn’t have gotten that allergy test. Now that I know what I’m up against, it’s been easier to stay healthy.

These are just a few things that others have shared with me over the years that have helped me cope with my allergies. Until NASA starts selling space suits to walk around in, I’ll keep fighting the good fight against allergens.

How do you tell the flu from a cold or allergies?

You usually notice it as you pour your morning coffee. The guy in the next cubicle or office doesn’t sound so good. He’s coughing and sniffling as he types away, hoping you won’t notice. You ask him if he’s doing OK even though you know what he’s going to say.

“I’m great. It’s just allergies,” he says with a hoarse voice in between coughing fits.

Those “allergies” turn out to be the flu and before you know it you’re burning four sick days (or worse, vacation days) because Larry couldn’t self-diagnose and refused to go to the doctor.

Don’t be that guy.

It’s important to get your annual flu shot and to wash your hands regularly Click To Tweet

I asked primary care physician and general internist Dr. Natalie Dryden for advice on how to distinguish between a cold or allergies and the flu – for which you should go to the doctor immediately.

“Distinguishing between allergies, a cold and the flu is not always easy,” she said. “While two are infectious illnesses (colds and flu) caused by viruses and the other is an immune response to some environmental trigger, the body often has overlapping and similar responses, so symptoms can be similar as well.”

Here are five clinical features that may help you tell the difference:

  1. Fever: The flu generally causes high fever fairly consistently, while viral colds don’t often cause fever, and if they do, it’s generally a low-grade fever. Allergies should never cause fever.
  2. Body aches: They tend to be very pronounced with the flu, and while they can occur with a common cold, they are typically mild. Body aches are not a common feature of allergies.
  3. Cough: A flu cough tends to be more severe than with a cold. Like a fever and body aches, a cough is much less common with allergies.
  4. Runny nose: Can occur in all three.
  5. Sore throat: Common with colds and flu. Typically people with allergies report having an itchy throat and not actual pain.

Keeping an eye on the seasons can also help clue you in on what may be going on. While all three conditions can occur year round, flu season typically occurs fall through spring in the United States. If you don’t believe me, just check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s national flu map. Dr. Dryden says to keep in mind that people who travel abroad might be exposed to the flu since flu seasons occur at different times throughout the world.

CDC flu map
The CDC keeps an up-to-date map that shows which states have the highest number of flu cases.

Common colds mostly occur in the winter and allergies occur often with changes in the season depending on what a person is allergic to. Some people (like me, sadly) have then year round. Allergy symptoms tend to last as long as a person is exposed to an allergen or trigger while viral infections will usually last between a few days to two weeks.

It’s important to get your annual flu shot and to wash your hands regularly; especially during flu season.

The next time you feel an itchy throat and dull body aches coming on with a fever, consider what might be ailing you before you go to work and get your co-workers sick. Visit a doctor immediately. Your office mates will appreciate it and you’ll be back on your feet faster.

How to cope with summer allergies

Ten years ago for my 40th birthday, my wife bought me a nice Martin acoustic guitar. After using it in original bands for years that didn’t make any money, I thought I might venture out on my own and try to bring in some extra cash playing other people’s songs by myself. So far it has been very rewarding, and in some instances, lucrative.

The only drawback is that most of these gigs are outdoors. While the sweltering Houston heat hasn’t bothered me (at least not yet), the pollen and every other type of weed, grass or air pollution certainly has. It seems like every gig I battle a stuffy and runny nose, a scratchy throat, etc. This is not good when you are trying to sing for anywhere between two and four hours at a time.

Millions deal with summer allergies every year, and many things can cause symptoms such as watery eyes, sneezing, coughing, itchy eyes and nose, hay fever and the aforementioned scratchy throat and stuffy and runny nose.

Our body’s immune system is built to protect us from viruses, bacteria and parasites, but sometimes it gets confused. When this occurs the body releases chemicals, like histamine, that can trigger an allergic reaction.

The most common triggers are pollen and ragweed. Pollen usually arrives when trees are done pollinating in late spring and the ragweed likes to rear its ugly head in August. While pollen attaches itself to grass and weeds where you live, ragweed can travel hundreds of miles in the wind and trigger allergies. In other words, ragweed in Dallas can get us here in Houston.

Air pollution can also wreak havoc during the summer months. The most common pollutant is ozone, which is caused by a combination of hydrocarbons, nitrogen oxide and the sun. The levels in cities like Houston and Los Angeles are very high during the summer. It’s important to pay attention to local weather reports to see the daily pollen, ragweed counts and ozone levels are each day and if it’s safe for you to be outside on those days.

Common allergy triggers are ragweed, pollen, dust mites and air pollution Click To Tweet

Don’t forget about dust mites. They are those lovely little creatures that we cannot see, but who show up in our house and make themselves at home. They love the summer’s warm, humid temperatures and they live and multiply in places like beds, fabric, carpets and, it seems, every place else.

Dr. Joshua Septimus, an internist with Houston Methodist Hospital, says it’s important to be the aggressor when it comes to dealing with seasonal allergies. For example, if you know you have seasonal allergies, a couple of weeks before you usually experience problems, start taking an over-the-counter, non-sedating, antihistamines like Claritin, Allegra, and continue to take them through allergy season. Nasal steroids are also good for people who experience something as simple as a runny nose.

Septimus adds that you should schedule a doctor’s appointment to talk about your symptoms and allergy history. Your doctor may suggest allergy treatments or send you to a specialist who might perform a skin test.

Taking steps to battle your summer allergies will make that trip to the beach or pool or just spending time with your family much more enjoyable.