The leaves are starting to turn, jackets and sweaters are making their first appearances of the year — and you’re a sneezing, congested mess.
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If fall means allergy season for you, you can take steps to avoid suffering, says David Lang, MD, Director of the Department of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. From environmental fixes to medications, these tips will help you get through the season with a clear head.
1. Keep outdoor air outside
It’s tempting to crack the windows on a cool fall day, but if you are sensitive to outdoor allergens such as ragweed pollen and moldy leaves, keep the windows closed.
“Having the windows open basically turns indoor air into outdoor air,” Dr. Lang says. “If you’re allergic to ragweed, keep them closed.”
Better yet, use air conditioning at a comfortable temperature for as long as you can. Air conditioning can cut indoor pollen counts by 90 percent or more, Dr. Lang notes. In addition, if you work outside, shower when you come inside to remove as much pollen as possible.
“Having the windows open basically turns indoor air into outdoor air. If you’re allergic to ragweed, keep them closed.”
2. Control the indoor environment
The downside of keeping your house closed is more exposure to indoor allergens. The solution is to keep the house as clean as possible. Don’t allow pets on furniture, and vacuum furniture and carpets frequently. If it’s feasible, opt for hardwood floors or other hard surfaces rather than carpeting, which tends to trap allergens.
“A HEPA air filter might help, too,” Dr. Lang says. “But for pollens it’s more helpful to keep the windows closed.” He also notes that air filters reduce levels of pet dander, but probably not enough to affect symptoms. And they do not help with dust mites because their allergens are not airborne.
3. Rinse and repeat
Nasal irrigation with saline solution basically rinses the allergens from your nasal passages and helps relieve congestion. Dr. Lang and other specialists recommend saline irrigation for patients.
There are multiple options, from traditional neti pots to bulb syringes. Be sure to follow the instructions on any product you buy.
4. Don’t just suffer
“A lot of people have symptoms and soldier on,” Dr. Lang says, “but if your symptoms are interfering with your daily activities or disrupting your sleep, they should not be trivialized.”
If you’re not certain what triggers your allergies, a doctor can run tests to pinpoint causes and tailor treatments accordingly. For example, if you are allergic to dust mites, you’ll need to encase your mattress and box spring and regularly wash polyester pillows.
5. Medicate as needed
Over-the-counter antihistamines are the first line of treatment, Dr. Lang says. Be sure to use antihistamines that are non-drowsy.
For more severe cases, a doctor can help you explore prescription options. For example, intranasal steroids and intranasal antihistamines often are more effective at clearing congestion and drainage.
If symptoms persist, the next step would be to see an allergist to assess whether you’re a candidate for allergen immunotherapy (allergy shots). For the right patients, this treatment can reduce symptoms and lower reliance on medication.
Above all else, if you need help, seek it. “You may be suffering needlessly,” Dr. Lang says, “and you shouldn’t just accept it. There is help available.”