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5 Ways to Beat Spring Allergies

One of the nation's top allergy experts explains how to control and treat spring allergies this year.

Control Allergies by Controlling Your Environment continued...

To minimize the allergens circulating throughout your house, get a high-efficiency furnace filter (MERV level 11 or 12 is what you're looking for), and be sure to change it every spring and again in early summer -- for example, in March and June. You can also cut down on circulating allergens by using a HEPA filter on your vacuum and getting a HEPA air filter.

And when you're in the car, keep the windows shut and set your ventilation to recirculate. "Studies show that recirculating air through the car's cabin filter can help with allergies," Sublett says.

One "don't" for coping with allergies indoors: vaporizers and humidifiers. "The droplets are so big that they don't get into your nose, and increasing the humidity in your home can lead to problems with mold and dust mites," says Sublett.

Natural Allergy Remedies

Some natural remedies do help with allergy symptoms, but keep in mind that they have their limits. One popular tool is the neti pot, which flushes out your nasal cavities by using gravity to rinse them with a saline solution. Studies show that neti pots are effective for minimizing seasonal allergy symptoms.

"They definitely help if you're congested and symptomatic," Sublett says. "But they're just rinsing the mucus and irritation out of your nose. They're not actually removing the pollen, which is causing the symptoms in the first place."

The jury is still out on acupuncture. Some swear by it as an allergy remedy, but studies on the subject so far have been mixed. Researchers reviewing the overall evidence say that a large, clinical trial is needed to resolve the conflicting data.

See an Allergist for Allergies

If the latest batch of OTC antihistamines in your medicine cabinet isn't doing the trick, a visit to an allergist can bring relief.

An allergist will help you determine precisely what you're allergic to by discussing your symptoms and doing skin tests, which involve exposing you to a small amount of an allergen through a skin abrasion to see if you react. Allergists can also test for antibodies in your blood that can signal the presence of allergies. Your allergist might ask you to keep an "allergy diary," tracking when and where you have allergic reactions.

Several prescription allergy medications are available:

  • Antihistamines
  • Leukotriene modifiers, which work by blocking the action of inflammatory chemicals known as leukotrienes, which are released when your body is exposed to allergens.
  •  Intranasal antihistamines, which are fast-acting and work better than oral antihistamines to control congestion.
  •  Antihistamine eyedrops, which can reduce the redness, swelling, itchiness, and wateriness that often go hand-in-hand with seasonal allergies. Eyedrops with anti-inflammatory agents may help as well. Corticosteroid eyedrops have an anti-inflammatory effect but can cause significant side effects and should be used under the supervision of a doctor.

"Eye symptoms can really make you miserable," Sublett says. "People often don't really appreciate the importance of good prescription eyedrops." But, he adds, some eyedrops cannot be used with contact lenses.

"The take-home message this allergy season is simple: You don't have to be miserable," Sublett says. "See an allergist, find out exactly what you're allergic to, and develop a plan." 

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