Plagued by Pollen
Preventive tips, treatments, and more: Your survival guide for the spring allergy season.
The Hay Fever/Sinusitis Connection
Seasonal nasal allergies, such as hay fever (or rhinitis, its medical term)
and sinusitis, often go hand in hand. Why? Hay fever can cause swelling of the
opening to the sinuses. If the sinuses inside the skull don't drain adequately,
an infection can develop that leads to worse symptoms.
People with hay fever are more likely to develop sinusitis than those
without hay fever. Of course, not everyone with hay fever gets sinusitis. But
"definitely, the data suggest that people who have allergies and sinus
disease have worse sinus problems," says Michael Schatz, MD, MA, chief of
Kaiser Permanente's allergy department in San Diego.
That's one more reason to seek treatment if you have an allergy, says
Williams. Anything you do to cut down on congestion-such as treating your hay
fever as early as possible should help your head feel clearer and might help
you avoid sinusitis.
Home in on Solutions
Hands down, your No. 1 defense is to avoid the allergens that make you so
miserable. You can't get rid of pollen outside, but you can tweak your daily
routine to limit it indoors. Some tips:
- Shut it. Close the windows at home and in your car.
- Air it. If you need to cool down, run the air conditioning
instead of opening the windows. Also, put the air on "recirculate" so
you're not bringing in outside air filled with pollen.
- Case it. Put pillows, box springs, and mattresses in cases
that keep dust mites out.
- Wash it. Throw sheets, comforters, blankets, curtains, and washable
stuffed animals regularly into the washing machine, set to the hottest water
temperature the material can handle.
- Dry it. Use the clothes dryer. Dust mites can't take the
- Clean it. Keep kitchens and bathrooms clean and dry. If
you use a humidifier, clean it regularly so it doesn't become a breeding ground
for bacteria and mold.
- Freeze it. If your kids have dust mite allergies and their
toys can't be washed, put the toys in the freezer for 48 hours every two weeks.
Freezing temperatures will kill the dust mites, Duke University's Williams
- Expose it. To further reduce dust mites, consider
replacing your carpeting with hard flooring and getting rid of upholstered
- Ask about it. Ask your doctor if your allergies are linked
to your pet, and what to do about it.
- Store it. In the basement or attic, put away collectibles
and clothes in plastic storage bags and run a dehumidifier to prevent mold
Treatments range from OTC to alternative
Here's how to get the right treatment for your symptoms. If you have:
- Mild hay fever: An over-the-counter product may be all you
need. The key ingredient-antihistamine-targets histamines, which are chemicals
your body makes in response to allergens. Histamines cause runny noses and
eyes, itching, and sneezing. Check product labels about a risk of drowsiness
with some products. Non-drowsy antihistamines are also available.
- Severe or long-lasting hay fever: If over-the-counter
medicines aren't working, see a physician. "These days, with the
medications that are available, seasonal allergies are usually very well
controlled," says Michael Schatz, MD. Prescription medications come in
three forms: antihistamines, nasal steroid sprays, and medicines targeting
allergy-related chemicals called leukotrienes. Any doctor can prescribe those
drugs, not just allergists, says Williams.