12 Ways to Reclaim Spring from Allergies

in Grass & Ragweed, Outdoor Allergies, Tree Pollen
Published: April 10, 2013

We know: you think of spring as a beauty to behold from behind glass – because of all that pollen in the air. But let Allergic Living show you how to do spring better, how to feel great and seize this glorious season.

1. A Better Pill

bigstock-pollen-illustration-7827439If you’re among the many who need an antihistamine to survive tree pollen season, it’s time to branch out. The diphenhydramine and chlorpheniramine pills that mom used to give you do help fight the drippy, weepy symptoms, but who needs the daily drowsies? One allergist describes seeing patients feeling sleepy up to four days after stopping these pills.

To the rescue: there are second-generation antihistamines on pharmacy shelves that are far less sedating. These include the brands Allegra, Clarinex, Claritin, Zyrtec, plus generic versions. (In Canada, the brands include Aerius, Claritin, Reactine and Allegra.)

Here’s a hot tip: try finding more than one brand that works for you. New York City allergist Dr. Paul Ehrlich, author of Asthma Allergies Children: A Parent’s Guide, recommends switching between drugs if, after several weeks, you find your body stops responding as well to one of the pills.

2. Cleanse Your Garden

Your worst hay fever foe could be planted right outside your window, warns horticulturalist and author Tom Ogren. Take stock of your plants: if one has fruit or berries, it’s not male and won’t release pollen (female plants don’t produce pollen). If you can’t identify a plant on your own, take a clipping to a nursery for help identifying its gender.

“If you’ve got a highly allergenic plant, particularly if it’s in proximity to your doors, you should replace it with the exact opposite,” Ogren says. “You will have just made a wonderful change in your yard.”

Some examples of allergy-friendly flowering plants are: peonies, hydrangea, roses, foxglove, fuchsia and poppies. Click to see more allergy-friendly plants.

3. Take the Sting Out

bigstock-Close-up-of-a-live-Yellow-Jack-16866644Have you got a stinging insect allergy? Then it’s high time you reclaimed spring and summer. Any reaction to the sting of a honeybee, yellow jacket, hornet or other insect that turned into more than itching and swelling at the sting spot suggests you’re at risk for a serious reaction.

“Almost all the time, patients who had a slight reaction the first time then had a more severe reaction the second, and they’re going to have a real problem if they get stung a third time,” Ehrlich says. “Each sting is worse than the previous one.”

That is, unless, you get allergy shots. The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI) recommends that those who have had a systemic reaction to an insect sting, and who test positive to that venom, get immunotherapy.

Doing so reduces the risk of a full-body reaction phenomenally – to less than 5 per cent. Dr. Paul Keith, a Canadian allergist, says an immunized person should be able to receive up to 50 stings at once before the body is overpowered by toxins.

4. Sweet-Smelling Ride

Your home is hermetically sealed from pollen, and your desk at work, a dustless oasis with HEPA filter standing guard. But what about your wheels? A handful of auto manufacturers now empathize with your right to a wheeze-free drive. All Ford and Lincoln vehicles with Ford’s cabin air filtration system have allergen-reducing air filters rated to remove pollen, mold spores and other airborne irritants.

Volvo has gone a step farther with four of its models, with a mechanism that flushes out a car’s interior air automatically when the doors are unlocked. The cars’ air filters block pollen and neutralizes gases. The Volvo’s air quality monitor will also seal off the air intake if levels of noxious gases outside get too high.

5. Pollen-Safe, Gluten-Free

While you’re breathing easier in your newly spruced-up garden, why not pick a handful of herbs and tomatoes for something new in the kitchen? Quinoa and amaranth are two great grains that are naturally gluten-free, and will go nicely in a tabbouleh salad.

We recommend that people with celiac disease, gluten sensitivity, or even those hungry for a different dinnertime taste may want to dabble with these tasty and nutritious grains that are now widely available. Quinoa – yellow, red and black pearls – are high in protein and used in cereal, soups, salads and stews. Or try quinoa flour in a batch of baked goods.

Amaranth is also making a splash as a gluten-free grain. Its seeds are high in fiber, iron, and other minerals. Pop them like popcorn, boil them like rice, or roast them like chickpeas. The vitamin-rich leafy greens of this plant are also a great addition to salad.

6. April Nasal Showers

Oprah Winfrey swears by hers and, on her former show, made the neti pot a household name in sinus relief. But today, for those of us who prefer to rinse out the nasal passages with a little less concoction-making and applying of teapot nozzle to nose, there are now some excellent and easy-to-administer saline sprays and rinses available.

Oprah got this part right: the cleansing brings benefits.

A review in the journal American Family Physician says both saline nasal sprays and salty liquid poured in one nostril and out the other reduce inflammation and help the nose to resist irritation. One study that looked at pollen-allergic kids found those who took antihistamines and regularly rinsed with saline solution had fewer symptoms than kids who just took medication.

7. Be Bold with Mold

Mold in an EdgeIf you’re preparing for a fog of summer humidity, you’d be wise to add a dehumidifier to your heating and cooling system, or buy a standalone unit to prevent allergy-triggering mold.

Check a central air conditioner to make sure water isn’t dripping off the coil and making a puddle where spores can grow. In cooler climates, install double or triple-glazed windows to prevent condensation on windows says indoor air quality expert Max Sherman, a fellow of the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Engineers. His advice: “Dry it, and they will not come.”

If you do find mold, rather than dousing it with lung-irritating bleach, try a cleaner free from harsh chemicals, such as MoldStat, Concrobium Mold Control, Vital Oxide or Safe Shield. For big jobs, call in a mold contractor, and soon.

8. The Quick Shot

Immunotherapy can bring great relief for those suffering from seasonal pollen allergies. Your doctor will confirm whether you’re a candidate for allergy shots, but there’s a downside – a typical patient spends five years building up immunity, and an estimated 40 to 50 hours of total time in the doctor’s office getting jabbed.

However, if your concern is ragweed allergy, there is a far quicker option available. Spring is when you’d need to check with your doctor about the Pollinex-R vaccine, which requires a series of only four shots, one week apart and repeated for just three years. The shots need to be given ahead of the ragweed onslaught.

And swift desensitization now appears on the horizon for grass pollen. In development is Pollinex Quattro, which is meant to build immunity with just four needles a season over three years. There have been promising research trials for this new vaccine, and the manufacturer recently had a long regulatory hurdle cleared in the United States. Ehrlich says the jury is out on whether this quick-shot regime will leave patients as resistant to hay fever several years down the road. But he adds: “I hope they do come out. They could be great.”

9. Pollen Screeners

If you still hanker for a natural breeze, consider installing PollenTEC’s window screens. You can buy a roll and cut them to fit windows and doors, or order pre-cut rectangles. In independent European testing, the polyester screens removed 100 per cent of grass pollens, 99.7 per cent of birch pollen, and nearly 91 per cent of ragweed pollen from outside air. For information, see www.pollentec.com.

When it comes to your own face, if you’re the sort who must mow the grass or feels compelled to garden near aggravating trees, allergist Ehrlich advises wearing a triple-layered face mask to filter out the pollen. Timing is important: there’s far less pollen floating around on a still, drizzly evening than on a warm windy morning.

10. Pollen Stoppers

Showering and brushing off pets are strategies for reducing indoor pollen and controlling hay fever. But if you need more help, a non-pharmaceutical tactic for milder allergies is the pollen blocker. They may look like another nasal spray or cream, but blockers are biologically inert and stop pollen from interacting with your nose.

The blockers could stand more clinical studies to bolster their credibility, but a handful have found that users reduced hay fever symptoms and medication use, and were better able to breathe through their noses.

A cream form, Dr. Theiss Alergol Pollen Blocker Cream, is available online, and a fine misting nose spray powder, Nasal Ease is available at Walgreen’s.

11. Robot That Mows

LB3510_1Those with grass allergies might consider improving their breathing this spring by leaving the lawn-mowing to someone else. Or, something else. Kyodo America makes six models of the LawnBott, which will meander through your yard quietly trimming, while you’re safely removed from the grass pollen.

The bot has sensors and bumpers to keep it on the lawn and out of flowerbeds. Prices range from $1,200 to $5,000, and higher end models come with a rain detector and theft alarm.

Also on the market is the Robomow, an automated mower that will mulch the grass it cuts and leave it on the lawn. Models are available on Amazon.com for between $1,600 and $2,500.

To minimize allergy aggravation, keep the grass short (and not pollinating) by cutting it frequently.

12. Lobby for ‘Smart’ Trees
juniper branch closeup

Your own actions could help to reclaim spring (and future springs) in your hometown. Writing a letter to city hall and your school board to encourage allergy-friendly planting programs could prompt action, especially if others to do the same.

Pollen’s effects can cause sleeplessness, followed by fatigue and poor concentration and even asthma attacks. One city that now takes tree pollination seriously is Albuquerque, where a boy died from an asthma attack after falling into a pollinating juniper bush. That led to a pollen control ordinance, which includes making it illegal to plant a male cypress or mulberry tree within city limits. Las Vegas, Tuscon and Phoenix have followed with similar rules.

But outside that pocket of enlightenment, urban foresters across North America are still planting some of the most allergenic trees available. The practice is considered compatible with healthy forest regeneration, but the fact is that few forestry departments have weighed the benefits to humans of reducing numbers of male trees.

If every allergy sufferer were to tell city hall just how big a wallop some trees can pack, local governments would likely re-consider new landscaping and tree replacement. There are, after all, millions of us who could speak up this spring. New shots, sprays, pills and gadgets are increasingly making our allergies manageable. But how wonderful would it be to step out on a fine spring day under a canopy of trees that didn’t make you sneeze at all.