Allergies to pollen, grasses, molds and weeds seem to be bothering people earlier than ever this year. Changing weather and climate patterns may be partially to blame. The hygiene hypothesis is an additional explanation that probably contributes to the underlying explanation as to why there is so much more allergic illness now than ever.
Allergies can be confusing to people with upper respiratory complaints and we often get questions about how to tell the difference between allergies and colds. Both allergies and colds can produce runny nose, sore throat, watery eyes, cough, and fatigue. Though we can’t always tell the difference, when symptoms respond easily to anti-histamines and when people have a history of allergies it’s a safe bet that allergies are to blame. This article provides a nice chart that goes through some of the common differences.
What are some ways to treat environmental allergies? Depending on the severity and what you have tried so far, you can pick and choose from a variety of options:
- Nasal Washings (nasal saline or netti pot) twice daily can rinse away the allergens in your nasal passages. If nasal congestion is your main symptom, you can discuss with your doctor whether it might be a good idea to use a nasal steroid after the nasal washings.
- Local honey acts to get your body used to small amounts of local pollen through your gastrointestinal tract. Your immune system, therefore, has then seen the pollen, and over time is less likely to be over-sensitive when it encounters it again. In San Francisco we are so lucky to have HYPER-Local Honey.
- Nutrition can have an impact on your sensitivity to allergies. Studies suggest that frequently eating fermented foods, avoiding processed sugars and grains, and eating fruits and vegetables which are high in polyphenols may improve your immune function and decrease your risk of environmental allergies.
- Anti-allergy supplements that you can discuss with your doctor include:
- Stinging nettles
- Vitamin C
- Butterbur (free of toxic alkaloids, not for children or pregnant women)
- Environmental clean-up in your home:
- Make sure all the piles of things, especially around your bed, are picked up. Any surface is a potential landing spot for dust and pollens.
- Wet mop and dust at least once weekly. Don’t forget window sills.
- Consider removing carpets in favor of more easily cleaned floor surfaces.
- If dust mites are a problem, consider mattress, pillow, and comforter dust mite covers.
- Hot wash sheets once weekly.
- Make sure no stuffed animals are on the bed and that if they are in your or your child’s room that they are in a toy box or other enclosed space. If you want one stuffy on your bed and you suffer from allergies, best if it isn’t hairy and if it takes a frequent bath in the washing machine.
- HEPA Filters in the home and Vacuum Cleaners w HEPA filters.
- Traditional Western Medicine
- Over the counter options include Claritin, Allegra, Zyrtec and the generics of each. Flonase, Nasacort, and other nasal steroids can be very helpful options as well. In general, these are very safe medicines with low-risk potential.
- Older antihistamines such as Benadryl can be helpful as well, but are more likely to cause drowsiness.
- Make sure when you choose an antihistamine that you know if it contains a combination of decongestant (claritin-d or zyrtec-d for instance) which may not be appropriate for you if you have high blood pressure, anxiety, or certain other medical conditions.
There are more options, of course. Please talk to your health care provider if you suspect that allergies are getting in the way of your health or quality of life!