Crush Your Allergy Culprits

Strapping on a gas mask and inflating the sterilized bubble that will soon be your new abode? Stop, put down the bicycle pump, and take these easy steps first.

From the Editors of Women’s Health

For nearly 36 million Americans, spring comes with a major buzzkill: allergies. And natural allergies are only getting more severe. Allergies to pollen, ragweed, and other common airborne triggers have doubled in the past 20 years–a 5 percent per decade increase since the 1970s–clogging up even those who’ve always been sniffle-free.

Plus, allergy seasons are longer. “Hay fever is typically caused by trees in the spring, grasses in the summer, and ragweed in the fall,” explains Paul R. Epstein, M.D., associate director of the Center for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard Medical School. But thanks to global warming, our growing seasons are lengthening. “In some states, spring is coming 10 to 14 days earlier than it did 20 years ago,” says Kim Knowlton, Dr.P.H., a senior scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Health and Environment program. And that trend is likely to continue.

Get some relief with these alternative anti-allergy medicines.

Get a grip on your allergies by crushing your culprits first:

Pollen is growing out of control. In case you’ve erased ninth-grade bio from your brain, here’s a recap: To grow, plants require sunlight, water, warmth, and carbon dioxide. But these days they’re getting way more of those last two than they need.

“Ten years ago we thought, ‘OK, more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere means more energy for plants, so they’ll grow better,’” Epstein says. Weeds (such as ragweed), however, aren’t merely flourishing; they’re reproducing like jackrabbits. And there’s not just extra pollen circulating around your schnoz–the CO2 overload has also led to a kind of superpollen that’s more allergenic, so that just a teeny amount can get your nose running.

Before you move into the basement, check the forecast. Find your area’s pollen, mold spore, and ozone levels at the sites of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (aaaai.org/nab/index.cfm) or the public-service organization AirNow (airnow.gov). On days when the Air Quality Index is above 150 (100 if you know you’re allergy- or asthma-prone), stay behind closed doors as much as you can.

The nose knows: Here’s why you have allergies.

Another reason allergies are so rampant? Allergens are invading your body more aggressively. Pollution and smog add ozone and billions of diesel particles to the air, and pollen and pollution are not a good combination. “Pollen grains hitch a ride on these particles, which carry them deeper into your lungs, where they can get lodged inside,” Epstein says.

So keep windows shut on bad air-quality days. If things get stuffy, “consider running an air conditioner with a good filter, which traps allergens from outside air,” says Jeffrey Siegel, Ph.D., associate professor in the department of civil, architectural, and environmental engineering at the University of Texas. “Just change the filter often, and avoid devices that emit ozone, like ion-generating air purifiers.”

How to improve your indoor air quality.

Make a costume change when you come inside. That way you won’t trek pollen and dust all over your house after gardening or hiking. On laundry day, wash your grubbiest duds in hot water (140F) to kill 100 percent of allergy-causing dust mites and most pollen. (Run regular loads on warm then rinse in cold water twice to kill at least 65 percent of dust mites.)

Don’t forget to slip on some shades, too. Do you spend the spring months looking like an extra in Harold and Kumar’s last adventure? Sunglasses can clear things up by keeping pollen off your lashes and lids.

Last but not least, don’t be so rough on yourself. A 2007 study published in Trends in Immunology found that scrubbing with harsh, abrasive soaps and other products can strip away a layer of protective cells on your skin and actually allow allergens to penetrate.

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100 comments

Jo S.
Jo S.4 months ago

Thank you Rodale.

Elisa F.
Elisa F.1 years ago

Thanks for sharing.

Joe R.
Joe R.3 years ago

Thanks.

Dale Overall

Interesting but I did promise my sixteen year old blind cat that I will not be crushing her any time soon as she needs my constant action at her food dish.
Just have a regular a/c, not all of us can afford buying expensive filters and hepa vacuum cleaners. Living near a lot of fields, grass, trees and Nature in general it will be difficult to escape the wrath of the pollens!

Chrissie Mitchell

I'll try the local honey idea hoping that it will allow me to stop taking anti histamine tablets.

KS Goh
KS Goh3 years ago

Thanks for the article.

jane richmond
jane richmond4 years ago

thanks

Charles B.
Charles B.4 years ago

Noted.
Thanks for sharing!

Dace J.
Dace J.4 years ago

I have witnessed people to recover from allergies using homeopathy. The problem with allergy is that the immune system read the harmful substance as a threat and start cleaning from it with tears, running nose.
With homeopathy, however it will take time, the immune system can actually unlearn this wrong reaction.

pat B.
pat B.4 years ago

trying to remember to eat local honey.