Announcing yourself with a sneeze isn’t the most pleasant way to make an entrance. Weepy eyes aren’t much fun either. Fortunately, you don’t have to buy stock in a tissue company. Just follow these steps to manage your allergies:
- See your doctor. “Make sure you’re not confusing your allergy with a cold,” Dr. Michael J. Welch says. “Allergy symptoms do not include fever, and mucus is clear. If you itch, it’s not a cold.” If over-the-counter antihistamines help, he says, it’s probably an allergy. A simple office test—a drop of allergen on the skin followed by a pinprick—can determine what you’re reacting to. “What looks like a hive will show up within 15 minutes if you’re allergic,” Lania-Howarth says.
- Practice avoidance. “Pollen counts are highest in early morning,” so avoid outdoor activities before 9 a.m., Dr. Maria Lania-Howarth says. Mold count is higher in late afternoon, so stay indoors during those hours as well. Keep your windows closed. Welch advises wearing a dust and pollen mask when you mow the lawn or work in the garden. Change pollen-covered clothes and shower afterward.
- Medicate. Over-the-counter antihistamines can be effective. “Over-the-counter saline nose sprays or neti pots may get rid of things that stimulate allergies by clearing out the mucus,” Welch says. If watery, itchy eyes are a problem, over-the-counter antihistamine eye drops can help. “Doctors can also prescribe a nasal steroid spray that’s very safe,” he says.
Plan ahead. Allergy sufferer Teresa Lloyd knows her triggers so well that she has learned to medicate before experiencing symptoms. “If I’m going someplace that has animals or I’m cleaning out the garage, I take a prescription antihistamine beforehand,” she says. “I don’t wait for symptoms to bug me.”
“It’s much better to start using medications right before your allergy season starts—by mid-March before pollen is released,” Lania-Howarth says. “And use medication throughout the season, until mid- to late June, depending on where you live and how long pollen is released.”
- Consider allergy shots. These may desensitize you to allergens. “Shots alter the immune system so that your body doesn’t fight the substance anymore,” Welch says. Still, they require a commitment of monthly injections for three to five years. And they don’t always work; they didn’t on Lloyd.
Practice these tips, and you may be able to minimize—and even forget—your nasal miseries. Thanks to minimizing her exposure to allergens and taking preventive antihistamines, Lloyd has days when she doesn’t even notice her allergies: “You get used to them,” she says. “I just don’t realize the y’re happening.”