If you've been sniffly lately ... or snotty ... or if you spend more time than you should rubbing your itchy eyes, you're not alone. It's allergy season, and pollen can be brutal. And if it's felt like this year is more miserable than ever, you're not imagining it.
Allergy season is getting worse, and it's getting longer. Climate change means warmer winters, which means allergy season starts early each year. And that long season causes a priming effect, meaning that if you're an allergy sufferer, your body prepares itself for a more serious inflammatory response. Plus, pollution and higher levels of CO2 make pollen stronger.
You're probably reaching for some over-the-counter antihistamines just reading this. You're not alone there either; about 20-30 percent of people worldwide have seasonal allergies. And they spend on it — between $4 billion and $11 billion annually, by some estimates. According to a 2011 study from Quest Diagnostics, people with allergies also miss an average of 1.7 days of work each year due to their symptoms.
But if you're dropping hundreds of dollars on Claritin, Zyrtec, Allegra or whatever nasal spray you swear by, there may be some other options. Dr. Rita Kachru, an allergy specialist at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, says many of her recommended first courses of treatment aren't antihistamines. Here are some cheap things you can do to stay sniffle-free this allergy season:
1. Clean your house. Pollen and dust can pile up on surfaces in your home, especially if you leave the windows open. To keep your allergic inflammation to a minimum, vacuum, mop and dust. If you have indoor allergies, investing in dust mite pillow covers can help.
2. Clean yourself. Pollen collects on skin and hair; rinsing off after going outside can help temper allergies. Kachru also recommends nasal rinsing (with distilled water only) and nasal gargles to clean out your nose and rid your sinuses of pollen.
3. Close the windows and crank up the AC. Closing the windows at night is a good idea for people with seasonal allergies. Pollination also happens at nighttime, so sleeping with the windows open may mean waking up with itchy eyes and a lot of congestion. A lower temperature and low levels of humidity also help keep allergens at bay — that's where the air conditioning comes in.
4. Get yourself some vitamin D. Vitamin D fights inflammation. Whether you get it from a healthy diet or by soaking up the sun, it can help fight allergies.
5. Drink herbal tea. Chamomile, peppermint and ginger are all shown to have anti-inflammatory properties. Drinking them in tea can help keep you primed to fight allergies.
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