Allergies aren't just a spring thing. "Of the 35 million Americans with seasonal allergies, about one third suffer with them in the fall," says New Hyde Park, New York, allergist Yosef Soleymani, M.D. Ragweed is public enemy number one: Its pollen affects 85 to 90 percent of fall-allergy victims. Household dust mites and outdoor molds are also major triggers. Use these pointers to minimize your exposure to these allergens and soothe allergy symptoms:
Get tested. Colds and hay fever cause similar symptoms. The big difference, says Beth Eve Corn, M.D., director of the allergy clinic at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City, is in duration. "If symptoms persist for a couple of weeks, it's probably an allergy." Ask your doctor for a skin test to confirm that you have allergies and to find out which allergens you need to avoid.
Don't ignore the signs. "We like to treat allergies early so they don't get worse," notes Corn. New research suggests that allergic rhinitis causes inflammation of the lungs and sinuses and may lead to more serious respiratory problems such as sinusitis and asthma. Hay fever can also make sufferers more vulnerable to allergic eczema and food allergies.
Keep allergens at bay. If you need a cool breeze, use the air conditioner; window screens can't stop microscopic pollen and mold spores. Allergens stick to clothes, so shower and change immediately after outdoor activities, and don't dry clothes on the line. When possible, stay indoors between 5:00 and 10:00 A.M., when allergen levels are highest.
Skip the humidifier. Adding moisture to the air can soothe cold symptoms, but using a humidifier can worsen allergies. "Humidifiers make rooms moldy after a few days," explains Soleymani. Dust mites also thrive in moist air. Reduce humidity by running your air conditioner.
Get the right stuff. For nasal symptoms, start with a nondrowsy oral antihistamine like over-the-counter Claritin or prescription Allegra, Clarinex or Zyrtec. But if you don't find relief, you may need more intense treatment in the form of a steroid nasal spray. "Prescription formulas such as Nasonex, Flonase, Rhinocort or Nasacort are the best way to treat allergic rhinitis," says Warden H. Hwan, M.D., an allergy and immunology specialist at Holy Redeemer Hospital and Medical Center in Meadowbrook, Pennsylvania. "They have minimal side effects and alleviate nasal symptoms, including itching, sneezing, runny nose and congestion."
Spray with caution. Over-the-counter decongestant sprays that contain oxymetazoline, such as Afrin, can deliver immediate results. But don't use them more than three days in a row. According to Soleymani, overuse can lead to "rebound congestion," a more severe case of the stuffiness you set out to treat.
Plan ahead. If lifestyle measures, pills and sprays haven't worked, consider allergy shots. But don't wait until autumn is in full swing to act. Soleymani recommends starting the shots by mid-June and continuing until the ground freezes solid. "Starting immunotherapy before the season begins lets your system create antibodies and build immunity," he notes.
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