by Jessica Toomer
Allergies are a constant nuisance for those who suffer from them. The itchy eyes, runny nose, inflammation and irritation are enough to drive even the most adventurous among us inside, away from the pollen, grass and other triggers. The best way to be prepared for allergy season (and to combat them year-round) is to be educated on the causes and treatments for those pesky flare-ups. We spoke with Dr. Clifford Bassett, spokesperson for the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, to get the truth about allergies and debunk some harmful myths surrounding them.
While we'd like to think that, if we didn't have allergies as children, we're safe from them in adulthood, Dr. Basset says that just isn't the case.
"Absolutely, allergies can occur at any age," Dr. Basset warns. "Although, in general, it is more common for them to develop during childhood through the third, fourth and fifth decade of life."
Often, adults who develop allergies probably had them as kids and outgrew them, only to have a resurgence after being exposed to an irritant—a new pet, spending more time outdoors, etc.—but Dr. Basset says one of the best determiners if you're trying to predict the likeliness of an allergy attack is family history. If allergies run in the family, you might be at risk.
One issue many allergy sufferers seem to have is the inability to determine if their symptoms are from a histamine flair-up or something more sinister, like a cold or flu. Dr. Basset says there are some simple ways to figure it out.
"Allergies generally occur around a pattern, such as during high pollen days or after direct exposure to a pet," he explains. "A hallmark symptom is itching, such as of the eyes, nose, throat and skin."
And the effectiveness of certain medications is a good indicator as well.
"Allergy medicines such as antihistamines can pre-treat and modify pesky allergy symptoms. They will not successfully reduce the symptoms of a cold or infection."
Dr. Basset recommends over-the-counter (OTC) antihistamines to people with severe allergies, but he notes there's an important difference between nasal decongestants and nasal steroid sprays.
"Oral and nasal decongestants can cause more side effects (especially if you have elevated blood pressure), and decongestant nasal sprays can worsen symptoms after using them for 5 or more days continuously," Dr. Basset explains. "One of the most effective OTC medicines are nasal steroid sprays. They also reduce a large array of symptoms, such as sneezing, rhinorrhea, nasal congestion or stuffiness, and they're generally well tolerated."
It's a strange idea, to treat allergies by sticking pins in your body, but there have been studies that have proven the benefits of acupuncture when it comes to allergies (and their symptoms). It's not for everyone, of course, and Dr. Basset says that although the treatment may "provide complementary relief to standard allergy medicines," it's not a substitute for traditional medical management. So keep taking your OTC medication, but if taking a more natural route sounds appealing to you, this might be a good addition to your treatment plan.
While local honey may be delicious, it's sadly not a cure for allergy sufferers. Plenty of holistic practitioners believe that by consuming local honey and pollen, you can build immunity in your body and effectively fight off allergies, but Dr. Basset says it's not that simple.
"Local, unprocessed or store-bought honey is not a reliable and effective way to treat and manage seasonal allergy symptoms," Basset admits.
The American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology has done studies on this in the past and, according to the data, there's "no scientific evidence for its effectiveness in reducing symptoms of seasonal allergy sufferers who ate local honey, commercially processed honey, or a honey-flavored placebo."
There are many benefits to drinking green tea, but for those with allergies, this unassuming beverage may be one of the better natural deterrents for flare-ups.
That's because green tea—as well as apples, red wine, grapes and green vegetables—contain Quercetin, a plant pigment (or flavanoid) that, according to Basset, "may afford a blocking effect of histamine." Histamine is the culprit behind the worst allergy symptoms (runny nose, itchy eyes) so drinking teas or consuming foods with Quercetin may aid in allergy relief.
Probiotics are often used to treat a variety of symptoms and conditions, mainly in our digestive tracts. But some believe the regular consumption of them help fend off allergy attacks, too. As beneficial as they are for our guts, Dr. Basset says there's just not enough research to recommend them for allergy management.
"Although probiotics are becoming popular for use for many conditions, they have not been found to treat allergic rhinitis," Basset confirms.
We've spent time debunking the natural remedies the internet swears by, but the news isn't all bad for those wanting to avoid OTC medications. Dr. Basset says there are plenty of all-natural ways to manage allergies.
"The American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology points out that the first line of defense is to avoid triggers," Dr. Basset explains. "After spending time outdoors you should shower, change and wash your clothes to get rid of pollen. While working outdoors, wear a NIOSH N95-rated filter mask [to separate] out pollen. Be sure to also keep your car and home windows closed. When you do go outside, wear a hat and sunglasses to keep pollen out of your eyes. [And try] Nasal saline sprays. [They] can be helpful in removing and washing away pesky pollen from your nose, especially if you have excess mucus during a cold or sinus infection.
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