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Sonoma Family Life Magazine

7 Simple Strategies for Keeping Allergies at Bay

By Sandra Gordon

Seasonal allergic rhinitis, aka hay fever, is nothing to sneeze at. This time of year, mold spores and tiny grains of pollen from native grasses and trees hitch a ride on spring’s warm breezes, traveling for hundreds of miles.

If you or someone in your family is allergic, those pesky airborne particles can kick your immune system into overdrive, triggering annoying symptoms, such as sneezing, stuffy and runny nose, and itchy, watery eyes. The throat, ears, and the roof of the mouth can itch, too.

“Allergies can trigger asthma and make it worse,” says Beth Corn, MD, an allergy and immunology specialist. Asthma is a chronic disease in which the lung’s tiny airways become swollen and constricted, making breathing difficult. About 60 percent of adults and up to 80 percent of children 18 and younger with asthma have allergic asthma—asthma brought on by allergies.

These simple strategies can tame seasonal allergies to help everyone breathe easier.

Pinpoint what you’re allergic to. If you or your child is having symptoms of allergies, asthma, or both (allergic asthma), such as coughing, wheezing, chest tightness and difficulty breathing, don’t guess what you may be allergic to and then self-medicate at CVS. See an allergist or a pulmonologist for testing and a tailored action plan, which may include allergy shots or under-the-tongue allergy drops (sublingual allergy desensitization), and over-the-counter medication.

Reducing your exposure to an allergen is an important first step. “You have to identify what’s triggering your allergies or allergic asthma, then go after it,” Corn says.

Bust household dust. Dust mites are a common indoor allergen, especially in winter because we tend to spend more time inside. But dust mites can also be an issue in the spring and summer because they thrive on seasonal humidity. These microscopically tiny bugs live in household dust, which sneaks in from dirt tracked in on shoes and airborne particles like pollen and soot that blow into your home. Dust mites are not parasites. They won’t bite, sting, or burrow into you. The harmful allergen they create comes from the fecal pellets and body fragments they shed in household dust.

Dust mites are nearly everywhere, but the bedroom is their favorite hangout. “Roughly four out of five homes in the United States have detectable levels of dust mite allergen in at least one bed,” states the American Lung Association on its website,

To derail dust mites, use a dehumidifier (if humidity is a problem) and encase mattresses and pillows in a barrier cover that’s impenetrable to dust. “The cover doesn’t have be anything expensive. It just has to do the job,” Corn advises. Barrier covers prevent the dust mite debris from seeping out of bedding. “You’re not smothering the dust mites. They’re still there, but you’ll lock in the dust, which is what contains the mites you’re allergic to,” Corn says. Get rid of carpets, rugs, and curtains, too. “They’re big dust collectors,” Corn says.

Clean up your act. Mop floors regularly and use shades instead of curtains in bedrooms, periodically washing down shades with a damp cloth. Also, wash sheets and towels in hot water to kill any lingering dust mites.

Avoid outdoor chores. If you’re allergic to grasses, let someone who isn’t allergic cut the lawn. Mowing kicks up mold and pollen. If you can’t get out of lawn duty, just don a surgical face mask (these days, you’re probably already wearing one anyway) to minimize your chances of inhaling outdoor allergens.

Close your windows. Keep car windows shut when you’re driving. When the weather heats up, close windows at home and turn on the air conditioner. AC not only cools the air but cleans it, too. Just make sure to regularly replace the AC filter, otherwise you’ll be breathing in dirty air.

Don’t hang towels, sheets, or clothes outside to dry. They’re pollen and mold magnets, especially on windy days.

Wash up. Change your clothes, take a shower, and wash your hair after being outside. Pollen can cling to hair, skin, and clothes.

“These little tricks can really minimize your exposure to allergens and, in turn, help control your allergies and allergic asthma,” Corn says. 

Sandra Gordon is a freelance writer who specializes in health and medicine.