Allergies occur when your immune system overreacts to something normally found in our environment. If you have allergies, your immune system reacts to harmless substances as if they were a real emergency. Those substances are called allergens because they trigger an allergic response.
For example, the body of a person allergic to pollen reacts as if pollen were a flu virus and calls on the entire immune system to help. Typical seasonal allergy symptoms include bouts of sneezing, itchy nose, congestion, runny nose, itchy, watery eyes and/or itchy palate.
Less often, severe cases of seasonal allergies may be accompanied by additional symptoms due to irritation of the mucous membranes of the eyes; of the Eustachian tube of the middle ear linings; and of the sinuses on either side of the nose. The resulting symptoms can include: itchy, reddened, watery eyes, ear popping and fullness, itchy throat and/or pressure sensations located over the cheeks and forehead.
The best way to get relief from allergies is to avoid the allergen, especially since repeated exposure tends to make the symptoms worse.
Some ways to avoid allergens are to keep windows closed to prevent pollens from drifting into your home, minimize early morning activity when pollen is usually emitted-between 5-10 a.m., keep your car windows closed when traveling, stay indoors when the pollen count is reported to be high, as well as on windy days when pollen may be present in higher amounts in the air.
Also, avoid mowing the lawn and freshly cut grass, stay away from furry pets, machine dry bedding and clothing. Pollen may collect in laundry if it is hung outside to dry and control dust, especially in your bedroom. Use polyester pillows and blankets that can be washed. Cover your mattress in washable covers.
If these techniques fail, over-the-counter remedies, such as antihistamines or decongestants, may work well.
Antihistamines work best if taken before exposure to allergens. Some cause drowsiness and dry mouth. These side effects vary from person to person and from one antihistamine to another. Reading labels and trying different ones can help you find one that gives you the best symptom relief and minimal side effects.
Decongestants relieve stuffiness and can reduce sinus pressure. Some can counteract the drowsiness caused by antihistamines.
Generic medicines are usually as effective as brand names and cost less.
Many products have multiple active ingredients. Look for ones that contain only the ingredients you need.
Talk to your health care provider if allergies are really interfering with your life, or if you suffer from shortness of breath, wheezing or a cough. You and your health care provider may decide that you would benefit from a prescription allergy medication.