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Allergy season can make you look and feel like a sneezy, wheezy wreck.
By
TODAY contributor
updated 5/17/2011 11:10:27 AM ET 2011-05-17T15:10:27

The wheezing, the sneezing, the dripping, the coughs — ask anyone who suffers from seasonal allergies ( including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton ) and they’ll tell you, it’s not pretty.

Allergy season is especially bad this year, experts recently confirmed : It's lasting longer, and sudden shifts in weather patterns have made releases of tree pollen more potent. But with proper treatment, doctors say you can look and feel more like yourself — unlike recent mornings for Andrea Lynn.

“I’ll sometimes wake up with hives on my eyelids,” says Lynn, a 33-year-old food writer from Astoria, N.Y. “Sometimes, I feel like my whole face is puffy but I don’t know if that’s just in my head. My eyes definitely get bad — they swell up and get a reddish purple color. Someone once asked if somebody had hit me. I told them ‘No, it’s just allergies.’”

These so-called “allergic shiners” are nothing new to Dr. Clifford Bassett, medical director of Allergy and Asthma Care of New York and clinical assistant professor of medicine at NYU School of Medicine.

“With seasonal allergies, you develop sagging of the eyelids and puffiness of the eyelids and the facial structure below the eyelid,” he says. “It looks like someone popped you in the eye.”

'You need to get off the drugs'
Amazingly, a bad case of the allergy uglies can even impact a person’s job prospects, he says.

“I saw one woman who went on multiple job interviews but couldn’t get a job,” he says. “She finally went back to her last interviewer and asked why she wasn’t hired and he told her ‘You need to get off the drugs.’ People with allergies have watery eyes, puffiness, runny noses and the HR departments in corporate America think they’re on drugs.”

Image: President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, along with with members of the national security team, receive an update on the mission against Osama bin Laden in the Situation Room of the White House.
Pete Souza  /  The White House
It was allergies, and not anxiety or anguish, that caused Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's hand-over-mouth pose in the White House situation room while watching the commando operation to kill Osama bin Laden, Clinton has said.

Bassett says many women tend to reach for cosmetics to cover up the puffiness, “much like an actress on the set.” But seasonal allergy sufferers — and there are plenty of them this year thanks to a prolonged pollen release — don’t have to empty out the makeup drawer to hide a bad case of the allergy uglies.

“With proper treatment, we can reduce some of the poor appearance characterized by allergies,” says Bassett. “After treatment, the woman who couldn’t get a job felt better, looked better and finally got a great job.”

Of course, people first need to determine if they’re actually suffering from seasonal allergies or something else, like indoor allergies, sinus problems or contact dermatitis (to take a quiz, click here www.allergyandasthmarelief.org). If you are one of the wheezing allergic masses (and there are an estimated 40 million of them), Bassett advises going to a board-certified allergist for treatment — and the following tips:

  • Check the pollen count every day so you know what you’ll be up against when you leave the house.
  • Don’t exercise outdoors between 5 and 10 a.m. Either exercise indoors when pollen counts are high or wait until the early evening when the count tends to drop.
  • Shower and shampoo every night and change clothes before going into your bedroom (you’ll get a better night’s sleep without a bunch of irritants in the air).
  • Keep your windows closed at home and in the car and set the air conditioner on re-circulate to keep out pollens.
  • Wear sunglasses to reduce the entry of pollen into the eyes and eyelids.

Food writer Andrea Lynn says in addition to loading up on allergy meds, she uses a neti pot to rinse out her nose.

“That clears up the congestion more than anything else,” she says. “On really bad days, I’ll do it in the morning and in the evening.”

As for the exhaustion and brain fog that can often accompany seasonal allergies, Bassett blames lack of sleep.

“I think allergies may be one of those things that prevent you from getting good restorative sleep which is important to human health and functioning,” he says. “If not treated, they can give people a less than desirable appearance; they can affect their day at work. According to one study, they can even affect their sex life.”

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