If you’re a seasonal allergy sufferer (60 million of Americans are), you probably already have a few tricks to avoid triggers, like not running outside when pollen counts are sky-high or keeping the windows closed and blasting the AC. But you may not know about these less obvious factors that can make symptoms worse.
1. Stressful work deadlines. In a 2008 experiment, researchers at Ohio State University College of Medicine found that allergy sufferers had more symptoms. after they took an anxiety-inducing test, compared with when they performed a task that did not make them tense. Stress hormones may stimulate the production of IgE, blood proteins that cause allergic reactions, says study author Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, PhD. If you’re under stress, get enough sleep. A sleep deficit can worsen both allergy symptoms and stress, she says.
2. An extra glass of wine with dinner. Alcohol can raise the risk of perennial allergic rhinitis by 3 percent for every additional alcoholic beverage consumed each week, Danish researchers found. One potential reason: Bacteria and yeast in the alcohol produce histamines, chemicals that cause telltale allergy symptoms like stuffy nose and itchy eyes. Avoid alcohol when your symptoms are acting up, says Richard F. Lockey, MD, director of the division of allergy and immunology at the University of South Florida College of Medicine.
3. Waiting too long to take meds. Medications that block histamines work best before you’re even exposed to allergens, says allergist James Sublett, MD, a spokesperson for the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology. Start medication a couple of weeks before the season commences or before you’ll be around allergens (if you react to grass, before a golf game, for example).
4. A not-hot-enough washing machine. If you find yourself sniffling in bed, crank your washing machine to the hottest setting. In a South Korean study, laundering cotton sheets at 140 degrees killed 100 percent of dust mites, while a warm 104 degree-wash destroyed just 6.5 percent. A machine's "sanitize" setting is likely hot enough; check the manual if your model lacks this option. Some units heat water internally, but others use what flows through the pipes, so you may need to boost your water heater. (Caution: This temp can scald in 5 seconds.)
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5. Houseplants that make you sneeze. Your innocent orchid could bring tears to your eyes. More than 75 percent of hay fever sufferers are allergic to at least one common houseplant, found a Belgian study. Allergens in plant sap can diffuse into the air and set off your sniffling. Though any potted greens can be trouble, researchers found that ficus, yucca, ivy, palm, orchid, and fern varieties are most irritating to allergy-prone people.
6. Skipping medication in the evening. One time not to forget your allergy med? Before bed—so the medication will be circulating in your bloodstream early the next day. Symptoms such as sneezing, weepy eyes, and runny nose peak in the morning, says Richard J. Martin, MD, chair of the department of medicine at National Jewish Medical and Research Center in Denver. Choose regular (instead of nondrowsy formulas) for extra help falling asleep promptly.
7. Water workouts in an indoor pool. Chlorine-filled lap lanes can wreak havoc on your system. Used to disinfect, chlorine is highly irritating to the skin, eyes, and respiratory tract, says Prevention advisor Andrew Weil, MD. And a recent study in the journal Pediatrics found that teens who log more than 100 hours in a chlorinated pool have a 3 to 7 times higher risk of developing hay fever, compared with swimmers who dunk in chlorine-free pools.
To reap the benefits of your water workout without wheezing and sneezing, consider wearing a mask or goggles when swimming to protect your eyes from chlorine's temporarily irritating effects. Try to swim in outdoor pools, where the gas is more readily dispersed, instead of indoor ones, and avoid swimming in chlorinated pools daily.
8. Friends who smoke. Cigarettes—with their numerous toxic chemicals and irritants—are nasty for everyone, but allergy sufferers may be especially sensitive, according to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. In fact, one Japanese study of teenage students found that more than 80 percent of those who came from homes where family members smoked heavily showed signs of nasal allergies.
Even if you don’t hang around smoky bars or other areas, particles on the clothing of smoking friends or coworkers can pollute the air in your home or office.
9. Showering in the AM only. Hay fever sufferers would benefit from a quick rinse as soon as they get home from work or after being outside for a while, says allergist Stanley Fineman, MD, a physician at the Atlanta Allergy and Asthma Clinic. That’s because hidden pollen particles can get trapped on your body, hair, clothes, and shoes—continuing to trigger symptoms after you’ve returned indoors.
If you’re prone to pollen allergies, slip off your shoes, throw your clothes in the hamper, and shower as soon as you get home to avoid dragging particles all over your home.
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