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Pollen vortex allergy misery? Try baby shampoo — and other survival tips

Spring is in the air — literally. The “pollen vortex” is tormenting many of us already — and more sniffling, sneezing and itching misery is on the way.

The allergy season this spring is expected to occur about 14 days earlier and last up to 30 days longer. And it’s prevalent throughout the U.S., with an estimated 12-14 percent of the population in every state affected by nasal allergies.

Dr. Clifford Bassett, allergist and medical director of Allergy and Asthma Care of New York, provides tips on how to tell the difference between allergies and colds, preventing and controlling the symptoms, and knowing when you should seek a doctor for treatment.

First off, how do you know if you have allergies or a cold?

It's an allergy if:

  • You have a family history of allergies (whether seasonal or year-round, food or skin, or asthma)
  • Your symptoms last more than two weeks
  • You feel worse during high-pollen time periods
  • You experience that annoying itch in your eyes, nose and throat

It's a cold if: 

  • The symptoms come on suddenly with no clear link to allergy season
  • There is thickening of the nasal mucus and a color change, which could mean infection
  • You have a headache, sore throat or cough and feel fatigue and loss of appetite

You may catch up to seven colds a year — family history doesn’t help here.

If it's an allergy, these survival tips may ease symptoms: 

Start treating allergies early. Many medications work better if you start before you experience symptoms.

Try a chili/cayenne pepper-based natural nasal spray. This can provide some short-term relief of pesky allergy symptoms.

Practice good eyelid hygiene. Gently irrigate your eyelids (eyes closed) with a mild, tear-free baby shampoo to remove allergens and pollutants. Your doctor may also recommend anti-allergy or moisturizing eye drops.

Exercise indoors on high-pollen days. Pollen levels are often highest in the early morning and on warm, dry and windy days.

Wear shades and a hat. This will help block airborne pollens and molds and prevent red, teary eyes. Also, avoid hair gels, as they can act as a pollen magnet.

Shower every night. Rinse the pollens that have collected on your skin and hair throughout the day, and change your clothing before entering your bedroom. Also, don’t line dry clothing outside.

Consider allergy shots. They are the only immune-based therapy we have that reduces and slows down “allergic disease” progression. They provide long-term relief in more than 85 percent of patients.

Garden carefully. Avoid allergy-producing plants such as sunflower, baby's breath, gardenia, jasmine, lavender, lilac and hydrangea. Try instead gladiola, Iris, orchid, peony, freesia, rose, tulip and violet.

And if none of that helps, you should consult a doctor if:

  • Your allergy symptoms persist and do not respond to over-the-counter remedies
  • You have asthma, which is often triggered by allergies (an asthma specialist can help you learn how to avoid triggers at home, work and outdoors)
  • You have a history of sinusitis and frequent need of antibiotics