It's a brutal year for sufferers, so if your symptoms just won't quit, know that you're not the only one dealing. But there's new science to help–these strategies will bring relief fast.
Cut allergy season short
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There's a whole lot of sniffling and sneezing going on...and on and on. "Because of climate change, temperatures are staying warmer well into the fall and plants are producing more pollen. Ragweed season is nearly a month longer than it was 20 years ago," says Sandra Y. Lin, M.D., the vice director of the Department of Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Plus, thanks to a rise in air pollution, which can trigger symptoms, people who've never had allergies might start getting them now. (Also check out how global warming affects your spring allergies.)
Fortunately, researchers have discovered some effective new techniques to treat—and even help prevent—the scratchy throat, stuffiness, and irritated eyes. Read on for your definitive feel-better game plan.
Get into your leggings
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Exercise causes the blood vessels in the nose to shrink, reducing congestion. Your best bet is to work out indoors if you can to avoid stirring up dust and pollen, but if you really prefer to sweat outside, aim for midday. "Pollen counts are highest in the morning and at dusk," Lin says. Taking an antihistamine one hour beforehand and wearing a pollen mask over your mouth and nose can also keep symptoms from cropping up. (Here's how to run outside without succumbing to seasonal allergies.)
Take a probiotic "cocktail"
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Popping a probiotic pill may reduce allergy misery, University of Florida researchers say. In their study, they found that people who took a supplement containing three specific strains for eight weeks during allergy season were less troubled by symptoms than those on a placebo. "They may interact with tissue in the intestines that controls immunity in the nose and eyes," says lead researcher Jennifer Dennis-Wall. Find the studied strains—Lactobacillus gasseri, Bifidobacterium bifidum, and Bifidobacterium longum—in Phillips's Colon Health Probiotic Capsules ($17; walgreens.com).
Rinse and repeat
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A nasal saline rinse will wash the allergens out of your nose, making it one of the most effective ways to minimize symptoms, Lin says. Bonus: These products also thin out mucus, temporarily relieving congestion. "I recommend using a saline spray or rinse once or twice a day, then again after exposure to pollen when you're outside for a prolonged period," she says. Tilt the nozzle slightly outward while you spritz so that the mist goes through your nasal passages and straight down the back of your throat for the best results.
Before bed, switch to a nasal emollient: It's more moisturizing and will help ease nasal irritation while you sleep. One we like: Ponaris Nasal Emollient ($15; walmart.com). It contains eucalyptus oil, which is packed with anti-inflammatory immune-boosting compounds called monoterpenes.
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All stuffed up? Try this simple technique: Block one nostril with a finger, then breathe in deeply through the other. Hold for a beat, then breathe out while humming. Repeat five times, then switch nostrils. In a study, people who did this breathing exercise while also taking allergy medicine reduced their symptoms by 49 percent. (Those who only took meds had just a 25 percent reduction.) It works because humming while breathing through one nostril at a time increases airflow between the sinuses and nasal cavity, the researchers explain. Even better, do it after using a saline or a medicated nasal spray to help distribute the liquid through your nose and sinuses, which may ease symptoms faster.
Time your treatments
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OTC allergy medications work differently and need to be used at specific times to maximize their effectiveness. Here's what to take when.
Before: If you know you suffer from fall allergies, start using a nasal steroid spray like Flonase about two weeks before pollen season and continue during it, Lin says. It takes a few days for these to kick in, so you need the head start.
During: Reach for oral antihistamines. "They block histamine production, which causes these symptoms, and provide relief," Lin says.
Afterward: If you have any lingering issues when allergy season is over, it's time to spot treat. Clear out a stuffy nose with a decongestant spray; soothe itchy eyes with moisturizing drops. Just be sure to use these meds for no more than three days. Any longer than that, and you risk becoming dependent on them, which means you may experience more congestion or eye irritation when you stop. (BTW, you might want to hold off on taking those allergy meds before breaking a sweat.)
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You may have heard the popular theory that bee pollen can help cure allergies. The thinking is that exposing yourself to small doses of pollen can make your immune system less sensitive to the allergen so you become more tolerant of it. But there's no proof that it works—in fact, it could even hurt you, experts say. Plus, it's possible to have a serious allergic reaction to bee pollen itself. If you're looking for a natural allergy cure, drizzle local honey into your smoothies or yogurt. "There's some evidence that eating it can decrease allergy symptoms, possibly because honey helps modulate the immune system," Lin says.