Spring fever

So how’ve you been? Need a tissue? This is the time of year I hear the most complaints from my friends about their seasonal allergies. Believe me, I understand more than you know just how miserable you feel. And I want to help.

You see, I have terrible, life-altering, year-round and sometimes dangerous allergies. (I’ve even had more than one allergy and immune system specialist refuse to treat me because my case is so severe. You don’t know scary until you’ve had a doctor tell you to leave because he can’t do shit for you.) 

I’m not trying to get pity here, I just want you to know where I’m coming from. My allergies have grown exponentially over the past nine years. They encompass outdoor allergens (pollen, pollution, animals, bugs, etc), indoor allergens (dust, pets, etc), food allergies, topical allergies (shampoo, lotion, etc).

By necessity I’ve had to become a sort of junior detective to deconstruct the world around me in order to identify just what it is that’s giving me a rash, making my eyes water or just generally making me feel like shit. I’ve had to become a pseudo-chemist to decipher chemical-laden labels to make sure something isn’t going to make me sick or send me to the hospital. (Did you know that soy has literally hundreds of chemical names and derivations? Or that it is in 60% of the food produced in the United States?)

The fact is, unless you fit into the tidy camp of allergies where popping a pill takes care of all your troubles, a lot of times you’re on your own in the allergy world. Doctors can do a lot to help, but they can’t go to the grocery store and spend hours reading labels with you. They can’t go to restaurants with you and make sure the chef doesn’t cross-contaminate your food. And a lot of times, doctors aren’t really experts on individual allergies (like say, knowing all the chemical names for aloe) as much as they are experts in treating the overall picture of having allergies.

But there are two times a year when the rest of the world starts to understand what I go through all the time: the spring and fall. And by the looks of things, I’m not alone. According to Forbes, in the first quarter of 2005, Americans spent nearly $1 billion on antihistamines.

While I like the chance to commiserate with people, I would much rather help you out, if I can. Like I said, I’m no doctor. I’m just someone who has figured some things out with trial and error. I encourage those with helpful tips to post them in the comments.

1. You’re not imagining this, Las Vegas sucks for allergies. Yeah, I know the myth is that the desert has less plants and therefore less pollen and therefore less allergens, but that’s why they call it a myth. In fact, it ranks at No. 38 on the top 50 worst cities in America for allergies, according to this years listing by The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. Top offenders include Mulberry Trees, which have been on the attack since early March. (Or if you want to get technical about it, it’s seeds have been trying to have sex with you, because that’s what pollen is — plant material looking for a mating ground to proliferate more plants.) Other bad boys: Olive Trees, grass, weeds and pollution (including ground-level ozone in the summer).

2. The name of the game is avoidance. While there are some pretty nifty antihistamines and other allergy-related treatments out there, the absolute best thing you can do for yourself is to avoid what you’re allergic to be it plant, animal or tasty treat.

3. Keep your windows closed. This is really Rule No. 1 of outdoor allergies. This goes for the house and car and anywhere else you are. If you have an allergy to pollen, the outside air is not your friend. I know that it is so nice outside. Believe me, it kills me to have ride around in my car with the windows rolled up when it is so lovely outside. But trust me, you will pay for it later. And the absolute minimum is keeping your windows closed in your bedroom at all times. Because plants tend to spit out their pollen in the wee hours of the morning, you basically get doused with it through your windows and then are just laying in it in your bed (smashing your face into the pillow full of pollen). It’s not good.

4. The wind is your enemy. Not just because it causes bad hair days either. The wind helps all the shit spread around and get on you. Just say no to wind, if you can.

5. Shower before bed. This little trick has made my life measurably better, even if it’s a total hassle and bugs my husband (because he has to shower too). Here’s the deal, as you go about your day, pollen attaches itself to your skin, hair and clothes. You can’t just brush it off by moving your hands across your skin because not only can you not see pollen but it has all these grabby bits to try and cling to you. That’s it’s whole job, to blow in the wind and cling to stuff. You have to wash it off with warm water and soap.

6. In fact, just generally make your bedroom a “clean room.” And I’m not talking about tidyness. It kind of sucks, but this really, really works. Remove all your (pollen-covered) clothes outside your bedroom (make sure your dirty clothes hamper is outside your room during pollen season) and take a shower before you go to bed. Also, don’t allow pets into your bedroom if they go outside, because they can be loaded down with pollen on their fur and skin. Basically, you have to realize that you spend a considerable amount of time sleeping. That time can either be restorative or a chance for pollen to shit all over you. Your choice.

7. The jury is out on air filters.I admit that I use a HEPA air filter in my bedroom but I can’t say with certainty that it helps. I used to have those Sharper Image Ionic Breeze machines, but they produce ozone and can exacerbate asthma (definitely in my case) as was found in Consumer Reportstesting and has led to the company’s bankruptcy. If you’re going to do it, the only kind of air filter that is worth a damn is one that is HEPA rated. But here are some free tips from Consumer Reports that work. * But definitely change the air filters in your air conditioner and/or car. That helps a lot. I do it every six months.

8. Use drugs if you need ’em.I’ve done the whole, “I can tough it out,” thing. It’s sooo not worth it. It’s a matter of the quality of your life. In fact, new studies show that allergies can cause depression and fatigue, as well as lack of concentration. And there are so many more allergy medications — both natural/holistic and conventional — than when I first started having allergy problems. It’s true that some meds can pack a punch, but there are definitely more mild ones available now. Personally, and I’m no doctor, I have had great luck with nose sprays. They really help me a lot and have very little side-effects compared to other allergy drugs. Bottom line: Do what feels right.

9. Investigate preventative treatments. Preparation during the “off season” could save you a lot of misery and money come allergy season. Depending on your situation there maybe something that could really work for you. For the highly allergic, there are allergy shots, which have to be given by a doctor and take between 2-5 years to work on average. But I’ve also heard about a variety of homeopathic treatments, too. The most popular is the honey method, where you eat honey made from bees in your area (presumably loaded with pollen from your area) and it somehow helps you not have so many allergies come allergy season. I have no idea if this works. I am allergic to honey, so I’ve never tried it. But people tell me about it all the time. (Seriously, stop telling me about it.) I’m sure there are other natural things, too. If you’re willing to make yourself your own guinee pig, Google to your heart’s content.

10. If you’re allergic to dust, get rid of dust in your home.This might sound like a no-brainer, but I’m often surprised at how often people don’t take action where they can. Dust allergy is usually an allergy to dust mites, the tiny bugs that feed on dust — mostly human waste like hair and skin. There are lot of products to help you do this. But I find just general cleaning goes a long way. Wash your linens (sheets and towels) in hot water to kill dust mites. Change your bedding at least once a week. (I change my pillow cases more frequently.) And if you have an extreme allergy, consider replacing some of your upholstered furniture with less-porus furniture (like wood, metal or covered in less-porus fabrics like leather or faux-leather). Upholstered furniture and window-coverings hold in a tremendous amount of dust mites, as well as beds themselves. The other thing is to remove your carpet, which holds in a lot of dust mites as well as pollen. How far you go with this is is completely up to you.

11. Zap mold.This is a nother “duh.” Many people who have indoor allergies have mold allergies and that tends to proliferate in the wet areas of the home. So it is critical to run the fan when you shower, to try and eliminate the steam as much as possible. Keep things clean and limit the abilit for mold to grow.

12. Use less-toxic cleaners.Not only is this good for your health, but also for the earth. Allergies can be triggerd by the chemicals in many household cleaners, as well as dry cleaning chemicals. You can find a lot of good recipes for “green” household cleaners on the internet. And we finally have a green dry cleaners in Las Vegas. (It’s called “Green Cleaners” and is on Eastern south of 215).

13. Never hang your clothes outside to dry. If you have allergies to pollen, animals, bugs or other outdoor stuff, hanging your stuff outside to dry is like turning your clothes into misery magnets.

14. If you use antihistamines, avoid citrus. Citrus interferes with the effectiveness of antihistamines, so wait a while before you indulge after you’ve taken your medicine.

15. Exercise at night. If your workouts are outside, you need to do them at night. Pollen counts are at their highest in the mornings. And while you’re puffing your way through a workout, you’ll also be breathing in crud that will be hanging around in your lungs and sinuses all day long if you work out in the a.m. Pollen counts are lowest when the sun is out of the sky and the plants essentially go to sleep.

Hope this list helps!

— E

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