Drip. Wipe. Blow. Sneeze. Repeat. This seems to be the reality of many of my neighbors here in the state of New Mexico. As I peruse the bedding plants and sacks of fertilizer in my local home store I shuffle my feet to the “Hack, hack, tweet, tweet!” of the Springtime Serenade. Red eyes and noses appear above the shelves of fish emulsion and snail bait while multi-colored handkerchiefs flap in the dusty breezes of the garden department courtyard. Ahh! It’s another beautiful May in the desert. Allergy-ridden horticulturists, hell-bent on having beautiful yards, no matter what the cost, stuff their SUV’s with the bags, buckets and boxes of their unfortunate demise: flowers. Grasses. Trees. POLLEN!
Checking the pollen count for Albuquerque I find the count for trees is – HIGH! The forecasted pollen levels for trees is – VERY HIGH! Summer is just around the corner. Those HIGH! pollen levels for grasses are sure to follow. And then we have VERY HIGH! pollen levels for weeds to look forward to! Would-be gardeners will honk, wheeze and scratch themselves to the corner drug store, creating a bonanza for the makers of allergy remedies like Zyrtec, Allegra and Claritin. Irritants like grass and tree pollen stimulate the immune system to release histamine, causing the familiar itching, sneezing, runny nose and watery eyes. According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, seasonal allergies result in 12 million physician visits a year and $11.2 billion spent on treatment. No wonder. Seasonal allergies are miserable. People who suffer from them will do nearly anything for relief. A friend of mine from my college days has terrible allergies. She appears to have a cold all the time. A really bad cold. We graduated from college in 1978. If I had had a really bad cold since 1978 I would be swallowing every pill and potion I could get my hands on for some relief. There are all kinds of medications on the market; some 35 are available OTC, another 28 by prescription. There are antihistamines, decongestants, anticholinergics, corticosteroids, leukotriene modifiers and mast cell stabilizers. There are sprays, drops, pills, and liquids. Some can raise blood pressure, cause insomnia or drowsiness. Others may cause diabetes, osteoporosis or glaucoma, lead to skin rashes, fever, heartburn and headache. But according to a 2005 survey conducted by the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, more than half of respondents said they were “very interested” in finding a new medication. One in four reported “constantly trying different medications to find one that works for me.” Why is it so hard to find an effective treatment?
Allergic rhinitis, or hay fever, as it is commonly known, isn’t taken very seriously, either by physicians or allergy sufferers themselves. There are 50 million people in the US with allergic symptoms severe enough to warrant treatment, but four out of five never make it to the doctor. Instead they rely on OTC remedies. A patient may try one antihistamine and if it doesn’t work try another, when what they really need is a decongestant, or a drug that targets another part of the allergic reaction or a steroid. There’s no treatment plan in place and they suffer needlessly. In reality, seasonal allergies are nothing to sneeze at. Allergies can lead to sleep problems and set sufferers up for more serious respiratory problems. Children with allergic rhinitis are three times more likely than their non-sniffling counterparts to develop asthma. Kids and adults alike are more likely to develop sinus and ear infections, especially if their allergies go untreated. There are lots of medications these days that can help and some of the newer ones have few side effects. And there are things people can do to lessen their need for medications or even do without them altogether. The following steps can lead to a reduction in the irritants that cause allergic rhinitis:
1. Check your local pollen forecast. See what kind of allergens are in the air as temperatures get warmer.
2. Try to make your bed as allergen-free as possible. Dust mites (eww!) hide in old bedding and mattresses. Vacuum your mattress. Use a mattress cover. Wash and replace bedding often.
3. Get rid of the carpet. Have you ever taken up an old carpet and seen what’s underneath? Believe me, you don’t want to be breathing that stuff. Hard floors are much easier to keep clean.
4. Wear big sunglasses. Do your best Jackie O impression. On a windy day you’ll keep pollen out of your eyes.
5. Give your pup a bath. Your cat, too. You’ll keep their dander down and have less dirt in the house.
6. Exercise in the evening. On high pollen days you can choose to run, walk or bike in the evening, when counts are lowest. Shower when you come in.
7. Use HEPA filters. High-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters can be used on vacuums and vents. They trap allergens.
8. See your allergist. He can dig deeper if OTC or home remedies don’t help. You may need a prescription drug or even allergy shots.
One more thing – I’ll let you all in on the miracle potion that helped with seasonal allergies around my house. My significant other was truly suffering from a dry, allergic cough which made existence generally wretched. So I did a little research on home remedies and rediscovered a tried-and-true concoction: a nice cup of chamomile tea with some fresh lemon juice, some raw, local honey and a wee bit of bourbon. It’s worked wonders. Just sayin’.