9 Allergy Remedies Allergists Actually Use
Though human bodies are mind-blowing machines (hello, snowboarder who finished a race with a broken neck), they can also have some pretty weird vulnerabilities. Exhibit A: allergies. It’s annoying that innocent things like pollen, animal dander, and dust–or whatever your specific trigger may be–can result in your body pressing the panic button.
Allergies happen when your immune system overreacts to a substance and create antibodies to battle it, according to the Mayo Clinic. These antibodies can cause symptoms like sneezing, itchy and watery eyes, and a runny or stuffy nose.
If you have some remedies for warding off allergy flares but wish you had a better plan, you’re in luck: We asked allergists to share their personal tricks for handling (or preventing) these symptoms. After all, they can have allergy issues, too—they just know exactly what to do to solve them. Obviously, anything you do to address allergies on your own isn’t a substitute for actually seeing an allergist who can provide you with a customized plan. Still, these moves may help you keep symptoms to a minimum.
1. If you have spring or fall allergies, start taking your meds two weeks before the season starts.
Most people take medication when their seasonal allergies begin to cause trouble, but you can get a leg up on things by starting earlier, Purvi Parikh, M.D., an allergist and immunologist with Allergy & Asthma Network who is allergic to grass pollen, tells SELF. Grass pollen starts becoming bothersome in springtime, so Dr. Parikh begins using allergy meds like antihistamines two weeks before the season starts. This helps her reduce symptoms or even avoid them altogether, she says.
Antihistamines work by preventing the effects of a substance your body produces called histamine, which can cause itching, sneezing, a runny nose, and watery eyes—basically all the symptoms you associate with allergies, according to the Mayo Clinic. In some people, it can also cause your bronchial tubes (aka airways) to swell, which can make it hard to breathe.
For allergy prevention, your best bet is a non-drowsy 24-hour antihistamine (rather than the short-acting ones you would use when your allergies suddenly act up). Allergy season can begin as early as February and last as late as November depending on your location, Dr. Parikh says, so you’ll need to research to plan exactly when to start taking them.
2. Don’t just rely on an antihistamine when you have congestion. Throw in a corticosteroid nasal spray, too.
If Dr. Parikh’s allergy symptoms do creep in, she’ll use a nasal spray with corticosteroids along with an antihistamine to treat them. Corticosteroids help relieve nasal congestion, irritation, and general discomfort of allergies by reducing your body’s production of inflammation-causing chemicals, according to the Cleveland Clinic. By using the two of these together, you should get some relief from your allergies, Dr. Parikh says.
Also, you don’t need to worry that you’re going to become reliant on these corticosteroid nasal sprays, like you can with decongestant ones. Since these reduce inflammation-causing chemicals rather than working directly on your nose’s congestion-causing blood vessels (and potentially causing a rebound stuffiness effect), you should be good to use them long-term without causing any health issues, Dr. Bernstein says.
3. Before visiting someone’s house, ask about their pet situation–and tweak your meds as necessary.
If you know you’re going to encounter an animal that sets off your allergies, there are a few things you can do in advance.
“I am very allergic to cats, so when I am visiting a friend or family member who has a cat, I take a long-acting antihistamine,” Dr. Parikh says. She also uses a nasal spray 30 minutes beforehand to make sure she’s fully protected.
If you struggle with allergy-induced asthma and know that pets can trigger an asthma attack, Dr. Parikh recommends starting antihistamines a week before you’re going to be exposed. (Since you can’t always anticipate encountering someone’s pet, you should also make sure you have everything you need to follow your asthma treatment plan at a moment’s notice.)
4. When you’re looking for a new place, avoid carpeting in favor of materials like linoleum, tile, or hardwood.
Carpets can house dust mites, making it harder to get these allergy-causing critters out of your home, says Dr. Parikh, who has hardwood floors for this reason. Linoleum and tile are also good options, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI).
Obviously if you currently have carpets, you might not have the budget to replace them with new flooring. At the very least, you should vacuum or steam-clean your carpets regularly to get rid of as many dust mites as possible. Then, when you’re looking for a new place, it’s a good idea to keep an eye out for ones that are carpet-free, at least in the bedroom. “Bedrooms are the most important room to allergy-proof … all night as we sleep, we breathe in allergens,” Dr. Parikh says.
If you need some fluffiness under your feet, you can still have it. Just use throw rugs and clean them regularly enough to keep symptoms at bay, the AAAAI says.
5. Consider using special dust mite cases on your pillows, mattress, and box covers.
“I use special encasements over pillows and my mattress to prevent allergens,” Jonathan Bernstein, M.D., an adjunct professor in the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine’s division of immunology, allergy, and rheumatology, tells SELF. “This prevents dust mites from permeating through,” which in turn helps tame his dust mite allergy symptoms, he says.
These covers can be so effective that the AAAAI specifically recommends people with allergies encase their mattress, pillows, and even box spring. Look for ones that are labeled allergen-proof or are airtight and zippered.
The AAAAI also suggests washing your bedding weekly in hot water and popping it in the dryer, too. If you can’t do this regularly (because life), using those allergen-proof covers is especially important.
6. Get an air filter for your bedroom to reduce the amount of allergens that are floating all up in your space.
It can be helpful to station an air filter in your bedroom to capture small particles that can stir up your allergies, says Dr. Bernstein, who uses a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter in his bedroom. There are other types of air filters, too, like disposable ones you can put over air conditioners. Be sure to do your research and call your allergist if you’re not sure which type is right for you.
7. Clean your house regularly—and be thorough.
Yes, that includes places like heating and AC vents. “Dust mites and mold love to hide in there and blow into [the] house,” says Dr. Parikh. Yes, cleaning your house top-to-bottom can be a PITA, but it can be worth it to keep your allergies from misbehaving.
If you know there’s no way you’re going to be able to do this regularly, identify the areas that are most likely to cause issues for your specific allergens, like your sofa covered in cat fur or curtains that get super dusty, and try to clean those weekly.
8. Make your own nasal rinse to flush out allergens.
“I like to use sinus rinses as soon as I notice any congestion starting,” Laura Helfner, M.D., an allergist with ENT and Allergy Associates who has issues with pollen, dust mites, dogs, cats, and roach waste, tells SELF. This can help remove allergens that have made their way up there and started to cause stuffiness, according to the AAAAI.
While you can buy a rinse at your local drugstore, the AAAAI also offers up a recipe to make your own. Combine three teaspoons of pickling or canning salt (containing no iodide, anti-caking agents, or preservatives—these can irritate your nasal lining) and one teaspoon of baking soda, then store this mixture in an airtight container. Add one teaspoon of the mixture to eight ounces of lukewarm distilled or previously boiled water (this kind of water is a must, because using tap water could lead to dangerous infections in rare cases). Use a soft rubber ear bulb syringe or infant nasal bulb to shoot the liquid into one nostril, feel it come out the other, and marvel at your DIY skills.
9. Look into allergy shots if other treatments don’t offer much relief.
If your allergies are taking over your life, you might need a more extreme treatment. “I’m on allergen immunotherapy, which has helped greatly in alleviating my sinus issues and itchy eyes,” Dr. Helfner says.
Allergen immunotherapy (known to most of us as allergy shots) is a long-term treatment that uses injections of allergens to decrease your sensitivity to those triggers, according to the Mayo Clinic. The goal is to eventually give you long-lasting relief, even after you stop taking the shots.
Allergy shots basically work like vaccines: Your body responds to injected amounts of the allergen by developing an immunity or, at least, better tolerance over time. The shots happen in two stages, the first of which is the buildup phase. This involves doing the shots one to three times a week for three to six months. After that, you’ll enter the maintenance phase, which includes getting a shot around once a month for three to five years or longer, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Yes, that sounds like a lot to go through, which is why allergy shots don’t make sense if your allergies are pretty mild and easily controlled. But if they’re really causing problems, like if you have intense reactions but can’t avoid your triggers, or if your body freaks out when you’re stung by a bee and could go into life-threatening anaphylactic shock, they could be a good idea.
As always, the only way to know for sure is to check in with your doctor. Even if you’re not a good candidate for allergy shots, they can help you figure out allergy remedies so you feel like a human again instead of an overreacting immune system.
By Korin Miller