Spring's pollens. Summer's smog. Autumn's falling leaves. Winter's house dust. For millions of Americans, each change of season brings its own brand of allergy triggers and irritants. For people with common hay fever and allergies, these pollutants can bring on symptoms ranging from a continuous, annoying postnasal drip to a full-scale, coughing sneezing-itchy-eyed allergy attack. For other allergy sufferers, such as those with allergic asthma or an allergy to bee stings, attacks can be fatal.
While life-threatening allergies are a matter of grave concern to discuss with your doctor, there are many simple home remedies for common allergies that can alleviate some of sniffling and sneezing. In this article, we will show you 27 safe and effective home remedies to relieve your allergy symptoms using time-tested methods and everyday materials. See the next page to get started.
1: Use Saline Solution
Irrigating the nose with saline solution (salt water) may help soothe upper respiratory allergies by removing irritants that become lodged in the nose and cause inflammation. In fact, saline solution may even wash away some of the inflammatory cells themselves.
You can buy ready-made saline solution at your local drugstore, or you can make your own fresh solution daily by mixing a teaspoon of salt in a pint of warm, distilled water and adding a pinch of baking soda. Bend over a sink and sniff a bit of solution into one nostril at a time, allowing it to drain back out through the nose or mouth; do this once or twice a day. (If you also have asthma, however, check with your doctor before trying this remedy.)
If you've spent long hours outdoors during the pollen season, wash your hair to remove pollen after you come inside. The sticky yellow stuff tends to collect on the hair, making it more likely to fall into your eyes.
If you wake up in the middle of the night with a coughing, sneezing allergy attack, a hot shower may wash off any pollen residues you've collected on your body throughout the day. (You might want to change your pillowcase, too.) It may also help open up your sinuses, at least for a while, making breathing a little easier. The warm water may even help you relax and go back to sleep.
If your eyes are itchy and irritated and you have no access to allergy medicine, rinsing your eyes with cool, clean water may also help soothe them. Although not as effective as an antihistamine, this remedy certainly can't do any harm.
3: Beware of the Air
Breathing polluted air can worsen symptoms. In fact, airborne toxins can actually cause allergies in some people. If you suspect that air pollution triggers your attacks, spend as little time outdoors as possible on smoggy days. When you must go outside, wear a surgical mask, especially while exercising. Don't expect miracles (the mask won't screen out all allergens) but it may help you breathe a little easier.
Tobacco smoke is a notorious irritant, either causing or aggravating respiratory allergies. Don't let your friends and family foul the air with cigarettes, cigars, or pipes. And, of course, if you still light up, stop it!
A fresh breeze blowing through an open window on a spring day may sound inviting, but it's bad news for an allergy sufferer, since it can fill the house with pollen. To minimize contact with the powdery stuff, keep windows closed at all times. Air purifiers, especially those with HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Air Filters) filters, may help eliminate indoor pollen, but they also tend to stir up dust, which might worsen some allergies.
On a windy day in pollen season, a pair of sunglasses (or your regular prescription eyeglasses, if you wear them) may also help shield your eyes from airborne allergens. For extra protection, try a pair of sunglasses with side shields or even a pair of goggles.
4: Drink Peppermint Tea
Allergy sufferers throughout the centuries have turned to hot tea to provide relief for clogged-up noses and irritated mucous membranes, and one of the best for symptom relief is peppermint tea. Peppermint's benefits extend well beyond its delicious smell; the essential oil acts as a decongestant, and substances in peppermint contain anti-inflammatory and mild antibacterial constituents.
To make peppermint tea: Place 1/2 ounce dried peppermint leaves in a 1-quart jar. Fill two-thirds of the jar with boiling water, and steep for five minutes. (You can inhale the steam for added benefit). Let cool, strain, sweeten if desired, and drink. (Note: Peppermint tea should be used with caution in children, as the menthol in peppermint may cause them to choke.)
5: Steam Your Face
Breathing steam refreshes and soothes irritated sinuses, and it helps rid the nasal passages of mucus. While it takes some time, it will make you feel wonderful! Boil several cups of water and pour into a big bowl (or a plugged sink). Lean carefully over the bowl, and drape a towel over your head. Breathe gently for 5 to 10 minutes.
When you're finished breathing steam, use the water for a second purpose: Let the water cool until warm, saturate a washcloth, and hold the cloth on your sinuses (to the sides of your nose, below the eyes, and above the eyebrows).
6: Wash Your Pet
A little-known trick for dog or cat owners who are allergic to fur: Bathe your pet frequently. Fido and Fifi produce allergy-causing substances in their sweat and saliva that gets on their fur. Fortunately, these allergens dissolve in water, so a warm bath can rinse away the problem. If you're a cat owner and can't imagine bathing your beloved feline for fear of being scratched near to death, take heart: Some cats (though a minority, to be sure) purr when bathed. If you start bathing your feline regularly when it's a kitten, chances are higher that clean-up time will be a harmonious experience. Wash your cat in warm water, with no soap, once every other week.
In addition to bathing your pet, try to wash your hands soon after you've had direct contact with your furry friend.
7: Go Bare
Carpets are notorious for being a haven for dust mites (microscopic bugs that feed on the dead skin cells we constantly shed and whose droppings spur allergies in millions of people). Bare floors, vacuumed and damp-mopped frequently, will help keep your home's dust-mite population down (you can't get rid of them all). If you can't remove all the carpeting in your home, at least opt for bare floors (if necessary, use small, frequently laundered throw rugs) in your bedroom; studies show the bedroom harbors more dust mites than any other room in the home, and you probably spend about a third of your time there every day.
When carpets can't be removed, keeping them as clean as possible will help you breathe a bit easier. But beware: Many vacuums blast small particles of dust back into the air, leaving behind plenty of allergens to keep you sneezing and wheezing. Use a vacuum that has a built-in HEPA filter or attach a filter to the exhaust port of your canister vac (uprights usually don't have an exhaust port). If dust really bothers you and you've got the money, consider investing in an industrial-strength vacuuming system. Some allergists recommend a brand called Nilfisk, which has an excellent filtering system and retails for about $500. To find out whether such products are appropriate for you and where you can purchase filters or special vacuums, talk to your allergist.
Dust mites love a humid environment, which allows them to reproduce like crazy. Invest in a dehumidifier or use an air conditioner, which works equally well. A dehumidifier can also help prevent mold, another allergen, from growing (just be sure to follow the manufacturer's maintenance instructions). When cooking or showering, take advantage of the exhaust fan, another way to help keep humidity to a minimum.
If you're a hay fever sufferer who also loves Japanese food, this remedy will please. Wasabi, that pale-green, fiery condiment served with many Japanese dishes, is a member of the horseradish family. Anyone who has taken too big a dollop of wasabi (or plain old horseradish) knows that it makes sinuses and tear ducts spring into action. That's because allyl isothiocyanate, a constituent in wasabi, promotes mucus flow.
The tastiest way to get those allyl isothiocyanates is by slathering horseradish on your sandwich or plopping wasabi onto your favorite sushi. Another option -- although harder to swallow -- is to purchase grated horseradish, and take 1/4 teaspoon to alleviate allergy symptoms.
10: Avoid the Culprit
Sometimes, the best way to reduce the discomfort of an allergy is to avoid exposure to the allergen as much as possible. If you are allergic to cats, for example, avoid visiting the homes of friends who own them. If you must be around a cat, make the visit as short as possible, avoid touching or picking up the animal, and wash your hands when you leave.
Although in some areas it is common to burn household and construction refuse, this may not be such a wise idea. The smoke from burning wood that has been treated with heavy metals or other chemical-laden materials can make anyone gag, but people with allergies or asthma have ultrasensitive respiratory systems, making them even more vulnerable. Also, think twice about any material you burn in the fireplace. Of course, your best bet is to stay away from the fireplace altogether when it's in use.
During pollen season, a grass-allergic person is also better off letting someone else, anyone else, mow the lawn. Call your local county extension service and find out when the pollination season occurs in your area, then arrange for a lawn-care company, friend, or relative to cut your grass during that time. (As a rule of thumb, in many parts of the country, people who are allergic to grass should avoid mowing between May and the Fourth of July.)
For more information about allergies and allergies treatments, take a look at the next page.