34 Expert-Approved Ways to Stay Allergy-Free All Summer
Follow these expert tips to make sure your allergies—and the sneezing and sniffling that goes along with them—don't spoil your summer.
Every season can be allergy season
Most people might think spring and fall are "allergy seasons," but allergies can be triggered all year round. "During the summer, molds and dust can continue to cause very significant allergy symptoms," says Erich P. Voigt, MD, clinical associate professor, Department of Otolaryngology, NYU Langone Medical Center. "Late spring and early summer are also times for grass allergies to peak." If your allergies worsen during summer, these expert tips might help keep your symptoms under control. Here's what allergists do to control their own allergies.
One of the best home remedies for staying allergy-free is nasal lavage with an over-the-counter neti pot or saline solution. "You can even make your own at home by using a mixture of one teaspoon of salt and one teaspoon of baking soda to one pint of distilled water," suggests Elizabeth Trattner, A.P., D.O.M., a Florida and National Board Certified Doctor of Oriental Medicine and Acupuncture. "This should be done twice a day in the morning and in the evening right before bedtime." Nasal lavage helps clear the inside of the nose of pollen and other micro particles before they can enter the blood stream and cause a possible allergic reaction.
Quit junk food
Those chips at your friend's BBQ sure look tempting, but here's a reason to take a pass: Some chemicals are hard to break down in the body, and cause inflammation. Eliminating all junk food and any food with artificial colors and additives stops those chemicals getting in there in the first place—and it will also improve the immune system, says Dr. Trattner. If you're able to ditch the junk, you'll reap the benefits in many more ways, too: clearer skin, brighter eyes, more energy and improved sleep habits. Check out these weird effects fast food have on your brain.
Eat more fruits and veggies
It's time to stock up on the leafy greens at your local farmer's market! Dr. Trattner recommends eating 7 to 11 servings of fruits and vegetables a day to help stay allergy-free. A seven-year study of Spanish children showed that kids with allergic asthma who ate lots of tomatoes, eggplant, cucumber, green beans, and zucchini had fewer symptoms than kids who didn't. It's believed that fruits and veggies high in vitamins C and E (such as spinach, broccoli, and tomatoes) might also ease swelling in the airways. These are the most filling fruits and vegetables, according to nutritionists.
Hold the cheese on that cheeseburger
You don't need to quit dairy for good, but if you eliminate dairy products until allergy season is over you might notice a difference in your allergy symptoms. Commercial dairy products may exacerbate allergies due to their primary protein, beta-casein, which is created during the pasteurization process and which the immune system tries to "fight." "Dairy produces a lot of mucous," reveals Dr. Trattner. "I have had many patients who have eliminated dairy during allergy season and their runny nose and stuffy sinuses have almost magically gone away." Here are five surprising things that happen to you body when you give up dairy.
Workout, but move it indoors
Regular exercise helps decrease allergy symptoms—itchy eyes, runny nose, fullness in the ears, pressure in the sinuses and overall fatigue—by improving blood flow in the body, which promotes the removal of allergens. A study from Thailand found that after allergy sufferers ran for 30 minutes, their sneezing, runny nose, and nasal itching and congestion all decreased by more than 70 percent. While it's tempting to exercise outdoors in the sunshine this summer, think about your allergies first. Trattner recommends working out indoors during allergy season to lower your exposure to pollen in the air. Check out these great at-home workouts that don't require any special equipment.
Keep your bedroom pollen-free
Our bodies regenerate at night and during sleep, so it's important to try to keep your bedroom free of pollen and dust. Lower your exposure to these allergy triggers by removing shoes and clothing from the day before you enter the bedroom, says Dr. Trattner. (Household dust, pet hair and dander, and allergens tracked in from outside can contribute to allergies in the house.) Wash your bed linens every week (in the hottest water possible) to remove any allergens that may have accumulated. Vacuuming at least once per week is also important for upholstered furniture, carpet and fabric curtains. And use your A.C. instead of leaving your windows open at night while you sleep to—you guessed it—cut down on pollen exposure. (Nip your watery eyes and runny nose in the bud with these 12 natural remedies for allergies!)
The more items there are in your home that can collect dust, the more likely you are to have allergic reactions. (Looking at you, shell collection from your last vacation!) "Keep bedrooms uncluttered, and, in particular for children, avoid too many stuffed animals on the bed, as they can harbor a lot of dust!" says Dr. Voigt. As well as helping to ease allergy symptoms, decluttering your home can also recharge your life—and cut down on the time you spend dusting! But you'll still have to dust regularly because dust is home to dust mites, which are the most common trigger of asthma and allergy symptoms inside the home. Be aware that dusting can actually make things worse by spreading allergen particles into the air, so use a damp or treated cloth that attracts dust rather than scattering it.
Keep indoor air clean
Air conditioning may be a godsend during the hot summer months, but a downside is that it can blow dust everywhere. To prevent this and keep your indoor air as clean as possible, use a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter in your bedroom, and make sure the windows are shut to keep any new allergens from sneaking in. If outdoor allergens are your trigger, inspect window and door seals regularly. If you suspect you have mold anywhere in your home, hire a certified contractor or a mold removal technician. Another way to improve indoor air quality is with aloe or English ivy and these other powerful air-cleaning houseplants, which breathe in toxins and breathe out fresh oxygen.
Rethink your laundry routine
It makes sense to dry laundry outdoors during summer, but floating pollen in the air can attach itself to your clothes, towels, and bedding. Dry laundry indoors instead. Decrease the chemical load in your home by using only natural, unscented cleaners, perfumes, shampoos, laundry soap, and household products. Avoid anything with strong noxious odors, such as ammonia, and air fresheners and other products that produce particulates. A 2009 study by Caress and Anne Steinenmann at the University of Washington found that nearly a third of people with asthma also have chemical hypersensitivity, and more than a third reported irritation from scented products. "While dryer sheets and perfumed fabric softeners may leave your sheets and towels soft, they may also make your skin itch and your nose run," says Dr. Trattner.
Ever wondered where the saying "an apple a day keeps the doctor away" comes from? It may be down to the bioflavonoid, quercetin. Found in apples, onions, green tea, leafy greens, pithy citrus fruits, and red wine, quercetin enhances the effectiveness of vitamin C and has anti-allergy properties because it stabilizes mast cell membranes and prevents the release of histamine and other inflammatory agents. Dr. Trattner recommends taking 1,000mg of quercetin supplements, three times a day.
Grill up some salmon
Many studies have demonstrated that fish oil is an excellent anti inflammatory. Try to consume oily fish, such as salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines and albacore tuna, two to three times a week. Or consider taking a supplement. "Look for fish oil with high doses of EPA, one of the acids in fish oil that decreases inflammation," says Dr. Trattner. "There are good supplements that have high doses of EPA (over 1000 mg) available in health food stores. Take two pills of fish oil twice per day. Try and take at least 2,000 mg of EPA a day with food before 3 p.m. as fish oil can cause insomnia in some people."
Summer may be a good time to forage for nettles to treat acute allergic reactions, but to avoid their sting stick to it in supplement form. In 1990, the National College of Naturopathic Medicine in Portland, Oregon, conducted a double-blind study of the efficacy of a freeze-dried preparation of stinging nettle on allergic rhinitis. The group treated with the nettle preparation fared moderately better than their placebo-treated counterparts. In another study, 57 percent of patients rated nettles as effective in relieving allergies, and 48 percent said that nettles were more effective than allergy medications they had used previously. Researchers think that may be due to nettle's ability to reduce the amount of histamine the body produces in response to an allergen. Dr. Trattner recommends 350 mg, two times per day.
Reduce summer stress
If planning for a vacation or having the kids at home during summer break is stressing you out, this may be one source of inflammation. "Stress can cause your 'barrel' to overflow any time of the year," says Dr. Trattner. "Learn to meditate or participate in activities the help reduce stress and tension. Not only will it help you survive allergy season, but help build your immune system all year long!" According to WebMD, the body releases several chemicals when it's under stress, including histamine, the powerful chemical that leads to allergy symptoms. While stress doesn't cause allergies, it can make an allergic reaction worse by increasing the level of histamine in the bloodstream. If your job is the cause of your stress, here are 36 almost effortless ways to make your working day easier.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, ideal indoor humidity is between 30 percent and 50 percent. If you live in a rainy, humid environment or your city or town is experiencing a bout of humid weather, a dehumidifier in your bedroom helps suck out some of the moisture and make it less of a breeding ground for allergy-triggering mold, mildew, dust mites and bacteria. Arid, too-dry conditions can be equally problematic, resulting in sore throats, itchy skin itchy eyes, and even increasing the risk of sinus infections. In these conditions, use a cool mist or ultrasonic humidifier to achieve the right balance.
Wash your hands
It's not just during cold and flu season that you need to wash your hands, but all year long. Simple but so effective, washing your hands regularly helps reduce the spread of respiratory illness. Pulmonologist and author of Cough Cures Gustavo Ferrer, MD, describes it as a "do-it-yourself" vaccine and recommends five steps: wet, lather, scrub, rinse, and dry. "Regular handwashing, particularly before and after certain activities, is one of the best ways to remove germs, avoid getting sick, and prevent the spread of germs to others," says Dr. Ferrer. "Handwashing is a win for everyone, except the germs."
Replace your mattress
Dead skin cells, dust particles, sweat, and body oils seep into our mattresses every single time we sleep on them, so think of the buildup over several years. If you're allergic to the dust mites that feast on dead skin, you need to maintain good sleep conditions—and be willing to replace your mattress and pillows as necessary. Sleep experts recommend replacing pillows every six months, and replacing a mattress every five to 10 years, depending on its type and quality. Mattress and pillow protectors are worth investing in to provide an additional barrier between our bodies and those nasty allergens.
Block out the summer sun
It's rare, but some people have allergic reactions to the sun. Solar urticarial, otherwise known as sun allergy, causes hives to form on skin that's exposed to the sun. The itchy, reddish spots or welts usually appear within minutes of sun exposure, and can last for a short time or several hours. The cause of solar urticaria is not known, but the symptoms can be treated. Joanna Johnson, MD, FAAAAI, allergist, Pulmonology & allergy at St. Christopher's Hospital for Children in Philadelphia, recommends "sunblock of the highest level" or sun protective clothing to prevent solar urticarial.
Know your summer pollen count
Pollen count is determined by how many grains of a specific pollen or mold are found in a set volume of air (usually a cubic meter) over a 24-hour period. Being aware of peak pollen count time frames during summer can help keep those allergy symptoms under control, say experts at Texas ENT, the leading ear, nose and throat specialist in Houston, Texas. The data is included in more local weather forecasts and is available online. It can even be accessed on your smart phone via apps like Allergy Alert and ZYRTEC AllergyCast.
Drink lots of water
Water helps to flush out pollen and other foreign substances that circulate in our bodies, so make sure you stay hydrated during summer. Recommendations vary, but the Institute of Medicine (IOM) currently recommends that men should drink at least 104 ounces of water per day, which is 13 cups. They say women should drink at least 72 ounces, the equivalent of 9 cups. Be prepared for many changes to your body when you start drinking enough water.
For Fred Pescatore, MD, CCN, MPH and author of The Asthma and Allergy Cure, natural remedies are the answer. "A lot of people reach for over-the-counter antihistamines to curb their sneezing and itching but these products can often present unwanted side effects like drowsiness and dizziness," he says. "I prefer natural options that are effective and safe to soothe allergy symptoms without the side effects." Dr. Pescatore recommends Pycnogenol, an extract from French maritime pine bark, which has performed well in reducing seasonal allergy symptoms in several studies. Its anti-inflammatory properties help to soothe swelling and itching.
The team at Zach and Zoë Sweet Bee Farm recommend taking honey to help alleviate summer allergy symptoms. The idea behind honey treating allergies is similar to that of a person getting allergy shots. Eating local honey is ingesting local pollen, and over time, the person may become less-sensitive to this pollen. As a result, they may experience fewer seasonal allergy symptoms. One study found that honey eaten at a high dose did improve a person's allergy symptoms over an eight-week period. Honey also comes with many other health and beauty benefits.
Get rid of summer rodents
Warmer temperatures during summer months invite more unwanted guests into our backyards and homes, and they may bring allergens with them. Rodents can be difficult to keep out of structures—did you know rats can fit through holes the size of a quarter? For proper rodent pest control, the National Pest Management Association (NPMA), a non-profit organization committed to the protection of public health, food, and property from the diseases and dangers posed by pests, recommends sealing any cracks and voids, ensuring there is proper drainage at the foundation of your home, and installing gutters or diverts to channel water away from the building. A pest control professional can also help you identify ways in which rodents may be entering the home.
Roaches are another pest that thrive in summer heat. According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI), roaches can be an allergy trigger because their saliva, feces, and shedding body parts act like dust mites, aggravating symptoms when they are kicked up in the air. The NPMA's best advice for cockroach control is to practice good sanitation. To prevent cockroaches from infesting your space, vacuum often, keep a spotless kitchen, seal all entrances around utility pipes and ventilate crawl spaces to prevent moisture buildup.
Some people are allergic to insect stings, and of course wasps and other stingers are more common during summer. To keep wasps away from your home and yard, treat any wood fences and deck railings with a repellent oil to deter wasps from collecting cellulose from the wood. The NPMA also suggests checking plants for wasp nests before trimming shrubs and hedges or picking fruit. Here are more tips for avoiding insect bites and stings.
Hornets are attracted to fruit, so make sure you remove any fallen fruit from trees promptly to avoid an unwanted swarm. The NPMA also advises changing exterior lights to yellow bulbs to reduce this pests' attraction to your home or property. Vinegar or bucket traps can be made to trap hornets, but it's not advisable to do this yourself if you are allergic to their sting. If there's nobody who can do it for you, contact a hornet pest control specialist.
Prevent yellow jackets
Another stinging pest, yellow jackets, are known for crashing picnics, so keep food covered and serve drinks in clear plastic cups whenever you're dining al fresco this summer. According to the NPMA, yellow jackets are also attracted to sweet-smelling perfumes, so ditch the scent. Removing garbage frequently, keeping trashcans covered and keeping all door and window screens in good condition will also help deter this pest. Like wasps and hornets, yellow jackets like to build nests under eaves, so make it a habit every spring to spray some WD-40 under all the eaves of your house. Check out more amazing uses for WD-40.
Keep ants out
A fire ant sting can be fatal for someone with an allergic reaction. According to the American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology (AAAAI), the best way to avoid being stung is to stay away from fire ants and their mound nests. Wear closed-toe shoes and socks outdoors, avoid going barefoot outside, and when working in the garden or yard, wear work gloves. To stop fire ants from entering a structure, seal all internal and external cracks and crevices. Some people find allergy shots (immunotherapy) an effective long-term treatment for stinging insect allergy. This involves getting shots containing small doses of the allergen from an allergist and allows the body to build a natural immunity to the trigger.
Stick to non-allergenic foods
If you know what food items trigger an allergic reaction, stay away from them. "Food allergy is often caused by plants, such as wheat, corn, peanuts, and other legumes such as soy and some beans," says retired allergist and author Robert Boxer, MD. If the food has already been digested, over-the counter medication can provide additional relief. "Potentially allergenic foods typically associated with summer are shellfish, fruits, ice cream and BBQ food," says Dr. Johnson. "Shellfish can be problematic in that they are often cooked with spice and usually give off fumes when cooked that also can cause an allergic reaction when inhaled by a sensitize individual. A reaction to food usually occurs in the immediate period after ingestion. To facilitate a diagnosis if a reaction occurs, write down all food ingested and activities in the immediate period prior to the reaction and give these to the allergist to help narrow down the etiologic agent."
Stay away from campfires
Lazy summer nights toasting marshmallows or sitting out at a bonfire are a lot less fun if it triggers your allergies. Make sure you sit upwind of the smoke (a common asthma trigger) and avoid getting too close to the bonfire, advises Johnson. To be on the safe side, ask your friends to toast your marshmallows and eat them a safe distance away from the smoke. On the plus side, here's why camping helps you sleep better.
Wear a mask
For allergy sufferers that don't want to take medications (or can't), a filtration mask is a great alternative, such as MyAir, which claims to block allergens down to 0.1 microns and reduce dehydration of respiratory tissues, which can further aggravate allergies. The mask can be worn while traveling, gardening, visiting a hospital, or simply to get through the summer months without being struck down by allergy symptoms. The mask is reusable and washable, with easy to use replaceable filters.
Choose sunscreen wisely
We all know sunscreen is the first line of defense against the sun's powerful rays that can cause sunburn and cancer, but what if you're allergic to sunscreen? Some people experience a rash, itchy skin, blisters or swelling where sunscreen was applied. To prevent this, retired allergist Robert Boxer, MD, recommends using hypoallergenic sunscreens, without scent, dyes or zinc oxide if possible. Luckily, there are plenty of sunscreen products formulated for sensitive, allergy-prone skin, so it's a case of trial and error until you find one that doesn't cause a nasty reaction. (And here are the sunscreens top dermatologists use on themselves.)
Avoid poisonous plants
Most people are susceptible to an allergic reaction to poisonous plants, warns Dr. Boxer, so it's important to know what (and where) these are. In the United States, the most common poisonous plants are poison oak (most common in the western United States, although it is also found in eastern states), poison ivy (found everywhere in the United States except Alaska and Hawaii), and poison sumac (found in wooded, swampy areas, such as Florida and parts of other southeastern states). All three plants have small white, tan, cream, or yellow berries in the fall, which can help distinguish them from harmless but similar plants. Familiarize yourself with these natural home remedies for poison ivy.
Stay indoors after thunderstorms
A rise in allergic and asthmatic symptoms after thunderstorms is known as "thunderstorm asthma", which is caused by the thunderstorm's airflow patterns. According to Annie Arrey-Mensah, MD, Board Certified in Asthma, Allergy & Immunology, Adults & Children, thunderstorm outflows are created by down drafts of cold air. "These drafts concentrate particles of pollens and moldspores and then sweep them into the high humidity of the clouds. They are broken down into small, respirable fragments, which are released by rain. Because these allergens are high concentrated, they can cause severe asthma attacks in patients who are sensitized to the various allergens," explains Dr. Arrey-Mensah. She recommends avoiding outdoor activities within 24 hours after a thunderstorm or rain shower. Check out these tips to avoid getting caught in a thunderstorm.
Protect from chlorine exposure
Before you head for the outdoor pool this summer, make sure you protect yourself from chlorine exposure. While chlorine is used to keep swimmers safe from bacteria, it's possible to have too much of a good thing. "High concentrations of chlorine in pools can be an irritant to mucous membranes, eyes and skin," explains Dr. Johnson. "If an individual has eczema, lubrication after pool exposure is important. Indoor pools have a layer of aerosolized chlorine over the surface which can be irritating to all swimmers' airways but especially to the airways of asthmatics. Therefore, proper ventilation in the pool area is important." If chlorine triggers an allergic reaction, check out outdoor pools in your area, which are likely to have a lower concentration of chlorine.