Why Allergies Pack a Punch

Find out why you're sneezing more than ever.
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Allergies happen when your immune system -- which normally protects your body against invading agents -- overreacts to a minor annoyance. When an allergic person inhales pollen, the immune system falsely identifies these particles as a threat and mobilizes to attack by producing large amounts of antibodies.

The antibodies signal the body to unleash protective chemicals, including histamine. Within 30 minutes, small blood vessels in your nose widen and engorge tissues, causing a stuffy nose. Glands start to produce mucus, resulting in the sniffles.

Molly Ferris, a chronic allergy sufferer who lives in Omaha, Nebraska, says the Midwest in spring can be "torturous." "I have three kids and it's impossible not to be outside, but I'm miserable even taking my prescription medicine. I'm the only one looking forward to the middle of summer, but at least then I might get some relief."

Prescription medicines, such as Claritin, Alegra, and Zyrtec provide the best relief. Over-the-counter antihistamines and decongestants can also help. There are several proactive things allergy sufferers can do to minimize symptoms.

  • Keep your windows closed at home and in the car, especially in the morning when pollen levels are highest. When driving, put the air conditioner on recirculate mode so air doesn't come in from the outside.
  • Wash your hands every time you come in from outside.
  • Don't hang laundry outdoors. Pollen flying through the air will settle on it.
  • If pets spend time outdoors, restrict their movement to certain rooms in the house and never let them in the bedroom.
  • Vacuum often.
  • Wear a mask while mowing the lawn. And mow often -- before grass gets high enough to bloom and release pollen. A regular dust mask won't do much because it doesn't block the tiny offensive particles. Most experts recommend finding a mask that excludes particles from size 12 to 25 microns.
  • Check the weather report for the pollen count. If it is high, try to avoid outside activity.

Don't worry; tree pollen should only be around for a few more weeks at most. But then it's time for grass pollen to explode and many cities already are recording high to moderate readings. -- Martha Miller


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