Each year more than 50 million Americans suffer through a season of itchy noses, watery eyes and scratchy throats, an allergic reaction to springtime’s pollens, molds, weeds and grasses. According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, that number is rising along with the global temperature. Trouble is, it’s difficult to function—much less teach a group of 30-plus students—when your head feels like it’s stuffed with cotton balls.
“Allergies happen when your immune system launches an all-out attack on what should be a harmless substance (like pollen, mold and ragweed),” explains James Sears, M.D., board-certified pediatrician in Southern California and co-host of the daytime talk show The Doctors. Educators may be especially vulnerable to seasonal attacks due to increased foot traffic, outdoor activities and exposure to pollen-carrying kids!
While you can’t turn off pollen or mold, you can implement strategies to minimize their effects. Here, experts’ top 10 strategies to halt seasonal allergies before they attack.
1. Be proactive. Instead of waiting for allergy symptoms to hit, do some investigative work. “Visit an allergist and find out what you’re allergic to, then track daily pollen counts,” suggests Sears. (Watch or listen to weather reports or visit aaaai.org.) That way, you’ll know when to stay indoors—or, at least when to wear a mask outside! A hint: Most trees pollinate in the morning, so get your outdoor fix later in the day.
2. Eat clean (and green). Steer clear of dairy products, which produce phlegm making it more difficult to clear mucus-plugged nasal passages. Instead, says Alexander Ezzati, L.Ac., board-certified acupuncturist and herbalist in Los Angeles, California, load up on anti-inflammatory foods like deeply pigmented fruits and veggies (leafy greens, orange vegetables and colorful berries are all good choices). Better yet, incorporate small amounts of outdoor allergens into your diet to get your system acclimated, he says. Things like honey, basil, cilantro, rose tea, jasmine and chamomile.
3. Clear the air. Clean air is tough to come by, particularly in a busy classroom where students track in potential allergens on clothing, shoes and hair. While you probably can’t ask students to leave their shoes at the door, you can help clear out pollens, dust mites and mold spores. Use an air purifier, change filters frequently and turn on the air conditioning, suggests Sears.
4. Flush your nose. Experts agree that daily nasal washes help reduce seasonal allergy symptoms. Fill a “Neti pot” with 8 ounces of warm distilled water and one-quarter teaspoon of salt. Lean over the sink with your head tilted to one side then pour the solution into the top nostril and let it flow out the bottom nostril (then switch sides). This magic process not only helps remove some of the allergens causing your runny nose, it also clears your airways making it easier to expel mucus and breathe. Just make sure you use a filtered water source and clean your pot after each use.
5. Take a shower. If you’ve been in the great outdoors, rinse off, especially before bed. Otherwise, outdoor pollen that has collected in your hair could rub off on your pillow. Remove and wash clothes you’ve worn outside—even if only for a few minutes—and wash sheets, pillowcases and blankets in hot water once a week.
6. De-stress. Whether you’re delivering a speech, confronting a colleague or trying to corral rambunctious students, your body releases a cascade of hormones in response to stress. “Chronic stress weakens the immune system,” explains Sears, “and overworked or maladaptive immune system can trigger allergic reactions.” Relaxation techniques like meditation, yoga, breath work and exercise, on the other hand, can strengthen your immune system and keep allergies at bay.
7. Get stuck. In a study of more than 400 people with seasonal allergies, acupuncture helped ease allergy symptoms and reliance on antihistamines. “Acupuncture releases blocked passages and reduces inflammation, which also helps ease sinus symptoms,” says Ezzati.
8. Change the way you clean. According to Sears, our society is too clean! Rather than scrub down surfaces with harsh chemical cleaners, which can irritate airways and make them more susceptible to allergies, use green cleaners like vinegar, essential oils and baking soda.
9. Take a supplement. High-powered antioxidants like quercetin (found in apples, onions, tea and tomatoes) and vitamin C (found in oranges, kiwi, strawberries and broccoli) have been shown to minimize the body’s reaction to pollen. While food sources of these nutrients are best, supplements offer added protection, especially when they’re taken together. Vitamin C prevents quercetin from degrading.
10. Consider preventive meds. Know what you’re allergic to, but can’t avoid it? Oral antihistamines (like Claritin) and steroid nasal sprays (like Flonase) can help take the edge off symptoms. Just steer clear of nasal decongestants like Afrin. “They’re very effective and can open up nasal passages within minutes, but if you use them for more than two or three days, you get a rebound effect,” says Sears. If you need immediate relief, Sears recommends using a decongestant spray as a temporary, emergency fix.