Try it if: You want to minimize allergens preventively.
How it works: Installing a particle-catching furnace filter from 3M Filtrete in homes with forced-air systems reduces exposure to a range of triggers, including dust, pollen, and mold. (Filters cost less than $20 at furnacefilterwarehouse.com.) James Sublett, an allergist in Louisville, Kentucky, suggests getting one with a residential MERV rating of 12. (MERV ratings indicate how effective a filter is at catching allergens; 12 is the highest rating.)
Good to know: Change it every three months. Leave the system’s fan on to keep clean air circulating.
Try it if: Your symptoms include having a clogged or runny nose.
How it works: When you use a neti pot (sold at drugstores and health-food stores), you pour a warm saline solution (one teaspoon of sea salt per pot of water) into one nostril and allow it to drain out the other nostril. “The rinse removes pollen, dust, or other allergens from your nose before your immune response really kicks in,” says Roberta Lee, vice chair of integrative medicine at the Beth Israel Medical Center, in New York City. Use once or twice daily until symptoms subside.
Good to know: Lean over a sink to catch drips. “At first you may feel a bit uncomfortable,” says Holly Lucille, a naturopathic doctor in Los Angeles.
Natural Histamine Blockers
Try them if: You’d like a gentle alternative to medicine.
How they work: Certain herbs and antioxidants decrease the production of histamines (the chemicals in the body that flush out allergens but cause drowsiness, a runny nose, and watery eyes). Researchers found 2,000 milligrams of vitamin C daily can lower histamine levels by up to 40 percent and help with the absorption of quercetin, an antioxidant that has also been shown to lower histamine production. Lucille suggests taking 500 milligrams each of vitamin C and quercetin three times daily. Or try Seasonal Freedom tablets (sold at health-food stores), which contain an herb blend shown to reduce allergic responses by up to 70 percent.
Good to know: These temporarily stop histamine production, so you shouldn’t feel any drowsy side effects.
Try it when: You need immediate relief from mild to moderate symptoms and you don’t have time to consult your doctor.
How it works: Over-the-counter (OTC) remedies, like Claritin, Zyrtec, and Benadryl (and prescription versions, such as Allegra), have various ingredients to block receptors on the blood vessels that released histamines would inhabit. “It’s like putting gum in a lock,” says Sublett. Take one tablet two hours before entering an allergy red zone and use as directed until your symptoms abate.
Good to know: Some OTC antihistamines cause side effects, including dry mouth and a spacey state of mind.
Try it if: You’re going through a box of tissues daily.
How it works: If allergens stay in your nose long enough to get into the bloodstream, your immune system sends extra blood cells to the nasal passages, making your nose run. Sprayed or dropped into the nose once daily, prescription drugs like Nasonex and Flonase reduce inflammation of the nasal passages in a few days. To avoid irritation, aim the spray toward your nose’s outer wall, your right hand treating the left nostril and vice versa, says Mark Holbreich, an allergist in Indianapolis.
Good to know: Gently blow your nose before spraying to clear passages for better absorption.
Try it when: Your quality of life is greatly affected by allergies, or you have asthma, which complicates allergies.
How it works: The only true cure, these shots contain small doses of an allergen so the body learns to react to it as a benign substance. A typical series is two to three weekly shots for about five months, then one monthly shot for three to five years. “Immunotherapy is up to 85 percent effective for inhalant allergens, like dust mites, mold, grass, trees, and pet dander,” says Sublett. “But it isn’t recommended for food allergies, because of the risk of a severe reaction.”
Good to know: You may be able to shorten the treatment time by getting more than one shot per visit.