Spring has sprung and the trees, flowers, and grasses are popping and pollenating. It’s a beautiful sight, but it can also mean coughing, sneezing, watering eyes, congestion, fatigue, and generally feeling miserable for those with seasonal allergies. I like to address both the cause (it’s generally deeper than just the exposure to pollen) and symptoms when helping patients to shake the allergy haze. In this post, I’ll address some of my favorite tools to help control the symptoms and make it just a little easier to breathe in life!
1. Rinse your hair and face before bed
A big part of decreasing symptoms is controlling the amount of pollen you are exposed to. By removing the sticky spores from your face and hair before bed, you’re greatly reducing your exposure for a solid 8 hours. In this time your body can do some serious healing and even get ahead of symptoms a bit. You don’t have to fully shampoo your hair, just wet it down to knock off the pollen that’s accumulated over the day. Rinse your face with a clean washcloth, paying special attention to the areas around your eyes, nostrils, and hairline.
2. Practice good pillow and sheet hygiene
Another tip for reducing exposure is to change your sheets frequently, and your pillowcase even more frequently. Pollen will settle and build up on the fabric, and you don’t want to be breathing it in all night! Flip your pillow to a fresh side every evening and after two nights, pop the pillowcase in the dryer for 10-15 minutes on hot. This is a quick and easy way to remove pollen without the rigmarole of washing and drying a pillowcase every two days. Change your sheets weekly, at most. They can also be sanitized in the dryer, though deconstructing your entire bed is a bit more effort.
- Bonus tip #1: if you are coughing at night due to mucus draining down the back of your throat (technically referred to as post nasal drip or PND), prop your head up on a couple extra pillows. It takes a little getting used to, but the increased elevation helps the mucus drain more smoothly and decreases the cough reflex. If you are using multiple pillows, be sure to freshen the cases of all of them.
- Bonus tip #2: Good hygiene shouldn’t be limited to your bedding. It’s definitely the closest to your face and easiest to breathe in, but any other surface, especially fabric or carpet will hang on to pollen as well. If you have carpet or rugs, vacuum very regularly during peak allergy season. If you can, consider removing the carpet or rugs for a less allergic sleeping environment. If you have drapes, throw them in the dryer weekly or do a full on wash.
3. Get an air purifier with a HEPA filter for your bedroom
Air purifiers with HEPA filters can be very helpful in reducing exposure to pollen, as well as other particles that irritate airways, such as dust mites, spores, and pet dander. HEPA stands for high efficiency particulate air. It is a type of mechanical air filter that forces air through a fine mesh to trap irritants. You can buy HEPA filters for most air purifiers. Air purifiers can be small, portable units that are available in many retail stores or online. I generally like Honeywell and Holmes brands, as I think they are good affordable and typically have refill filters you can purchase. The best bang for your buck is placing the air purifier in the room where you spend the most time; for most folks, this is the bedroom. Measure the size of your bedroom and purchase a large enough air purifier than can efficiently clean the entire room.
Here are a few air purifiers I like, based on the size of the room:
Small room — 85 square feet* maximum; you could even use this in a office setting or on your desk.
Medium room — around 130 square feet maximum, I couldn’t find the exact number, or you could try its slightly larger brother.
Large room — 168 square feet maximum, also has a quiet air feature!
Extra large room — 390 square feet maximum
*to calculate square feet, measure the length and width of your bedroom. Multiply these numbers together and you’ve found your square footage. For example, a bedroom that is 8 feet long and 10 feet wide would be 80 square feet, and appropriate for the small room air purifier.
The air purifier will help to reduce pollen suspended in your air that has yet to settle.
- Bonus tip #1: Keep your bedroom windows closed during peak allergy season. We all want to feel the warm breeze and smell the new grass and flowers, but save this experience for other rooms in your home. Keeping the bedroom windows closed will reduce the amount of pollen that enters the room, decreasing your exposure, and the amount of upkeep needed to reduce pollen levels.
- Bonus tip #2: Air purifiers are great, but they can interrupt sleep with the noise they generate, especially if your bedroom is small. If possible, turn the air purifier on when you leave for work and shut the bedroom door. Turn it off before bed. This should minimize the airborne pollen and allow you to get a restful night’s sleep.
4. Use a neti pot
Chances are you’ve seen these slightly odd looking contraptions online or in your grocery or drug store. They might look strange, but they are wonderfully effective at removing pollen from your sinuses. We’ve already covered rinsing your hair and face to remove spores, so why not get closer to the most irritated area? The neti pot is a scary proposition for some, but it is really quite gentle and easy to use.
You add a bit of high mineral salt (usually comes with the neti pot, or get some here) to the water each time so that it mimics the concentration of your own body fluids and does not sting (like pool water). I recommend a ceramic pot, as pictured below and found here or here, instead of plastic. The water should be distilled and warm, and you never want to put heated fluids in plastic (more on that in another post). Try rinsing your sinuses twice daily, once in the morning and once at night. The most important time to rinse is at night, after you’ve been out and about and have inhaled a nice bouquet of tree and plant pollen.
5. Take epsom salt baths
Epsom salt baths are one of my favorite things to talk about! Taking a salt bath is a fabulous way to decrease allergy symptoms. Epsom salts are high in magnesium, which most of us are absurdly deficient in. Magnesium can be crucial in proper immune and nervous system regulation. It is also anti-spasmodic, which can be very helpful if you’ve developed a spasmodic cough with the allergies or if your asthma is getting triggered.
The heat from the bath is an excellent immune stimulant, and the steam is great for rinsing out the nasal passages as you breathe it in. Not as great as a neti pot, but perhaps a nice way to get the process started if you are a little leery. While you are in the bath, rinse off your face and hair. You can even bring a washcloth in with you and apply hot compresses over the sinuses. This bolsters circulation and increases steam inhalation. I’m also a big fan adding in some cold water, but we’ll talk about that in a future post.
I hope these tips have given you some easy-to-execute ideas for reducing your allergy symptoms. Again, it is important to address the underlying cause with your local naturopath. Oftentimes getting to the root of the problem takes time and patience, so having a few skills in your toolbox for dealing with the unpleasant symptoms can make the totally-worth-it journey to health easier! Until next time!