PAMF Health Blog

Be Well, Be Well Informed

Soothing Seasonal Allergies

Posted on Apr 15, 2014


Sneezing, coughing, puffy eyes and an itchy nose are some of the uncomfortable signs that allergy season is under way and you or your child is affected. Hay fever, also called allergic rhinitis, happens when a person’s immune system overreacts to allergens found in the air he or she is breathing.

“Seasonal allergies are typically caused by plant pollen, and different plants release pollen at different times of the year,” says Steven Rubinstein, M.D., an Allergy and Immunology specialist at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation. “This means that the worst season for a person who suffers from allergies will depend on what plant pollen causes his or her allergies.”

Although it’s impossible to avoid certain trees and plants, and on a windy day pollen can reach your you or your child anyway, Dr. Rubinstein explains that, “Knowing your trigger season can help you prepare in advance so you can minimize allergy symptoms for you or your child.”

Dr. Rubinstein offers these simple measures to help reduce the likelihood of experiencing an allergy attack:

  • Bathe or shower before going to bed and wear clean pajamas (not clothes worn outside or around the house).
  • Wash hands when coming in from outside to rinse off any pollen.
  • Cover your bed pillows with allergy-proof liners that go between your pillow and the regular pillow cover. During allergy season, common year-round allergens like the dust mites found in all bedding can make symptoms worse. A pillow liner will help reduce added irritation from dust mites.
  • Wash bed linens every week, and other bedding such as blankets every two to three weeks in hot water to kill dust mites.
  • Avoid fabric couch pillows that can harbor allergens and dust mites. Choose leather or vinyl pillows instead and periodically wipe these down with a damp cloth.
  • Keep windows closed from sunrise to mid-morning as pollen levels peak in the morning. Also, keep windows closed if it is or has been windy.
  • While driving, keep car windows up and use the recirculate air setting so that pollen stays out of the car.

What if you or your child is starting to experience allergy symptoms?

“The most natural and effective allergy treatment to ease your allergy symptoms is an over-the-counter saline nose rinse such as Ocean Mist or Simply Saline,” says Dr. Rubinstein. “These rinses flush allergens and other irritants out of the nose before they can trigger symptoms.”

To help your child get the best results from the nose spray, Dr. Rubinstein suggests having your child bend over and look at his or her toes while spraying.

Some people with allergies find the Neti pot (a small ceramic or plastic pot shaped like a flattened tea pot that is used for nasal irrigation) effective for allergy relief. “But you might have a hard time persuading your child to use one!” says Dr. Rubinstein.

If more help is needed to control uncomfortable allergy symptoms, Dr. Rubinstein recommends the following medications:

  • Over-the-counter allergy medications such as cetirizine (Zyrtec), fexofenadine (Allegra) and loratadine (Claritin). These are safe and can ease allergy symptoms within an hour of taking them although sometimes they may take two to three days to work.
  • Over-the-counter antihistamine eye drops, such as Alaway or Zaditor, can soothe itchy eyes.
  • Prescription cortisone nose sprays, such as Nasonex or Flonase, can prevent the allergic reaction that causes allergy symptoms in the first place. However, it can take between a week and a month of regular use before your child notices the benefits.

Dr. Rubinstein stresses the importance of talking to your doctor or to your child’s pediatrician to determine the right medication choices and dosages for you or your child. If necessary, your child’s doctor may also refer your child to a pediatric allergist for further advice.

Steven Rubinstein, M.D.Steven Rubinstein, M.D., is a board-certified allergist with expertise in pediatric and adult allergic and related immunologic disorders at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation.