Smarter: How to Survive Your Seasonal Allergies

Women sneezing into tissue surrounded by pollen Photo Illustration: Chris Griggs/Consumer Reports, Getty Images

This week I’m talking about how to ease your allergy symptoms so that you don’t sneeze your nose off. Also in this issue: Should you use Coca-Cola to clean your toilet, and can slugging make your hair grow?


THE BIG STORY:

‘Spring Awakening’

A few weeks ago, I took a brisk hourlong walk in the neighborhood. It was a lovely morning. The weather was great, the trees were in bloom. There was even a breeze that scattered flower petals wherever I went.

I, however, was a mess. While I’ve had allergies in the past, this year they’ve come back with a vengeance. I’m surprised my nose is still intact after the sneezing marathon I’ve experienced, and since that day I’ve been trying to find the culprit. It’s like a whodunnit, but instead of searching for who wrecked my nasal passage, it’s more about solving the question, “How did you do this to yourself, you dummy?” 

I’ve wised up to my mistakes, and here are some tips I’ve learned from my coworkers, CR’s health and food editor Lauren Friedman and James Dickerson, PhD, CR’s chief scientific officer, as well as allergy experts, on how to deal with seasonal allergies.

Get Smarter

✨Pollenproof your environment.
Vacuum and dust regularly to pick up allergens such as pollen particles, dust mites, and pet dander. If your pets spend any time outdoors, keep them off your bed–and if possible, out of that room entirely–because their fur could carry pollen.

Try to remove shoes that you’ve worn outside once you’ve returned indoors to help avoid tracking pollen in, says Dickerson. You should also change out of the clothes you wore outside.

Take a bedtime shower so you can wash off pollen that has collected on your hair and skin. That way you won’t be literally sleeping with the enemy—your allergens—all night. Washing and changing your pillowcases more often can also help keep the pollen out of your bed, says Friedman, who has reported on allergies and followed studies about seasonal allergies closely in the past decade.

Keep your windows closed to lower exposure to the pollen, says Thanai Pongdee, MD, an allergist and immunologist on staff at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. It’s simple but effective, and it helped my allergies immediately.

Running an air purifier might also be helpful, says Friedman. Here are some of the best air purifiers of 2022, according to CR’s tests, which measure how well a model removes particles from the air and its noise level: The Alen BreatheSmart 75i Pure, $750 at Amazon and Best Buy, scored the highest overall in our ratings, but we also recommend the Blueair Classic 605, $489 at Amazon, and the reasonably priced Blueair Blue Pure 211+, $300 at Amazon and Sylvane), among others (CR members have free access to ratings).

😷Lower your exposure to allergens when you go outside.
You can monitor the pollen levels of your area, and in general, try to stay indoors between 5 a.m. and 10 a.m. because that’s when pollen levels tend to peak. Dry, windy days also might trigger your allergies more.

If you do need to be outdoors during high-pollen days, wearing sunglasses and a mask will help cut down how much pollen gets into your eyes, nose, mouth, and airways, says Melanie Carver, chief mission officer of the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA). 

Research suggests that wearing a mask can reduce the severity of allergy symptoms. N95 and medical-grade masks are the most effective, but even cloth masks are probably better than nothing because they will at least serve as a barrier to airborne allergens, says Tania Elliott, MD, a spokesperson for the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology.

💊Take your allergy medication at the right time.
It’s much easier to prevent an allergic reaction than to treat it once it has started, says Elliott. One thing you can do is take allergy treatments a couple of weeks before pollen season begins, and during pollen season, be sure to take your allergy medicine regularly, says Carver.

 If you have mild allergy symptoms, you can try an over-the-counter oral antihistamine, such as cetirizine (Zyrtec and generic), fexofenadine (Allegra and generic), or loratadine (Claritin and generic)​​. 

And if your symptoms persist even when you’re inside, a prescription nasal steroid spray or OTC option like Flonase or Nasacort may help, though it usually takes a few weeks to reach its maximum effectiveness.

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YOUR PAIN IS MY PAIN

We asked our social media followers if they’ve ever dealt with seasonal allergies because, frankly, hay fever is a nightmare and misery loves company. Turns out a lot of you (76.5 percent in our Twitter poll) are in the same boat as me.

We also asked how you were coping with your allergies. “Miserably,” one Instagram user shared. “I just suffer,” another said. I see you, you with your reddened eyes, itchy throats, and dripping noses, yearning to breathe free. I feel your frustration.

But all quips aside, when it comes to avoiding exposure to pollen, many people mentioned they use nasal rinses regularly. Rinsing your nose with a saline nasal rinse may help ease allergy symptoms because it removes pollen from your nasal passages, says Carver at the AAFA.

And while several users cited oral antihistamines and nasal steroid sprays as being helpful, a couple of people said they have benefited from allergy shots, otherwise known as immunotherapy. 

For people who aren’t really experiencing relief from antihistamines or nasal sprays, immunotherapy, a treatment that exposes you to your allergens over a course of time to increase your tolerance, is an option to consider. Traditional immunotherapy is delivered through regular shots, but sublingual immunotherapy, which provides exposure through tablets, might also be available for some allergy sufferers.


QUIZ

Does the hack of using Coca-Cola to clean your toilets actually work?


HAVE YOU TRIED THIS FRUIT?

Jackfruit, dragon fruit, durian, snake fruit, rambutan, lychee and breadfruit

Graphic: Consumer Reports, Getty Images Graphic: Consumer Reports, Getty Images

It’s Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, and I’m going to celebrate by doing what I do best: eating. 

In this case, I mean eating a lot of different fruits, some of which I already know and love (rambutan and lychee) and some that I’ve never tried before (oh, hello, snake fruit).

It’s not always easy to find a place that carries rare produce, but it’s worth checking the chain grocery stores or mom-and-pop shops near you to start. And depending on where you live, an Hmart store near you might sell fruits and vegetables that are harder to find.

 You can also order produce online and have it shipped to you through platforms such as Weee (which offers many produce items used in Asian and Hispanic cuisines), Tropical Fruit Box (which carries fruits such as rambutan, breadfruit, and Hawaiian plantains), and Desi Basket (which has many staples of Indian and other Asian cuisines), as well as a few other options to consider.


THE GOOD STUFF

You can’t test out a smoke detector without starting some (small) fires.

@consumerreports We burn shredded paper to test a smoke detector's response to a flaming fire with little smoke. #testing #smokedetectorcheck #firesafety ♬ original sound - Consumer Reports

ASK AN EXPERT

In one of the previous issues, we discussed whether an electric vehicle would stop in the middle of the road if the battery runs out of power. In reality, you’ll get plenty of warning when the battery is running low, and the car might slow down. When that happens, you’ll still have enough power to pull your car to a safe spot before it stops dead.

A reader then wrote in asking this follow-up question: “Are car services like AAA prepared to charge an EV that has run out of juice these days?”

Answer: 

Yes, AAA does have some mobile chargers that can recharge an EV, says CR auto writer Mike Monticello. There’s also the option of towing the car to a nearby charging station, says Ellen Edmonds, director of external communications at AAA.

Currently, the mobile charging service remains limited to certain key metro markets in the U.S., though the association expects the availability of this service to grow as the market for EVs increases, says Edmonds.


THE SHORT ANSWER

Can slugging make your hair grow? I wish, but no.

Season 5 The Masked Singer

Source: Fox/The Masked Singer/Giphy Source: Fox/The Masked Singer/Giphy


THIS OR THAT

Should you buy generic or name-brand medication?

@consumerreports Do you shop at dollar stores? 9 out of 10 Americans do. But are the savings worth it? When it comes to OTC medications, you'll save money by going generic. #dollarstore #dollarstorefinds #dollarstorefind #shoppingtips ♬ original sound - Consumer Reports

QUIZ ANSWER

Coca-Cola can be effective at removing hard-water stains, but traditional cleaners are still preferable. Coke could darken stains in your toilet, and the sugar in the drink might encourage bacteria.

So yes, let’s separate church and state and, while we’re at it, separate our drinking from our cleaning.


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"I’ve got a nose for trouble."



Headshot of CR Author Pang-Chieh (BJ) Ho

Pang-Chieh Ho

I'm a newsletter writer who likes looking into the different ways we can live smarter. The topics I cover typically explore unanswered questions we have about the products we use every day and bridge the gaps between what owners' manuals advise and what we actually do. In my spare time, I like to take photos, critique movies out loud while I watch (at home!), and take care of my ever-increasing plant "children."