Most of us look forward to spring after a long Chicago winter, but for my family, spring also comes with a cost. My three sons all had environmental allergies from the time they were preschoolers, including strong reactions (runny noses, life-threatening asthma attacks, the works) to the pollens released by spring’s beautiful blooming trees, flowers and grasses. I learned the hard way as an overwhelmed young mom that following a few simple steps could keep everybody safer and more comfortable – and as an added bonus, get us all more sleep!
Don’t invite the outdoors indoors!
— Take your shoes off at the door: this will keep you from tracking pollen throughout your home. You’ll be surprised what a big difference this one step can make. If you need to, keep a basket of slippers by the door so the kids can slide right out of their sneakers and into their pollen-free “inside shoes.”
— After being outside (particularly for kids who tend to run and roll and get dust and pollen everywhere), it’s important to shower and wash your hair to remove pollen. If you can’t do this right away when you come inside, make a point of doing it before bedtime to keep pollen in your hair from rubbing off on your pillow and causing a congested, miserable night’s sleep.
— Keep your windows closed when pollen counts are high; and for those with more serious allergy issues, keep them closed at all times during allergy season if you can, using your heating or air conditioning system to stay comfortable. And be sure to keep the filters on your heating and AC units cleaned and/or replaced on schedule.
Do a regular “pollen patrol” in your home:
— Keep track of your local pollen counts through the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology’s “National Allergy Bureau” website. You can personalize this website and receive automatic email alerts for pollen levels in your area.
— When pollen counts are high, make an extra point of washing and/or vacuuming your floors as often as you can to catch any pollen that might have snuck in, using a vacuum with a HEPA filter if possible.
— Purchase an air purifier with a HEPA filter for your bedroom (or if you can, the whole house). Look for reliable, tested brands. These aren’t cheap, but they’re coming down in price: Honeywell makes a unit with a HEPA filter for around $125.00, for instance, that can clean up to 390 square feet. If possible, purchase a unit for your whole house. But even running a small bedroom unit only at nighttime will give your lungs and sinuses an R&R period of cleaner air that can make a world of difference in how you feel.
Protect yourself while you’re outside:
— A basic pair of sunglasses can help more than you might think to keep small pollen particles from irritating your eyes. This can be a tough sell to kids, but there are some sunglasses with wraparound bands that have at least a slight chance of staying on your little one’s head!
— Use a natural saline nasal spray periodically when you’re outside to help flush out pollen before it has a chance to be fully absorbed by your mucus membranes. Two products I’ve used with success are Naturade with Saline and Aloe and Xlear Xylitol and Nasal Spray, but there are many others out there as well. Just be sure to check ingredients, and don’t exceed the recommended daily amount written on the packaging. And check with your pediatrician before giving any kind of nasal spray to children.
Try these natural supplements and spices to ease symptoms:
— I recommend that my clients take 1,000 milligrams of Vitamin C with quercetin (an antioxidant that’s found in countless vegetables, fruits and grains) three times a day. Quercetin acts as a natural antihistamine. Check with your pediatrician before giving any supplements to kids.
— Rinse with a saline solution in a neti pot (a small container shaped to rinse out your nasal passages) twice a day. I’ve found this to be extremely helpful in clearing congestion. If you make your own saline solution, be sure to read this Mayo Clinic article about the importance of using distilled or sterilized water. I use 1⁄2 tsp. of salt per 8 ounces of warm distilled water.
— Add small amounts of chili peppers, cayenne peppers and turmeric (the powdered forms of these are okay) to your food to help reduce inflammation and congestion.