Fitness MagazineBy Paige Greenfield
Flowers, plants, and trees...oh, my! Follow these five simple allergy-fighting strategies so you can finally get out and play.
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Get Yourself to the Greek (Yogurt)
During an allergy attack, IgE, an antibody in your blood, stimulates the release of histamine, a neurotransmitter that causes your runny nose, watery eyes, and sneezing fits. It may be possible to put a pharma-free kibosh on hay fever by downing a daily dose of probiotic yogurt, which contains a strain of "friendly" bacteria called Lactobacillus casei. Allergy sufferers who consumed a drink containing L. casei had significantly lower levels of IgE, a study in the journal Clinical and Experimental Allergy found. "Probiotics help balance the bacteria in your digestive system and may prevent the immune system from overreacting to pollen and other allergens," says study author Kamal Ivory, PhD, a senior researcher at the Institute of Food Research in the United Kingdom.
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Try the Spritzer
Antihistamines are a go-to allergy treatment, but startling new research in the journal Obesity shows that women taking prescription versions of the medicines, including Allegra, Clarinex, and Zyrtec, weigh 10 pounds more, on average, than non-pill poppers. "Naturally occurring histamine in your body may be involved in controlling the appetite; antihistamines may block that function and cause you to feel hungrier," says study author Joseph Ratliff, PhD, a postdoctoral associate at Yale School of Medicine.
If you've noticed weight gain while you're taking a prescription antihistamine -- or just don't want to risk it -- ask your allergist if an intranasal corticosteroid, like Veramyst or Nasonex, would be right for you. It's a medicated nasal spray that you use daily. "The steroid interferes with genes involved in your immune system's inflammatory response, which goes into overdrive when you have allergies," says Anne K. Ellis, MD, assistant professor in the departments of medicine and microbiology and immunology at Queen's University in Canada. "By reducing inflammation, you will decrease symptoms like congestion, runny nose, itchiness, and sneezing."
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Be Sure to Flush
If congestion is your main concern, swing by the drugstore and pick up a neti pot, a genie-lamp-shaped device that you can use to spring clean your nasal cavity. In a pitcher, mix together a pint of lukewarm water, a teaspoon of kosher salt, and a half teaspoon of baking powder; fill the neti pot with the mixture. Leaning over a sink, tilt your head to one side and pour the solution into the uppermost nostril; the liquid will drain out of the other nostril. Repeat on the opposite side. (It's not as gross as it sounds.) Despite the debate over the long-term effectiveness of neti pots, research shows that they are safe and effective for immediate relief. Nearly 60 percent of allergy sufferers who used the device daily reported significant improvement in their symptoms, a study from the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health in Madison found. "We believe that in addition to removing excess mucus and allergens like pollen and dust, it may sweep out histamine," notes assistant professor and study author David Rabago, MD.
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Sweat It Out
Thirty minutes of aerobic activity most days of the week can help reduce the risk for heart disease in patients with allergies, says Carlos Iribarren, MD, PhD, a research scientist at Kaiser Permanente in Oakland, California. This is especially important because allergy sufferers are 40 percent more likely to develop coronary heart disease than sneeze-free folks.
Exercise also naturally soothes symptoms. When you have allergies, the blood vessels in your nose swell, causing congestion. But during a workout, as your body directs blood flow to the hardworking parts that need it most, the blood vessels in your nose, which are not a top priority, constrict, easing congestion. "The effect typically occurs within five minutes of exercise and can last for several hours afterward," says Michael Benninger, MD, institute chair of the department of otolaryngology at the Cleveland Clinic.
Of course, being stuffed up can make it hard to get yourself moving. If that's the case, ask your doctor about an intranasal antihistamine, such as Astelin or Petanase -- a fast-acting, nondrowsy prescription spray you can administer 15 to 30 minutes before your workout. Also, on high-pollen days it may be wise to hold off on outdoor exercise until afternoon, because levels often spike early in the day. Track your area's pollen count at pollen.aaaai.org/nab, the website of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, and opt for the gym when it's high.
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Take Your Best Shot
Today's allergy injections target the specific source of your irritation, whether it's ragweed spores or Fido's fur. First your doctor will determine the guilty party through an allergy test, which may involve her placing a solution containing the potential allergen on your skin and judging your body's reaction. Then you'll be injected with gradually increased amounts of the offending agent. "Over time your immune system will build up a tolerance to the allergen," Dr. Ellis says. You may need weekly shots for four to six months to get the effect, then monthly ones for as long as five years to maintain it. The good news: All those little pricks today could equal sweet relief tomorrow. While other allergy meds address only symptoms, shots are the closest thing to a cure because they alter your body's immune response, allowing you to reduce or stop treatment altogether. Talk about a very welcome relief!
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Fitness MagazineBy Paige Greenfield