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ALLERGY ALERT: 9 tips to ease symptoms on the cheap

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Seasonal allergy sufferers may want to start stockpiling tissues, because the worst winter in years may give way to the worst allergy season now that the signs of spring are starting to emerge.

Due to the long, cold winter and above-average snowfall, allergists believe this spring will be full of sneezes as plants wake up from their winter slumber and other seasonal irritants re-enter the air. In particular, trees pollinate better in cold weather, and the amount of moisture from melting snow could amplify mold allergies.

Despite the ferocious forecast, there are some simple strategies to reduce seasonal allergy symptoms, including:

1. Keep it closed up

Although it is certainly tempting to open the house to fresh air, screens won't stop tiny pollens and mold from getting inside. So once allergens arrive, it's best to keep windows and doors shut whenever possible to keep irritants out.

2. Freshen up filters

Most standard air filters for heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems need to be replaced a few times a year, so getting a fresh one in place before allergy season starts will improve overall air quality.

For homes without HVAC systems, using an air conditioner or a HEPA portable room air cleaner can provide relief on a room-by-room basis; however, a government study found ionic electrostatic air cleaners provide little or no benefit. In fact, since they create ozone, those devices can actually exacerbate respiratory issues.

3. Know your limits

It's not healthy to stay cooped up all the time, but those who suffer from seasonal allergies will want to limit outdoor activity when pollen counts are high to avoid severe flare-ups as the immune system adjusts.

Pollen counts tend to be higher in the morning, so limiting outdoor activity to the afternoon and evening hours will reduce exposure.

4. Rinse for relief

Sinus drainage and congestion are common complaints among allergy sufferers, but using a nasal saline rinse a few times a day will provide relief while shooing away pollen and other irritants.

5. Resist rubbing itchy eyes

When the pollen is flying, it's tough to keep eyes from getting red, itchy and watery. Tears are the body's way of ousting allergens from the eye, so it's important to avoid rubbing those irritants around, which can compound the problem. Those who need relief should apply a cold compress instead.

6. Stay on top of spring cleaning

Even those who don't suffer from allergies could do their health a favor by giving the house an annual cleaning from top to bottom, but it's especially important for those with allergies to make sure the dust, salt and sand that winter brings won't become an added annoyance when the pollen returns.

7. Cut down clutter

Eliminating unnecessary nooks and crannies were dust and pollen can collect is a good way to reduce exposure to common allergens and makes regular home maintenance a little bit easier.

8. Avoid other irritants

When allergies are acting up, it's easy for sensitive areas -- especially eyes and nasal passages -- to become inflamed around common irritants like cigarette smoke, perfumes and other artificial scents.

9. Wash up often

After being outdoors, remove and wash the clothes that may have picked up some pesky pollen and run them through the dryer to ensure no allergens remain. Getting in the habit of taking a shower after coming inside will also rinse away residual pollen so it doesn't end up following you to bed. Frequent hand washing will also help keep allergens away from the eyes and nose.

If allergy symptoms persist or begin to impair your life, there are several over-the-counter antihistamine medications available; however, relief may not be immediate or lasting as it often takes several days for the drugs to build up once symptoms emerge. As with any medication, however, it is best to contact your physician prior to taking a dose. Those with severe allergies may need to consult an allergist for additional treatment.

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