Weekly challenge: 5 surprising ways to deal with spring allergies

Have you started sneezing yet? Pollen counts have been rising in Massachusetts, leaving many wheezing, sneezing, and dealing with itchy eyes. Recent research and treatments offer new or surprising approaches to get some relief. Try the following.

1. Using allergy drops under the tongue. These could eventually replace allergy shots to desensitize people to grass or tree allergies, since they were found in a recent review study to improve symptoms more than standard allergy treatments. The treatment has been widely used in Europe, but not here since it’s not yet approved by the US Food and Drug Administration. “We don’t offer it, but some allergists may be using it off-label in community practices,” said Dr. Karen Hsu Blatman, an allergist and immunologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

If the FDA approves the treatment, Blatman said it would be most helpful for shot-adverse kids with one particular allergy to, say, fruit tree pollen or ragweed. “I’m not sure how well it works in those with multiple allergies.”

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2. Allergy-fighting foods. Research suggests that certain foods rich in antioxidants or anti-inflammatory nutrients can lower your chances of getting allergies, according to holistic pharmacist Sherry Torkos, in a recent post by Time magazine. These include green tea and red foods such as apples, red onions, grapes, and raspberries, which contain antioxidants and natural antihistamines. Fatty fish such as salmon and tuna, which have high amounts of anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids, can also help to dampen an overactive immune system.

3. Exercise. Physical activity could relieve some allergy symptoms by helping to maintain a properly functioning immune system—not in hyperactive mode. An intense workout can also help unblock nasal passages, at least temporarily. One caveat: Don’t exercise outdoors, especially when pollen counts are high, since that can make allergies worse.

4. Acupuncture. The tiny-needle-under-the-skin technique may help alleviate symptoms of seasonal allergies, according to a February study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine. Twelve treatments over eight weeks that stimulated specific pressure points worked better than a sham needle treatment to relieve symptoms, but the German researchers emphasized that the reduction in symptoms was modest.

5. Dripless nasal sprays. Prescription steroid nasal sprays—which seasonal allergy sufferers take daily starting a month or two before allergy season—have gotten easier to use with versions that deliver a less drippy mist instead of a liquid, according to Blatman. Several are now available as generics, including triamcinolone (Nasacort) and fluticasone propionate (Flonase).