How to Tame Seasonal Allergies – Quick and Lasting Relief


It is that time of year when pollen in the air brings about watery eyes, scratchy throats, itchy ears and stuffy congestion. Allergy season. As a board certified emergency physician, I am shocked how many people suffer so much when there are often simple solutions.  From lifestyle choices to medication, here are ways to reduce your suffering this year, and how to keep it from coming back next year.

The first step is prevention. Seasonal allergies are caused by exposure to pollen or spores that irritate our bodies. With time, allergic reactions get stronger so prevention is key.  After spending time outdoors, make sure you shower and change clothes immediately. Pollen, by its nature is sticky, so it can stay on your clothes and hair for a long time, exacerbating symptoms.

Hydration is paramount. Part of the allergic cycle (as well as a component of asthma attacks) is thickened mucous secretions. Increasing fluids is the best way to thin your secretions, which allows the body to clear them more effectively. This is why when attacks are severe enough to land you in the hospital, we typically start intravenous fluids. Additionally, as the weather warms, we begin to lose more fluid through sweating compounding the problem. Most people need about an ounce of water per day for every two pounds of body weight. So, if you weigh 180 pounds, you would need 90 ounces of water, just over 11 cups. A good way to measure (and one my kids especially love) is to monitor the color of your urine. Other than your first void of the day, your urine should be almost clear. If you see any yellow tinge in the toilet water after urination, you know you need to drink more water.  However, every person is different so do check with your physician about the right amount for you, especially if you have been placed on fluid restriction or take medications.

If you want relief, you need to ask for it. One of the best decongestants on the market is pseudoephedrine. However, because it can be used in making methamphetamine, it is kept behind the counter at the pharmacy and you must ask a pharmacist, and show identification to purchase. It does take a few extra minutes, but if you are congested, this is the medication you want. Those items in the aisle that appear to be the same as pseudoephedrine, are not. Many times they contain an ingredient called phenylephrine (often written PE on the front of the box). Although this may benefit some people, it is typically not as effective as clearly congestion as pseudoephedrine.

An antihistamine may also be of benefit. The antihistamines work to mitigate your allergic reaction. One of the most common over the counter antihistamines is diphenhydramine (Benedryl). However, it is effective for just six hours. There are other brands, such as cetirizine (Zyrtec) that can be effective for twenty-four hours. One of the major side effects of antihistamines is they can make you sleepy, so use this to your advantage. For my seasonal allergy patients, I suggest they take a Zyrtec around dinner time so that by bed time, they can use the side effect to their advantage. Antihistamines can work for symptoms like sneezing, and itching, and for many they can even help relieve minor headaches. Like all medications, though, it is important to speak with your doctor first before starting a new medication, even over the counter.

Prevention is the sweetest solution. There is decent data to indicate you may be able to quell chronic allergies by eating a teaspoon of local honey each day. The theory is there are minute amounts of pollen in the honey, so it acts like an allergy shot, giving you tiny doses to help build tolerance. This is why you need local honey, because you want it to contain pollen from the allergens in your region. This may take weeks to months, so it is never too early to start. It doesn’t have to be plain, you can mix it in a smoothy or spread on toast. However, hot tea is not a good idea to mix it in for this purpose as the hot water has the potential to destroy the pollen. So, best to eat is plain or mix it with your breakfast, like my daughter’s favorite, yogurt topped with all-bran, blackberries and honey. Never give honey to a baby less than a year of age due to the risk of botulism, and if you are diabetic, check with your doctor if this is right for you.

Realize your body is miraculous. Seasonal allergies can be a challenge for many, but realize it is this same part of your immune system (immunoglobulin E, IgE) that keeps parasites at bay. So while you may suffer from oak or cedar pollen, hopefully that same mechanism is keeping your body free of parasitic worms like Schistosoma and Trichinella.

Know when to seek help. If you haven’t been evaluated by a physician regarding your allergies, it is important to do so. Many other conditions, from asthma to migraines, even infection, can mimic seasonal allergies so a check-up is in order. If you ever feel short of breath, have a new type of headache or a headache worse than usual, feel your throat is closing or develop a rash, you need to seek immediate medical attention. Hopefully, by visiting your doctor and using the steps above, you can prevent that from occurring.

How Puzzles can Improve Your Life. Really.

Our most recent puzzle endeavor.

Our most recent puzzle endeavor.


Puzzles are underrated. The act of putting together a puzzle, can teach us so many important life lessons; from science to relationships.  Here’s how.

Puzzles teach us about perspective. My daughter is a talented artist. For her, puzzles are a way to investigate the use of shadows and shading. We learn how what appears to be so in the picture, is not the reality when you see it on a piece. Puzzles show us how misleading an individual piece of information can be, until we set it in the framework of the bigger picture. It is this way in life, as well as art. This puzzle pictured above, inspired us to learn about M.C. Escher, and the brilliance of his originality.

Puzzles are a magnet for friends. When we have a difficult puzzle on our table, I am amazed how many kids, and adults are drawn to pull up a chair and stay a while. It is such a fun way to bring people into our home and focus on an activity while sharing meaningful time. Kids who run to the video games, suddenly want to join in our family project. They talk about memories of doing puzzles when they were younger, some even ask to come back to help again the next day.

We learn to work as a team and value differences. In our family, the boys like to pull out the straight edges and make a frame.  The girls like to find parts of the picture and work in clumps of pieces. This difference in technique is synergistic and helps us value our differences. I am amazed how they can set up an outline and work their way in. My brain is wired differently and I find the style choices fascinating. We learn the value of working with others who see the world differently.
Puzzles teach the fundamentals of science. Good science is about finding what does not work, in order to find what does. Putting a piece in the wrong place can sometimes change the course of the puzzle, but the mistake will become apparent before the end, and it can always be corrected. A strong lesson is learned. Errors are part of the process. We cannot complete an entire puzzle without making some wrong decisions along the way. This is true for science as well. Success does not occur with the first experiment, but those lessons are then applied to the second and so on down the line. I wonder what the world would look like if we taught kids more about science, so they can grow to be creative thinkers that solve problems, rather than simply teaching them how to raise money for a cause, hoping somebody else will imagine a solution?

I believe the world slows down at the puzzle table. When our mind is focused on a common goal, it seems easier to listen to one another. Speaking of science, last night I shared that a fun event is a month away. My 5 year old son was disappointed it was so far off. He thought for a moment and then replied, “I wish I was a giant so I could spin the earth really fast 30 times.”  At first I didn’t connect the dots, and I believe if I was engaged in the computer or television his nugget of genius might have gone unnoticed. Instead, I took his cue and asked further questions realizing that my kindergartener knows the definition of a month is about 30 days and miraculously understands a day is equal to one rotation of the earth. I picked him up and jumped around at his brilliant statement.  It was one of my favorite parenting moments, and all because of a simple puzzle.

I know you are busy and this seems a waste of time. I thought I didn’t enjoy puzzles until I started them with our children. And even better, it has been a wonderful way to bond as adults after the kids are asleep. I do hope you might rethink this seemingly boring activity and recognize the doors it can enrich your life in unimaginable ways.

The New Way to Put Love in Valentine’s Day

I had a lot of fun helping my children create their perfect Valentine's box.

I had a lot of fun helping my children create their perfect Valentine’s box.

I used to hate Valentine’s Day. I thought it was a conspiracy from the flower and card companies. An obligatory holiday. Who would want a card from a person when it was only because they felt forced to give it?

But this year, it has moved to the top of the list of favorite holidays. The shift occurred because I realized it doesn’t have to solely be about romantic love, but rather extending our love into the world. I have been focused on how what we put into the world always comes back to us, often augmented. So why not put more love into the world and see what boomerangs back?

If you have children, take time with them when making valentines boxes and cards. The box is a receptacle for notes and tokens of love. It is a creative endeavor, not one to be slapped together at the last minute or recycled from previous years. Starting early, also gives you time to order necessary supplies (like our mirrored paper we used for the Valentine’s Vanity for my daughter).  It is also a great time to talk about how much their friends impact their lives and what they might like to receive in their boxes as a Valentine treat.

Send your own sweet notes.  As we become more reliant on the internet, less of us are sending holiday cards or even writing letters. This week, write two notes each night letting a friend or family member know how much they mean to you.  It’s okay if they receive it after February 14th, what is important is that you take the time to let them feel your love and appreciation.

Remember those who serve.  Every holiday is tough for our soldiers keeping us safe. Our family started sending care packages to soldiers and the letters we have received back, from complete strangers are among those I will treasure forever. The process about envisioning what items we take for granted, every single day, while filling an empty box, truly puts the date in perspective. You can read more about our family’s experience here. 

Expand your circle.  We have seen it on card commercials and phone advertisements, but how many of us have ever left a surprise note or gift for our mail carrier or sanitation worker? I see our package deliverer more often than I see most of my friends, a token to say thank you is a fabulous way to send love into the world.

Start locally. The best way to spread love into the world starts with loving yourself. Make this Valentine’s Day the time when you finally realize you are not your past and you are more than any mistakes you have made. Think about that. Are you carrying around your past as an excuse to avoid living fully now? If you want to love others fully, it is time to let go of shame and doubt. Say good riddance to worry and fear. Allow love to take their place and be amazed by the miracles that come your way.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Is Your House to Blame for Your Dry Skin?

Does removing your socks create snow?  You know, those dry skin flakes that accumulate during the winter months and become airborne when you take off your socks. The problem may not be your lotion, but rather your house. Here is the science of how to beat dry skin.

Turn up the heat. If your home has a natural gas fireplace, use it. The  actually creates more moisture in your home as the gas interacts with the oxygen.  (Want the proof? C3H8 + 502 ——-  3CO2 + 4H20)

Your heat source can either help or hurt your dry skin.

Your heat source can either help or hurt your dry skin.

Cool it down. If your home does not have a gas fireplace, then dial back your thermostat. Forced air heating is drying to the skin and body. Dress warmly and you may be able to sleep comfortably in temperatures as low as 60 degrees Fahrenheit.

Banish that wet bar. Alcohol dehydrates your skin, so it is best to save those cocktails for the warmer months.

Toss out that humidifier.  Yes, a humidifier can add moisture to your home, but unless you take it apart and clean it with bleach everyday, you are also spewing mold spores and bacteria throughout your house. Instead, you can cook up some moisture in the kitchen.

Get boiling. Replace the work of your humidifier with a pot of boiling water on your stove, anytime you are in the kitchen. As a scientist, I love to think about how much water I am putting into the air.  You can literally measure it. If you want a nice aroma, try adding an orange peel and cloves to the water.

Simmer down. If your time in the kitchen is limited, a safer way to put mold-free moisture into your home is with a slow cooker. Without the lid, your slow cooker will put moisture in the air throughout the day. You can even freshen your home by adding cinnamon sticks for a wintery aroma, or get ready for spring by adding lemon peel and fresh mint leaves. Of course, be mindful of the safety precautions for a slow cooker especially attending to it and keeping it out of the reach of children.

Stop fanning yourself. When you shower, consider leaving the exhaust fan turned off. The purpose of the exhaust fan is to remove the moist air, which is great in the summer but detrimental in the winter. So let your bathroom get steamy and then open the doors to carry that wonderful moisture into the rest of your house.

Try these tips for softer skin and also put an end to dried out eyes, nose and mouth. For those in severe winter climates, coming soon Is Your Lotion Sabotaging Your Skin? 


Dr. Jennifer Hanes is a board certified emergency physician, best selling author and mom of young children who has shed over 70 pounds without surgery or pills. No matter if helping patients at the bedside or through her romantic medical novels, she practices the belief that love is powerful medicine. You can read her blog, Behind the Stethoscope, and learn more at


This article may be reprinted in part or entirety with credit to Dr. Jennifer Hanes and a link back to

The Best Way to Have THAT Conversation About Santa

It is the Christmas dreaded by parents, and forever remembered by children, the year they are told that Santa is a lie. How could it not shake a person to the core to realize those around you have lied about him for years? But that tragedy can be turned into triumph with a simple paradigm shift towards the truth.

DMH Santa

Drawing by my daughter about learning the truth of Santa.

Santa is not a lie. He is a way for us to teach children about the much greater love of God.

In our family, I knew the time was drawing near as my seven year old daughter began asking more and more questions. On Christmas day, her image of Santa was shattered. But by tapping into Grace, it turned into a glorious experience. Here is an example of how you can have this conversation in your home as well.

Oh, Sweetheart, I know you feel sad right now, but I have never been more proud of you. Your discovery today about Santa may seem sad, but it is actually how adults try to learn, and teach our children, about the miracle of God. 

God’s love for us is so amazing, that even as an adult I am not yet able to fully grasp how much He loves me, and neither can other adults. We use Santa Clause to help teach kids, and even ourselves, about how God loves us. 

Both Santa and God are invisible, nobody can see them, but we know they exist by the joy they spread. 

Santa grants your biggest desire, just like God wants you to dream big so the every wish can be fulfilled. 

We say that Santa is always watching, because God is always with us, no matter where we go or what we do. We are always surrounded by a loving presence.

Gifts are bestowed without any expectation of return. We don’t have to earn God’s love. Everybody is loved by God. Of course, some people make jokes about Santa filling stockings with lumps of coal, but have you ever heard of any real child getting coal for Christmas? That’s just pretend, because the truth is, God loves all of us. 

God can make the impossible happen, so we try to teach you this by saying that Santa is able to visit every house in a single night and make reindeer fly. Any miracle can happen when you believe in God. 

So, now you’re beginning to understand why I am so glad to be able to share this glorious truth with you. It means you too, now, can really feel how much God loves you and that feeling will only become stronger and stronger as you grow. 

There is one more lesson from Santa to teach us about God. Santa has helpers, just like God has helpers. Now we get to do God’s work and create miracles for others, like your younger brother, and everybody we meet, when we make their day a little brighter. 

Now, whenever you hear people ask “Do you believe in Santa?” you’ll know they are really asking if you can feel God’s love. 


Tips for parents:

Make this a special time and emphasize your pride in their discovery of the truth. Your children look to you for leadership and if you are mourning the perceived loss of innocence, you will change the tone.

Before I spoke with our daughter, she was crying. To help foster a change in tone, I brought her orange juice in a champagne glass, and one for myself, to set the mood of a celebration.

Santa Puzzle

Spirit of Christmas by Greg Olsen is a great way to start the conversation about God and Santa.

For younger children, you can start planting seeds now. Gradually make comparisons about God and Santa, so that when the time comes the information is not brand new. One of the ways we discuss it, is while putting together this gorgeous puzzle, Spirit of Christmas, by Greg Olsen, showing Santa holding the infant Jesus in the palm of his hand.

This information has already helped many children, but I hope it can help heal the hearts of millions more. I originally intended to put this material into a book for children, but am posting it here, as a blog, so that it can be shared and reach the homes of those who need it. I encourage you to share this with your friends who have children, both young and old, because it is never too early to start, and it is never to late to begin to teach the real meaning of Christmas.

May this be the merriest Christmas of all!


Dr. Jennifer Hanes is a board certified emergency physician, best selling author and mom of young children. No matter if helping patients at the bedside or through her books, she practices the belief that love is powerful medicine. You can read her blog, Behind the Stethoscope, for more parenting and medical tips. Learn more at


This article may be reprinted in part or entirety with credit to Dr. Jennifer Hanes and a link back to