Suffer from seasonal allergies? This tech could help you breathe a little easier.

Marc Saltzman
Special to USA TODAY

About 50 million Americans experience some type of allergies, with about half (24 million) with “seasonal” allergies, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.

Sometimes referred to as “hay fever,” “outdoor allergies” or “seasonal allergic rhinitis” – opposed to food, skin or drug-related allergies – symptoms occur when trees, grass and weeds release tiny pollen particles into the air (to fertilize other plants).

Those symptoms range from sneezing and itchy eyes to hives and rashes to congestion and sinus pressure. This is because the body views any foreign substance or allergens as harmful and attacks it.

COVID has also made things confusing for allergy sufferers: Is that runny nose or cough because you are having an allergy attack or because you contracted the virus?

Adding insult to injury, some experts believe the intense heat across the globe, as well as shorter seasons, is contributing to prolonged allergy seasons and worsening symptoms, as reported in the The Indianapolis Star.

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You don't have to suffer through summer

The good news is technology, like air purifiers and robotic vacuum cleaners, can help seasonal allergy sufferers (including yours truly) cope with the summer months.

Of course, there’s also doctor-recommended allergy medication for relief (namely, antihistamines), as well as healthy habits, including:

  • Regularly washing your hands and face (plus, a cold compress over the eyes can reduce itchiness)
  • Closing doors and windows in your home (especially on high-pollen days) and keep your car windows closed
  • Changing clothes once you get home
  • Washing your hair regularly, especially before you risk getting pollen on your pillow
  • Drying clothes inside the home ( as opposed to hanging just-washed laundry in a backyard, which could attract blowing pollen)
  • Wearing sunglasses while outside to reduce how much pollen is getting in your eyes (or even better, wraparound glasses)

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As for tech, a few ideas:

Robotic vacuums

Floor-vacuuming robots like the Roomba j7 ($799) can help keep a home clean for you – even when you’re not there – and some models can even dispose of the captured dust, dirt and pet hair, into a bag stored inside a base station.

While disc-shaped vacuum ‘bots have been around for a few years, they’re getting significantly smarter.

The iRobot Roomba j7+ ($799.99), for example, is especially good for allergy sufferers because not only does it roam around your home to autonomously clean your carpet, tile and hardwood floors, but it will navigate itself back to the base to charge up and empty its own dust bin so you don't have to deal with that.

Called the Clean Base Automatic Dirt Disposal, the enclosed bags inside capture and trap 99% of pollen and mold, says the company, which only need to be replaced every 60 days or so.

Plus, its iRobot Genius 3.0 platform gets smarter with each use as it gets to know your home layout, clean where it’s most needed and can also start automatically when you leave home and stop when you return. As with other models, this Wi-Fi-enabled robot can also be started (or scheduled) with the companion app, via your voice (with support for Google Home and Alexa devices) or by simply pressing the button on top of the unit.

It can also recognize and avoid obstacles like power cords and pet waste, which could make a messy situation even less fun to clean up. If it’s unsure of an obstacle, the Roomba j7+ sends a photo of it to your iRobot Home app, so you can instruct the robot on what to do.

Air purifiers

The Molekule Air Mini+ ($499) utilizes PECO technology that break down pollutants at a molecular level, including allergens, viruses, bacteria, mold, ozone, and chemicals.

As the name suggests, air purifiers sanitize the air, getting rid of pollutants, as well as allergens like pollen, pet dander and dust.

Most air purifiers work via a fan that sucks in air and one or more filters to capture particles, before clean air is recirculated into the living space. The majority of air purifiers use HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filters, which can remove dust, pollen, mold and other airborne particles with a size of 0.3 microns (µm).

Molekule’s air purifiers, on the other hand, use proprietary PECO (Photo-electrochemical oxidation) nanotechnology, according to CEO Jonathan Harris, in a telephone interview with USA TODAY.

“Our air purifiers don’t just capture pollutants, but destroy them, as well – and that includes viruses such as the H1N1 flu and SARS-CoV-2 [the coronavirus strain that causes COVID-19],” he says.

PECO breaks down pollutants at a molecular level, including allergens, viruses, bacteria, mold, ozone and chemicals.

“By combining PECO with high-efficiency filtration and air quality sensors, we can capture particles found in smoke, while detecting and destroying pollutants 1,000 times smaller than the standard filters that qualify as HEPA,” adds Harris.

Ideal for rooms up to 250 square feet, Molekule Air Mini+ ($499) has a 360-degree air intake to take in surrounding air from all around the device, while the sensor rates air particle levels from “Good” to “Very Bad,” and can auto-adjust fan speed accordingly (or you can choose from one of five fan speeds).

Other tech solutions

Portable air purifiers are often worn around the neck on a lanyard, to clean the air you’re breathing while away walking around town. The AirTamer A315 ($149) is a small and rechargeable model (with battery level monitor and travel case) and offers advanced ionic technology.

Wearable air purifiers start at under $40 and create a sphere of protection against airborne pollutants up to a few feet around you. They are lightweight, battery-powered and emit a constant stream negative ions that force airborne pollutants out of your personal space. Models like the AirTamer A315 ($149.99) are rechargeable and offer more advanced features and filtration technology.

In March, Dyson also announced its Dyson Zone air-purifying headphones, which many thought was an early April Fools’ joke, as it looks like a big pair of headphones and visor that covers the nose and mouth; compressors in the headphone earcups draw in air through filters and then project purified air to your nose and mouth. Its price and launch date are still unknown.

You may also consider a neti pot, which can rinse out allergens and mucus from your sinuses. These devices gently stream a saline solution through your nasal passages to reduce congestion, improve breathing and can relieve sinus pressure. Low-tech teapot-shaped neti pots been around for a few decades, but newer models, like the Navage Starter Bundle ($99.95) utilize battery-powered suction to filter sterile water through the sinuses (also includes 20 SaltPod capsules).

Finally, hypoallergenic bedding is an often-neglected area for managing allergies – especially if you consider you spend about a third of your life in bed. Dust mites and other airway irritants can get trapped in most bedsheets, comforters and pillows, compared to hypoallergenic materials that are tightly-woven, allowing no room for these irritants. Prices start at about $10 for hypoallergenic sheets, while hypoallergenic Bamboo Memory Foam Pillows ($32.99 for set of two) are also resistant to mold, dust mites and bacteria.

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