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Lodgings beat pollen to the punch

Special to The Times

They’re out there, and they’re waiting for you.

They’re the irritants that compound the misery for those who suffer allergies or asthma. Consider, on a typical trip, how quickly the number of annoying substances can snowball: a dusty airplane seat, pollen from trees and grasses, musty hotel room bedspreads, dust-mite-tainted pillows, dirty air vents, dusty drapes and tobacco smoke.

An estimated 40 million Americans suffer allergies, according to the American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology, and 17 million have asthma. About 70% of those with asthma also have allergies.

To endure while they’re traveling, experts say, they should search for a hotel that offers allergy-free rooms, guaranteed nonsmoking rooms or both and follow other simple measures, such as checking the pollen count at their destination.

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More guest rooms in hotels and motels nationwide are being designated nonsmoking, according to the American Hotel & Lodging Assn., a Washington, D.C.-based trade organization. In 2001, 65% of the rooms in nearly 8,000 properties surveyed were nonsmoking, up from 61.1% in 1998, the survey showed.

Although hotels don’t always guarantee nonsmoking rooms, some lodgings have taken extra measures to ensure that customers get what they request. Guaranteed nonsmoking rooms are now the rule, for instance, at Hilton properties, including Hilton, DoubleTree, Hilton Garden Inns, Homewood Suites, Hampton Inns and Embassy Suites, says Kendra Walker, a spokeswoman for Hilton Hotel Corp.

Other hotels offer allergy-free rooms, also called green rooms (although they may not be smoke-free).

The number of allergy-free rooms will vary by hotel. For instance, Atlanta-based Best Inn & Suites, which has 114 hotels nationwide, requires that at least 10% of the rooms in each property be allergy-free, says spokeswoman Beth Hawk.

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The allergy-free rooms have an air purifier and a purifier for drinking water and shower water, she says. Some supply such amenities as pillow covers that won’t attract dust mites, a common irritant. There may be an extra fee for these rooms, she says, but it’s usually about $3.

Alec Rogers, owner-operator of the Best Inn in Augusta, Maine, initially set aside six of his 58 rooms as allergy-free. Six months ago, he and his wife, Julie Ingham-Rogers, whom he classifies as a “neat freak,” decided to convert all 58 to allergy-free rooms and to charge no more than they would for a regular room. “We had a strong desire to make the property stand out,” he says.

What they didn’t expect was the response to the conversion. The usual trickle of comment cards they receive each month has grown to a torrent, most expressing appreciation for the allergy-free features.

Here are some strategies for allergic and asthmatic travelers:

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* Request a room with blinds rather than drapes, suggests Dr. Jordan S. Josephson, an ear-nose-throat physician at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York. Drapes hold more dust, he reasons, and blinds may be cleaned more often.

* “If you get to the room and it smells musty, request another room,” Josephson says. Molds that underlie the musty smell are a common allergy trigger, he says.

* What if you’ve been promised a nonsmoking room and it smells like smoke? “Trust your nose,” says Dr. David Baron, chairman of the department of family practice, Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center and a board-certified family physician practicing in Malibu.

The hotel may have offered you a nonsmoking room in good faith, he adds, unaware that the previous guest smoked.

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* Check the pollen counts at your destination if you’re allergic to pollens, particularly if you haven’t been there before, Baron suggests.

The American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology’s site, at www.aaaai.org, maintains the National Allergy Bureau, giving pollen information online or sending e-mails when visitors request pollen data. Another site, www.pollen .com, also provides pollen counts by location.

* If you use prescription allergy medication, check in with your doctor about your travel plans to see whether any adjustments are needed.

* Consider starting allergy medications before you leave. Those who have seasonal allergies may use medications only when they need them. “Almost all the anti-inflammatory nasal sprays [inhaled corticosteroids] need two to three days to start working,” Baron says. “The antihistamines will be working within 24 hours.”

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* It can help to take along your own pillow or a pillow cover that keeps out dust mites.

* Once at the hotel, immediately take the bedspread off the bed. “Carefully fold it up and put it in the corner,” Baron says. If the drapes look less than spotless, open them only in the morning and close them at night. “And don’t open them vigorously,” he says. This will cut down on dust mites.

* If the room has forced-air heat and air conditioning, avoid putting the fan on high to minimize circulation of dust and dirt.

* When traveling by car to or at your destination, keep the air conditioner on, and wear sunglasses to relieve eye irritation, Josephson suggests.

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* After a day of sightseeing, wash your hair to get out the pollens. Keep clothes with pollen separate from clean clothes.

The Healthy Traveler column appears twice a month. Kathleen Doheny can be reached at kathleendoheny@earthlink.net.


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