Got a pet allergy? Here's how your FSA can help

Ask pet owners and they will tell you that their dogs or cats are like extended members of the family, which is why it isn't surprising that allergic pet owners choose to endure their symptoms rather than give their pets up. And the problem is a common one - according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, 1 in 3 Americans have some form of pet allergy, some of which can develop from a young age, while others can develop later in life.

According to The Mayo Clinic, allergies occur when the body's immune system is triggered by the presence of foreign substances like pollen, mold or pet dander. When under threat, your immune system produces proteins known as antibodies, which protect you from unwanted invaders that could make you sick or cause an infection. When you have allergies, your immune system makes antibodies that identify your particular allergen as something harmful, even though it isn't.

The easiest solution to pet allergies is removing the pet from the home, but for those who can't imagine life without their pets, there are other options available. If you have a flexible spending account (FSA), your benefit covers a wide range of potential treatments for pet allergies. Here are a few options to keep in mind.

  1. Immunotherapy

Immunotherapy, also known as allergy shots, is one of the most popular traditional treatments of preventing allergic reactions to allergens. According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, allergy shots decrease the body's sensitivity to allergens and function much like a vaccine.

The body responds to injected amounts of a specific allergen, which is given in gradually increasing doses to boost one's immunity or tolerance to the substance. This treatment is eligible for FSA reimbursement and could be a beneficial approach for many pet owners.

  1. Antihistamines

Antihistamines are among the best options for allergy sufferers to control their body's immune response to the presence of allergens. According to The Mayo Clinic, histamine is a substance that is active during an allergic reaction, which can result in swelling, skin reactions and respiratory effects. Antihistamines can help relieve the itching, stuffy nose and sneezing that come with an allergic reaction. Best of all, over-the-counter antihistamines are FSA-eligible with a prescription from a doctor.

  1. Decongestants

Decongestants are a type of medicine that are chemically distinct from antihistamines, but they are typically combined in most products to provide optimal relief from allergic symptoms. As opposed to fighting the body's production of histamine, decongestants assist in reducing swelling in nasal tissues to help you breathe more easily. Once again, these OTC medicines are FSA-eligible with a prescription.

  1. Nasal Irrigation

Last but not least, nasal irrigation is a great option for allergy sufferers to clear their nasal passages of mucous, allergens and other particulates that could contribute to their allergic reactions. Your FSA covers both saline irrigation rinses and Neti pots that can administer therapy directly to your nasal passages to alleviate your symptoms.

Save up to 40 percent each year on products when you shop with your FSA! We have the web's largest selection of FSA-eligible items to help you maximize the potential of your employee benefits!

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When it's an especially beautiful day, it can feel like a crime to stay indoors. So it's no coincidence that many of us will use the warmer weather to jump start a fitness plan. To help you gear upfor summer, FSAstore.com/HSAstore.com has your back with our Shape Up for Summer Sweepstakes!

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Living Well

How to survive allergy season with contact lenses

When you're experiencing the worst of your seasonal allergy symptoms this spring, just imagine how much worse it could be if you were wearing contact lenses! This time of year is especially trying for contact lens wearers, as the American Optometric Association claims more than 75% of contact lens wearers complain of allergen-caused eye pain and irritation.

Allergy season calls for special tactics that contact lens wearers should practice throughout spring to control their symptoms and improve their quality of life. Before your local pollen count peaks, keep the following tips in mind.

  1. Switch to eyeglasses

During allergy season, contact lenses provide an additional surface for pollen, dust and other allergens to stick to, and they can be like sponges for these particles throughout the spring, reports VeryWell.com. Wearing eyeglasses, even on a part-time basis, can dramatically limit how many allergens your eyes come into contact with and can reduce irritation over the course of allergy season.

  1. Invest in rewetting drops

If you're sticking with your contacts throughout allergy season, investing in rewetting drops or artificial tears is a must. Not only will this help your eyes feel better, but they can also wash out allergens that may be present on the surface of your lenses. Best of all, if you are enrolled in a flexible spending account (FSA), rewetting drops and other contact lens care products are FSA-eligible!

  1. Boost your cleaning regimen

Allergy season calls for a more rigorous cleaning routine, so make an effort to clean your lenses more often during the spring months to remove any lingering traces of allergens that may be present on the surface of the lenses. Consider full-scale disinfecting solutions for this time of year, and if you wear disposable lenses, replace them more often during the spring months to avoid irritation.

  1. Utilize cold compresses

One of the worst things you can do when experiencing eye irritation is to rub your eyes, as this will make the inflammation worse by spreading the allergens around your eyes. Instead, utilize cold compresses. A cool, damp towel or washcloth can work in a pinch, as well as FSA-eligible eye therapy masks that can be placed in the refrigerator and worn over the eyes when you're experiencing your worst symptoms.

This allergy season, make sure you're prepared by shopping at FSAstore.com! We have the web's largest selection of FSA-eligible products to help you maximize the potential of your healthcare benefits!

Living Well

5 ways to create an allergen-free home this spring

Spring is here in full swing, and if you suffer from seasonal allergies, this is a particularly trying time of year. High pollen counts will lead to runny noses, itchy eyes and sneezing throughout the early weeks of April as the seasonal bloom commences, and while you can't control the conditions outdoors, you can take the appropriate steps to make your home a haven from the allergic triggers outside!

Allergens in the home can exacerbate your symptoms or interfere with your sleep cycle, so it's important to take the necessary steps to keep your home clean this spring to keep your allergic symptoms under control. Here are a few great ideas to keep in mind from FSAstore.com.

  1. Change your "coming home" routine

Open windows are the primary culprit for allergens making their way into the home, but even if you keep them closed all spring, you can bring a large amount of pollen, dust and other irritants into your abode on your clothing. As allergy season gets underway, make conscious changes to your routine when you walk in the door.

First, remove all clothing and put it in the laundry machine if available to wash off all potential allergens. Also, make an effort to take a shower soon after coming indoors to wash off all pollen and particulates on your hair and skin that could be transferred to bedding and other surfaces in your home.

  1. Switch out your winter drapes

A smart change for seasonal allergy sufferers in spring is to switch out your winter drapes with lightweight curtains. Thick drapes with pleats are notorious for trapping dust and other allergens, so opt for blinds that can be wiped down quickly during the spring. Or as an alternative, opt for machine washable drapes that you can clean several times throughout the season to keep your home free of allergens.

  1. Invest in mattress and pillow allergy covers

In addition to the buildup of allergens on sleeping surfaces, dust mites also become increasingly prevalent during the spring months. Anti-allergy mattress and pillow covers are made with tightly-woven synthetic materials or vinyl to provide a barrier between the person and the dust mites on the underlying sleeping surface. These covers keep the allergens that have built up on the bedding from becoming airborne when shifting during sleep, which can dramatically reduce your allergic symptoms.

The difference in the cost of an allergy cover vs. a standard pillow/mattress cover may even be eligible for FSA reimbursement, so check with your benefits administrator before making a purchase!

  1. Carpeting vs. bare floors

Ideally, those who suffer from seasonal allergies will have bare floors in their home (hardwood, vinyl, etc.) that are easier to clean and do not retain as many allergens. However, if your home is carpeted, this will require extra care during allergy season. First, invest in a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter to trap allergens when cleaning, or look into a steam cleaning service that utilizes high temperature cleaning devices to remove allergens.

  1. Use a dehumidifier

The rainy, wet nature of spring lends itself to rapid mold growth, and you can make an effort to stem the growth of mold in your home by using a dehumidifier. Mold thrives in moist, humid environments that have a relative humidity above 60 percent, reports Allergy Consumer Review. In areas where mold growth is prevalent, run a dehumidifier to lower the humidity to 50 percent where mold growth will become inactive.

This allergy season, control your symptoms with Allergy, Sinus and Combinations and other anti-allergy products from FSAstore.com! We have the web's largest selection of FSA-eligible products to help you maximize the potential of your healthcare benefits.

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Living Well

April is National Donate Life Month! What to know before giving blood

April plays host to a number of important health observances, but one of the most vital for the American healthcare system is National Donate Life Month. According to the American Red Cross, every two seconds someone in the United States needs blood, and approximately 36,000 units of red blood cells are needed each day in the U.S.

Giving blood won't just help one person - the need for blood is constant in the U.S. healthcare system, as blood and blood components are needed a great number of surgical interventions and standard medical procedures, so it's feasible that multiple patients could be helped by a single donation.

Ready to get on board? If you choose to give blood during National Donate Life Month, there are some important preparations you should make first to ensure that you are feeling your best before and after the experience. Here are a few great tips to keep in mind from the American Red Cross:

  1. Drink plenty of water

Before you give blood, be sure to drink an extra glass or two of water to stave off dehydration. Roughly one pint of blood is taken during each blood donation and nearly 50 percent of blood consists of water, so the body will lose a great degree of fluids during the process. Additionally, drinking water before the procedure makes veins plumper, which makes it easier for the technician to find the right vein and draw blood.

  1. Eat a healthy meal

Eating before giving blood is a smart choice to avoid potential side effects of dizziness or nausea, and this will also ensure that your blood is nutrient-dense enough to be acceptable for donation. In particular, the American Red Cross suggests eating a iron-rich foods, such as red meat, fish, poultry, beans or spinach. Most importantly, avoid fatty foods! Fat-laden blood could interfere with blood tests and could result in a rejected sample.

  1. Get a good night's rest

Much like eating a solid meal before your donation, getting a good night's rest can also help you avoid some of the major side effects of blood donation. Adults should aim for 8 hours of sleep the night before giving blood, as this can help prevent dizziness and fainting that may occur during the recovery period from blood donation.

  1. Aspirin

Last but not least, if you will be donating platelets during your blood donation, it's important that you do not take aspirin, or products containing aspirin, for 48 hours before your donation. Aspirin is a blood thinner, which has an adverse effect on the role of platelets which rely on their ability to stick to a wound to stop bleeding.

This April before you give the gift of life, make sure you are the healthiest you can be by shopping at FSAstore.com! We have the web's largest selection of FSA eligible products to help you support you and your family's wellness year-round.

Living Well

What is a pollen count?

Allergy sufferers have learned to dread the early weeks of spring. Everywhere you turn, there is a yellow-green film of pollen on cars, glass and other outdoor surfaces that can trigger watery eyes, sneezing and sniffling all day long.

Before you walk out the door each morning, you may have gotten in the habit of checking the pollen count in your area so you can prepare for your worst allergy symptoms. But have you ever wondered how these numbers are measured and what they really mean? Let's examine what you should know about pollen counts as spring kicks off!

How are pollen counts measured?

Pollen counts are fixtures of weather reports in the spring and summer, and this number is taken using a sampling system called a "rotorod." According to Pollen.com, this rod consists of an array of silicone grease coated clear rods that are exposed to the air at key points throughout the day. These rods are then stained or examined under a microscope to measure the concentration of pollen grains, which are then converted to a concentration that is measured in grains per cubic meter of air.

Pollen counts are typically measured on a scale of 0-12 that take into account the amount of pollen an allergy sufferer will be exposed to during a given day. Low pollen levels come in at 0-2.4, Low-Medium is 2.5-4.8, Medium is 4.9-7.2, High-Medium is 7.3-9.6, and High is 9.7-12.0. According to the American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology, these rotorods must be placed on a rooftop at least one story high, as well as away from any significant pollen or mold sources that could skew the results.

How to stay on top of pollen counts

While increasing numbers of local and national television news stations have begun reporting pollen counts with their traditional forecasts, allergy sufferers should take the initiative in early spring to stay on top of pollen forecasts. Here are a few free apps to keep in mind:

  • Weather.com App: The Weather Channel's app is already one of the most popular weather apps available, but it also has the option of setting up pollen alerts that can be sent to your device via text or email.
  • Pollen.com Allergy Alert: The Pollen.com Allergy Alert app will provide information and alerts about pollen forecasts in your zip code. This app has the added benefit of in-depth information about top allergens with detailed plant descriptions and images in your area.
  • AllergyManager: In addition to measuring pollen counts in your area, the AllergyManager app lets you track seasonal allergens, pollen counts, and the severity of your symptoms. As an added benefit, the app also has a medication refill reminder to ensure that you can stay on top of your allergy medicine purchases.
  • Zyrtec AllergyCast: This is among the most popular allergy tracking apps available that provides pollen and weather forecasts, notifications for high pollen levels, as well as indicators for which types of pollen are prevalent at the moment, and actionable tips on how to deal with them.

Last but not least, rely on FSAstore.com and HSAstore.com to purchase allergy, sinus and combinations, Neti pots, saline solution and everything you need to survive allergy season! Explore the web's largest selection of FSA/HSA-eligible products and maximize the potential of your healthcare benefits!

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Living Well

How to avoid tick-borne illnesses this spring

The first day of spring is Monday, March 20, and with it comes a whole new slate of potential health concerns that you and your family must be mindful of during this time of year. If you and your loved ones love the great outdoors, ticks are a particular nuisance in the early spring and bites can lead to a wide range of potential health issues like Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever and many other potential maladies.

Whether you're trekking in the back country or enjoying your backyard, practice these tick prevention tips this spring!

  1. Stick to the trail

If you're hiking or camping this coming spring, make sure you stick to the trail and don't stray too far off the beaten path. Ticks are more likely to reside in tall grasses, underbrush and other places with increased moisture and relative humidity. According to TickEncounter.org, tick nymphs can only survive for 8 hours at a time in areas that are under 80 percent humidity. As such, if you stick to sunnier areas and avoid the cooler, shadier spots, you will decrease your exposure to ticks.

  1. Consider yard landscaping

Whether you have little ones or pets who will spend significant time outdoors this spring, you should pay close attention to these areas to see if there is room for improvement to reduce tick populations. The vast majority of ticks around your home will inhabit the area between your yard and a wooded area, so remove potential tick hot spots like leaf piles, shrubs and ground cover near your home. Additionally, look into landscaping that will deter animals like mice, deer, wood chucks and other rodents that could carry the parasites.

  1. Cover up!

Ticks spread diseases by attaching themselves onto the bare skin of their hosts, where they can become impacted and will survive on the host's blood. An easy way around this in the early spring is to wear clothing that will cover exposed areas like your ankles, knees and upper thighs. While this strategy may not work for the sweltering temperatures of summer, it can make a huge difference when hiking or spending long periods of time in the wilderness.

  1. Perform tick checks

Last but not least, every time that you, your loved ones (the dog too!) spend a long period of time outdoors, be sure to check your clothing and extremities for ticks that may have gone along for the ride. Ticks can take several hours to spread Lyme disease and other ailments after attaching themselves to the host, so a good rule of thumb is to remove your clothing immediately after being outdoors and taking a shower immediately. This will give you a chance to check your skin for the presence of ticks, and remove any if necessary.

For all of your spring healthcare needs, be sure to visit FSAstore.com! We have the web's largest selection of FSA-eligible products to support your family's health and wellness year-round.

Living Well

5 ways to adjust quickly to Daylight Savings Time

Daylight Savings Time (DST) is when we welcome longer days of sunlight, but prepare to lose an hour of sleep when we move the clocks forward. It's a double-edged sword for sure, and without the necessary preparation, it could leave you feeling off for days after the time change.

This year, go into Daylight Savings Time with a plan! Here are a few of our favorite tips to adjust to the time change from FSAstore.com.

  1. Alter your routine in advance

The best way to get a jump on the time change is to plan ahead of time! A week before turning back the clocks, make an effort to go to bed and wake up a half hour earlier than usual for 2-3 days, before making the switch to a full hour at the conclusion of the week. When March 12 finally arrives, you'll already be adjusted to the time change and can hit the ground running.

  1. Adjust your home's lighting

The infusion and exclusion of light in your bedroom can make a major difference in helping you attain a restful sleep and rising in the morning feeling refreshed. As DST draws closer, make an effort in the weeks before the time change to dim the lighting in your bedroom in the evening to help the body adjust to sleep, while letting natural light in during the morning for a wake up boost.

  1. Prepare for hunger pangs

One of the side effects of being off your sleep and eating schedule is that you can resort to sweets and other unhealthy foods when you're feeling sluggish. Don't give into this temptation and instead plan ahead of time with healthy snack foods that will provide a source of energy and leave you feeling full. Veggies, lean proteins, nuts and complex carbs can provide the boost you need as opposed to poor nutritional choices.

  1. Stay Hydrated!

During the week of transition that follows DST, being stressed and feeling off your game may force normal, healthy behaviors to fall to the bottom of your to-do list. Staying hydrated throughout the day is important at any time of the year, but ensuring that you're drinking enough water can help you stick to a normal sleep schedule and stay alert during the daytime. Additionally, avoid caffeine and alcohol as these can dehydrate the body and interfere with the sleep cycle.

  1. Skip the mobile devices

The light that emanates from mobile devices, laptops and TVs can interfere with the body's cool-down period before sleep, so if you haven't already eliminated these from your nightly routine, DST is the perfect time to start! Make an effort to get off your devices at least an hour before bedtime to allow the body to adequately prepare itself to achieve a deep, restful sleep.

For everything you need to stay healthy year-round, rely on FSAstore.com! We have the web's largest selection of FSA-eligible products to help you maximize the potential of your healthcare benefits!