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Posted by: | Posted on: April 14, 2016

6 Ways to Reduce Outdoor Allergies

2016-04-02 - Brazos Bend Family Camp (108) (1024x768)Do you look at this photo with longing? Do you wonder what it must be like to enjoy fresh air and beautiful spring flowers without allergies? Anyone who has allergies knows the misery of itchy eyes, a runny nose, itchy throat, coughing and hacking, and even allergy related asthma. In some cases, systemic allergic chain reactions triggered by pollens, etc, can cause joint pain, rashes, stomach distress, cognitive challenges, and the dreaded anaphylaxis. I’m sure many of you have even noticed that you are more susceptible to getting sick after a severe allergy attack, or once you have reacted to one allergy, you become more sensitive to others.

Alex taking a siesta during a NEO picnicYour allergy symptoms are ultimately caused by an overactive immune system. One of the primary chemicals the body releases during an allergic response is histamine. Histamine has several important functions in the body, but we think of it as our enemy during an allergy attack and immediately reach for whatever “antihistamines” we can find in the medicine cabinet. We then settle in for an uncomfortable waiting period…either for our allergies to subside or for the “antihistamine” to knock us out so we can sleep off our misery. Since histamine is vital in promoting wakefulness, “antihistamines” cause noticeable drowsiness.

You may have noticed that you can’t seem to think clearly when having an allergy attack. There is a good reason for this. Histamine is a neurotransmitter, and when your brain is flooded with the chemical, chaos ensues. Out of balance histamine levels have now been linked to neurologic diseases, sleep disorders, clinical depression, decreased cognitive function, addictive behaviors, obesity, and much more. Scary, right?

Family enjoying a bike ride at Brazos Bend State ParkSo, is there a way to avoid some of the misery and help keep histamine responses under control? Having suffered from severe systemic allergies since childhood, I can tell you “YES!” with confidence. With just a little planning and some easy tricks, you can enjoy a much better relationship with the outdoors and decrease the number and severity of your allergic reactions. The following are a few tips I have discovered over the years, and I am confident they will help you!

1. See an allergy/asthma specialist. The right doctor will help you find out what your true allergy triggers are and develop a regimen to get them under control. This may include inhalers, steroids, shots, or holistic options. It may take some time to find out what combination of medications works best for you and what times of year you really need to take them, so be patient and stick with it. Even a year of experimenting is well worth a lifetime of diminished (or eliminated) allergy attacks. Through testing, your doctor may decide you don’t need medicine at all. You may just need to avoid a few key triggers.

2. Keep an allergy journal. This can be as simple as log entries you make on your cell phone’s note taking app. This journal will be invaluable to you and your doctor and will help you narrow down what your worst triggers and reactions are. Make a note of the situation surrounding your reaction. Had you been sick leading up to the attack? Did it start with an itchy throat? Were you dogsitting at the time? What did you eat that day? etc. You will start to notice trends you never would have thought to consider or bring up with your doctor.

Father and daughter spending quality time in the great outdoors.3. Plan ahead. If you know you will be subjecting yourself to allergy triggers, start taking your medicines at least a few days before hand. One of the biggest mistakes allergy sufferers make is thinking they will just take some Benadryl once they start showing symptoms. The problem is that once your body starts to respond to allergens and floods your tissues with histamine and other chemicals, it is too late. At that point, it is those chemicals that are actually causing your discomfort such as sneezing, itching, wheezing, sniffling, etc. An antihistamine will not counteract the chemicals that are already in your body. It will just help prevent more chemicals from be produced. Unfortunately, you will have to suffer until the histamine and other inflammatory agents already saturating your tissues have dissipated or have been neutralized by other chemicals in your body.

4. Rinse your face and hands often. Pollens and other allergy triggers collect on your face and hands. Simply rinsing with water will help keep allergens from collecting and being breathed in, swallowed, or rubbed into your eyes.

5. Keep your hair covered or restrained. If your hair is exposed and able to blow in the wind, it acts as an enormous allergen collecting net. It will not only collect allergens, but as it blows in the wind it will deposit them all over your face and even in your nose, mouth, and eyes. Keeping hair tied back, braided, or covered with a bandana or hat will significantly reduce your exposure.

6. Eliminate scented toiletries.
If you know you are going to be exposed to your allergy triggers, forego your regular scented lotions, perfumes, colognes, soaps, body sprays, etc. While they may not affect you under normal circumstances, they may compound an allergic response when your body’s immune system is already in overdrive.

With a little practice and some changes to your habits, you can make a significant impact in how allergies affect you. Your quality of life will improve drastically, and you will enjoy the outdoors with renewed confidence and vigor without the fear of being knocked out by allergens. Get started now! Then, come out and play!
What a beautiful day for fishing!

Posted by: | Posted on: June 19, 2015

Hidden Kingdoms: Amazing Nature TV

Hidden Kingdoms: Shrew vs. Monitor LizardAs outdoor nuts, many times we see TV as the greatest enemy of the outdoor lifestyle. However, there are some amazing shows out there that really drive home the importance of protecting and preserving our natural world…shows that inspire us to go exploring or see a little larger piece of this huge marble we live on.

“Hidden Kingdoms” is one of these shows. It is difficult to put into words how utterly jaw droppingly amazing this piece of television magic is. From the opening scene of the first episode, I was glued just a few feet from my flat panel screen…soaking in the colors, the movements, the crazy cinematography that had my brain doing somersaults in my head. I felt like every sense in my body was exploding with overstimulation! Yes. EVERY sense. The scenes are so real I felt I was there, just inches from the animals being filmed. I “felt” the dry heat of the African plains pounding down on me and I “smelled” the damp mustiness among the forests of Borneo.

The cinematography in this series is truly ground breaking. The goal of the series is to show the viewer the giant world from the point of view of a tiny creature. The stars of the series are an elephant shrew, a scorpion mouse, an eastern chipmunk, a tree shrew, a Japanese rhinoceros beetle, and a marmoset. This means that a good deal of the time the incredibly sophisticated cameras are mere inches off the ground and up close and personal with the wildlife.

The talented producers and cameramen/women customize their gear and develop filming techniques on the fly to accommodate their demanding four and six legged performers, and the results are amazing. Using super high speed cameras and custom macro lenses, they capture a world that has been completely foreign to us until now.

On top of this, they create scenes to tell a dramatic and action packed story with a soundtrack that can rival “Star Wars” or “Jaws” in its suspenseful impact. This is paired perfectly with such horrific scenes as a Godzilla-esque monitor lizard running down our helpless shrew and an enormous razor talloned owl dive bombing our beloved chipmunk.

On this note, I should mention that many of the scenes are staged and even blue-screened. This is no secret. In fact, each episode ends with behind the scenes explanations of the cameras, special rigs, stages, and special effects used to capture the shots and create the stories. This may seem like cheating to some of the purists out there who remember the bitter sting of the revelation that the 1980’s PBS hit, “Wild America,” staged many of its perilous wildlife scenes. However, I can tell you I’m a believer. “Hidden Kingdoms” is completely transparent in its use of creative story telling, and I can tell you that anyone that watches this show will forever alter their view of the little guys and the underdogs of the natural world.

This show is meant to inspire our curiosity and raise our understanding of a little known and largely overlooked world that is just out of sight and under foot. To find out more about “Hidden Kingdoms,” visit the BBC page at

Check out “Hidden Kingdoms” today on Netflix at

Posted by: | Posted on: June 5, 2015

NEO’s Wilderness Kids: Meet Kaitlin

Anyone who has the opportunity and joy to watch kids playing outdoors knows that kids love nature.  In fact, they crave it…whether they realize it or not.  They are just designed that way.  Outdoor kids activities are a must for helping to develop physical and mental acuity in our children.

Kids love nature: Kaitlin backpacking Lost Maples State ParkKaitlyn is a typical girl. She loves the color purple, prefers Anya over Elsa, enjoys video games, and has an opinion on anything you can name.  Kaitlin also loves spending time outdoors…especially with her Dad.  She recently attended one of NEO’s Port Aransas beach camping trips with him and says that has been her favorite outdoor adventure yet!

She loved being outdoors after dark, enjoying the campfire, and playing with the other kids in camp!  Getting to know other kids is Kaitlin’s favorite part of camping.  It is amazing how she transforms from a shy, sensitive introvert to a curious adventure loving leader of the charge.  She becomes all about the business of having fun and socializing with others who have a similar goal.

Kaitlin doesn’t know why she loves being outside so much…particularly when she gets to enjoy nature and look up at the stars…but she really doesn’t need to.  It’s natural after all.  Who feels genuinely comfortable being locked behind a desk under fluorescent lights?  Not Kaitlin.  Fresh air, bright stars, beautiful scenery, and interesting wildlife is the only life for her!

Kids love nature:  Kaitlin plays with a pinata in campShe gains confidence with every new obstacle she tackles, and each new challenge encountered in her outdoor surroundings forces her to develop critical thinking and problem solving skills.  In other words, being outdoors helps make Kaitlin smarter.  It helps prepare her with real world skills that she will use in school, in her future career, and in life in general.

Kaitlin says one of the most important lessons she has learned as a result of her time outdoors is to always be aware of her surroundings.  She throws in that you should definitely be aware of what snakes might be in the area.  In Texas, it is common to run into venomous snakes.  For Kaitlin, this isn’t cause for panic, just informed decision making and a little caution…additional skills that she is able to hone during her outdoor adventures.

Kids and nature go together like peanut butter and jelly.  Join NEO’s “Wilderness Kids” initiative, and introduce a kid you care about to the amazing natural world around them.  NEO can help!

Check out our Facebook page for some great photos of our “Wilderness Kids” enjoying the great outdoors.  Be sure to “Like” us to help promote the NEO “Wilderness Kids” movement!

by Jennifer Boley

Kids love nature:  Kaitlin playing in camp with her puppy, Daisy