Nip spring allergies in the bud
Ahh, spring. Flowers are in bloom, trees are budding, and the smell of fresh-cut grass is in the air. But spring isn’t all roses. For seasonal allergy sufferers, spring also means red eyes, runny noses and the ever-present tissue box.
If you suffer from seasonal allergies, you’re not alone. According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, allergic rhinitis, or hay fever, affects more than 6 million children and 20 million adults in the U.S.
But identifying and treating spring allergies isn’t easy. While some people welcome spring with barely a sniffle, others are severely impacted when pollen and other allergen counts soar. And with so many potential causes and ever-changing environmental conditions, easing or preventing allergy symptoms can be tricky.
Don’t let spring allergies leave you battling symptoms and resigned to spending the season indoors. Knowing how to recognize your allergy symptoms, and how to avoid and manage triggers, will make for a happier and healthier spring season.
Pollen packs a punch
Pollen is by far the biggest culprit for springtime allergies. When pollen is released and finds its way into the nose of someone who’s allergic, the immune system discharges antibodies to battle the allergens. The attack prompts the release of chemicals called histamines into the blood, which triggers the oh-so-familiar and bothersome allergy symptoms.
Spring allergy season can span from February through June. And throughout that period, trees, grasses and other plants pollinate at different times. That makes for a long season of symptoms if you have multiple sensitivities to pollen and other allergens.
Tree pollen typically lets loose February to April. Species most likely to cause springtime allergies include:
Grass pollen tends to release from May to July. The most common grasses that cause allergies are:
- Perennial rye
- Sweet vernal
Weed pollen is more of a problem in late summer and early fall, especially during ragweed season. However, other common garden weeds can release pollen anytime from early spring on.
Typical seasonal allergy symptoms include:
- Red, watery, puffy or itchy eyes
- Runny, itchy or stuffy nose
- Scratchy throat (due to post-nasal drip)
- Coughing or breathing difficulties
- Itchy ears and mouth
- Dark circles under the eyes
Not every allergy sufferer experiences the same symptoms, and having just one of the symptoms may not always point to seasonal allergies. But taken together, there's a stronger indication of allergic rhinitis—particularly if symptoms last for two to three weeks without medical intervention.
Of course, with the overlap of cold season, spring allergies and COVID-19, it may be difficult to determine if you have a seasonal allergy, or if something else is going on.
Managing allergy triggers
No one wants to be a prisoner to springtime allergies. While you can’t avoid coming in contact with common triggers, there are a number of ways to ease or elude allergy symptoms:
- Check daily pollen counts and limit time outdoors when counts are high
- Use an air conditioner with a HEPA filter in lieu of open windows
- Vacuum and dust regularly
- Remove shoes when you enter your house
- Shower or bathe daily, especially after spending time outside
- Change and wash clothes after outdoor activities
- Keep grass well-trimmed and wear a mask while mowing or gardening
- Use a dryer for clothes instead of an outdoor clothing line
- Wash bed linens weekly
- Stay inside in the early morning (when pollen counts tend to be highest)
- When outdoors, wear glasses/sunglasses and a hat to keep pollen off your face
- While mowing, weeding, planting or raking, wear a pollen mask and gardening gloves, and opt for long sleeves and pants to protect skin
Treating seasonal allergies
From over-the-counter medications for temporary relief, to long-term therapies to lessen allergies over time, there are multiple options for easing allergy symptoms.
1. Over-the-counter medications.
Several medications are available to ease the symptoms, including:
Antihistamines (i.e., Zyrtec, Xyzal or Allegra) reduce sneezing, sniffling and itching by lowering the amount of histamine in your body.
Decongestants, such as Sudafed, shrink the lining nasal passageways to relieve congestion and swelling.
Steroid nasal sprays, such as Flonase and Nasacort, reduce inflammation. Doctors consider steroid nasal sprays the most effective treatment for allergic rhinitis.
Eyedrops provide short-term relief for redness, itchiness and swelling.
Be sure to always follow instructions from your doctor and on packages to avoid unwanted side effects like drowsiness or worsening symptoms.
2. Home and alternative remedies.
Natural treatments may also soothe and relieve allergy symptoms.
Steam inhalation can soothe and open nasal passages. Hold your head over a warm bowl or sink full of water, and place a towel over your head to trap the steam. You can also sit in the bathroom with a hot shower running
Saline rinses reduce extra mucus from the nasal passages to help relieve stuffy nose and congestion. The solution can also clear out allergens from the nostrils and sinuses.
Alternative treatments, including herbal medicines, natural antihistamines and acupuncture, have also been known to help alleviate allergy symptoms.
3. Medical treatment.
For long-term relief, immunotherapy may be appropriate if your symptoms are severe and you’re getting little or no benefit from medications or other remedies. The treatment essentially makes you less allergic over time rather than suppressing seasonal symptoms.
Two types of immunotherapy are available:
Allergy shots, typically administered over 3-5 years, help build allergen resistance.
Sublingual tablets, dissolved under the tongue daily for up to 3 years, only treat certain types of allergies. A person can start taking the pills in the months before spring.
Talk with your doctor or an allergist to find out if immunotherapy is right for you.
To get to the root of your symptoms, your doctor may perform tests to diagnose your allergies:
- Skin prick test: A small amount of the allergen is scratched into the skin to look for any reaction. Positive results typically appear within 20 minutes.
- Intradermal test: A tiny amount of the allergen is injected under the skin to see if there is a reaction.
- Blood test: A lab technician will add the allergen to a blood sample to see if the number of antibodies produced increases.
When is it an emergency?
You should visit your nearest emergency department if you have severe allergy symptoms, including:
- Difficulty or irregular breathing
- Coughing, wheezing, itchy throat or mouth
- Severe hives, itchiness, red bumps on skin, skin redness
- Lowered blood pressure, rapid pulse, heart palpitations or dilated blood vessels
- Nausea, vomiting, chest discomfort or tightness, abdominal pain and diarrhea
- Dizziness, lightheadedness, mental confusion, loss of consciousness, weakness and fainting
Indigo can help with mild to moderate allergy symptoms
If springtime allergies are affecting your quality of life, it may be time to seek medical care. The providers at Indigo Urgent Care can help you control your mild to moderate allergy symptoms.
Our clinics are open every day from 8 am to 8 pm to provide fast, friendly care. And if additional treatment or testing is needed, we’ll refer you to a specialist to help you get to the root of your symptoms.