The arrival of warmer weather will soon unleash a pollen tsunami in parts of the country where the winter has been especially long and cold. Spring means flower buds and blooming trees — and if you’re one of the millions of people who have seasonal allergies, it also means sneezing, congestion, runny nose and other bothersome symptoms. Seasonal allergies — also called hay fever and allergic rhinitis — can make you miserable.
Allergies are the immune system’s inappropriate response to a foreign substance. Exposure to what is normally a harmless substance, such as pollen, causes the immune system to react as if the substance were harmful. Substances that cause allergies are called allergens. Most allergies result from a combination of inheritance (genes) and environmental exposures (pollens, animal dander, etc.). Being exposed to allergens at certain times when the body’s defenses are low or weak, such as after a viral infection, a serious illness, or during pregnancy also may contribute to the development of allergies.
When you come into contact with an inhaled allergen, you may experience nasal/eye symptoms (allergic rhinoconjunctivitis or hay fever) including sneezing, congestion, itchy, watery nose and eyes and/or asthma symptoms such as wheezing, chest tightness, difficulty breathing and coughing.
While there is no cure for allergies, with proper management this condition can be effectively controlled.
Making changes in your environment can greatly limit your exposure to certain allergens and reduce your symptoms. Medications that are safe and effective can be prescribed.
To reduce your exposure to the things that trigger your allergy signs and symptoms (allergens):
• Wear oversized sunglasses to block airborne pollens and molds.
• Wear a hat, preferably one with a wide brim.
• Consider exercising indoors on very high pollen days. Pollen levels may peak during the mid-day and afternoon, and are generally higher on warm, dry, windy days.
• Begin treatment with medications such as nasal antihistamines, oral antihistamines, steroids and eye drops even before symptoms start.
• Shower and shampoo nightly to rinse pollens from skin and hair. Change clothes before entering your bedrooms to keep pollens out.
• At home and in the car, keep the windows closed and set your air conditioner to “recirculate.” Clean filters in room air conditioners frequently. Do not use fans that pull outdoor pollens into your living area.
• Eliminate weeds from your yard and plant allergy-friendly greenery such as azaleas and begonias;, palm, pine, fir and dogwood trees; hibiscus, boxwood and yucca shrubs.
Source: Mayoclinic.org, 2012., Clevelandclinic.org, 2013.