Spring Into Allergy Season

April 8, 2019

Springtime, particularly in the southeast, marks the start of allergy season. Anyone who’s been in the region between March and May has most likely experienced the inescapable wave of yellow plant pollen that coats nearly everything. For many, seasonal allergies drastically limit the amount of Spring they’ll be able to enjoy. Symptoms can be debilitating and often are enough of a deterrent that some will stay indoors as much as possible. To better understand how you can manage seasonal allergies, let’s start with understanding what actually causes the terrible symptoms you experience.

What are Seasonal Allergies?

Seasonal allergies, also known as hay fever, is a biochemical response that occurs within our bodies when exposed to plant pollen. When proteins from pollen enter our bodies, our immune system mistakes it as a threat and sends antibodies to attack the allergens. This process leads to the release of histamines into the blood. Histamines are chemicals used by our immune systems to help remove something that’s bothering you. When released into the blood stream, histamines boost blood flow in that area causing inflammation and allowing other chemicals from our immune system go to work. For example, this is one of the reasons why some people experience runny or stuffy noses. Histamines gave the call for more mucus to be produced in response to the detected allergens. While histamines play a vital role in our immune system, their overreaction to seasonal allergens can make daily life quite unpleasant. Seasonal allergies typically affect people between the start of spring through the fall. Tree pollen is generally the first to appear and is responsible for the clouds of yellow covering everything in what looks like yellow dust. Following on the coattails of tree pollen, grass pollen becomes more prevalent from the end of spring into the beginning of summer. Weed pollen is the last to appear. Ragweeds are particularly common in the south and release their pollen through the fall.    

Seasonal Allergy Symptoms

Symptoms of seasonal allergies include:

  • Itchy eyes and nose
  • Watery eyes
  • Sneezing
  • Congestion
  • Runny nose
  • Sore throat
  • Swollen dark circles under the eyes (sometimes called allergic shiners)
  • Fatigue

Managing Seasonal Allergies

Unfortunately, there is no cure for seasonal allergies, but there are things you can do to help alleviate the severity of your symptoms. Here are a few things to help manage your hay fever.

  1. Limit your exposure to pollen.
    This might seem obvious but staying inside more can help avoid having an allergic reaction. Of course, you can’t stay inside all the time so use your best judgment when venturing out. Consider things like time of day, weather, and apparel when leaving home. Sunglasses are a great way to help keep pollen out of your eyes. This is especially helpful on windier days, which you should aim to avoid if possible. For those who like gardening or need to spend an extended period outside, a dust mask can help reduce the amount of pollen making it into your sinuses. Pollen release is typically the highest during early morning so adjusting the morning run to the afternoon or spending more time at an indoor gym can offer relief. When you return inside, immediately remove your shoes. Also change your clothes and shower, being sure to wash your hair. This will help cut down the amount of pollen brought inside. Note that pets, especially those with long fur, will bring pollen indoors if you let them outside. Try brushing the pet right before bringing it into the house to remove as much pollen as possible. It’s recommended that pets who are allowed outside are kept off your bed, and potentially bedroom depending on how severe your allergies are. Additional measures can be taken to improve the air indoors too. Changing air filters more regularly, using air purifiers, and vacuuming more often with HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filters can greatly improve indoor air quality.
  2. Use Allergy Medication
    Since having to venture outside the home is practically unavoidable, allergy medications are one of the most popular and effective means of treating seasonal allergy symptoms. Earlier we covered histamines and their role in our immune system. Antihistamines are one of the medications most people start with to manage their seasonal allergy symptoms. While there are different types of histamines, they all block or reduce histamines to some degree. They work well to alleviate symptoms but can’t relieve every symptom. In some cases, your doctor may recommend additional medications such as decongestants or steroids. Some pharmaceutical manufacturers produce antihistamines combined with a decongestant for those with more severe symptoms. Medications can come in the forms of tablets, capsules, liquids, and even nasal sprays. It’s important to speak with your doctor to find the best fit for you and your symptoms.
  3. Start Early
    Technically related to the section above, we felt it important enough highlight it on its own. It’s important to start taking allergy medications before you begin experiencing symptoms. That’s not to say taking medications when symptoms appear won’t be beneficial, but for maximum effect allowing the medication to build up in your system allows it to go to work faster when you need it. A great way to stay on top of this is by adding a reminder on your smartphone or calendar, then be sure taking the medication regularly is worked into your daily routine. Talk with your doctor about whether your medications need to be taken with food or have food/drinks it shouldn’t be taken with. For example, fruit juices may limit the absorption certain drugs in the body.
  4. Try Natural Relief
    Some may want to consider trying natural options if they’re unable to use medications or simply want to boost their efforts. Butterbur and spirulina are two treatment options some use for allergy symptom relief; however their effectivehness and safety are not clear. It’s important to speak with your physician before taking herbs or extracts as they could have potentially dangerous side effects or cause reactions when combined with prescription medications. Sinus rinses are another option consider. Using a saline solution to rinse the nasal passages is a great and inexpensive way to relieve congestion. A squeeze bottle or neti pot, a small pot with a spout curved for nasal rinsing, can be used. It’s important to use water that’s distilled, sterile, or boiled and then cooled. Simply using tap water can expose you to harmful bacteria. A woman recently made headlines when she contracted a fatal brain-eating amoeba believed to come from the tap water she used in her neti pot.

Allergy season can especially tough for some, but the right use of medications, limited exposure, and use of tools like neti pots can greatly reduce the severity of your symptoms. We always recommend speaking with your primary care provider before starting a medication or taking an herbal supplement, even if it’s available over the counter. In some cases, your doctor may refer you to an allergist. These specialists have a variety of ways to help pinpoint what triggers your allergic reactions and may then recommend allergy shots. Allergy shots are low doses of specific types of allergens. When injected in low increments over a longer period of time, often 3-5 years, the human body becomes desensitized and no longer reacts to allergens the same way, ultimately reducing the severity of symptoms. You don’t have to let allergies put a damper on your outdoor activities if you take the right steps to manage the symptoms and adjust for the season.

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