How to control and prevent spring allergy symptoms
Budding flowers, trees in bloom and sneezing. So much sneezing. March marks the beginning of spring and the beginning of springtime allergies. Millions of Americans will spend this time of the year cycling through endless amounts of tissues, eye drops and nasal sprays while they try to revel in the warmer weather. For some, allergies can become so bad that they avoid going outside altogether. Don’t let pollen pressure you into staying indoors. Use the tips below to control your seasonal allergy symptoms and get the most out of the warmer weather.
What are seasonal allergies?
Allergies happen when your body thinks that harmless substances, like pet dander or pollen, are pathogens that could make you sick. When this happens, your body prompts an immune response which causes the symptoms like itchy eyes, itchy or runny nose, and scratchy throat that makes allergic reactions troublesome.
Seasonal allergies–also known as hay fever–occur during the changing of seasons as pollen begins to spread in the air. Pollen is released by plants of all kinds -- like trees, grasses, and flowers -- and carries the genetic material to create the next generation of plants.
Allergy season is dependent on what allergy you have and where you live. Spring, summer and fall are rife with allergy triggers as these are heavy pollen seasons. Tree and grass pollen are most commonly spread in the spring. Trees are often the first plants to pollinate during the new year - meaning that tree pollen is often the culprit to blame for springtime seasonal allergies. In most parts of the U.S., trees tend to pollinate from March to May, although some trees in the South pollinate in late winter or year-round. Grass tends to pollinate later in the spring through the early summer. Only a few types of grass cause allergy symptoms.
Weed pollen is most common in the late summer and early fall. Ragweed pollen causes allergy symptoms in nearly 15% of Americans. The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America estimates that 75% of people who have pollen allergies are also allergic to ragweed. Ragweed grows across the United States but is most commonly found in Midwestern and Eastern states. Ragweed produces up to 1 billion pollen grains, which can travel as far as 400 miles through the air. This makes it especially prevalent throughout the U.S.
What are seasonal allergy symptoms?
Allergens can cause a host of diverse symptoms. The most common of these are grouped under the term allergic rhinitis, which is the medical term for the itchy eyes, sneezing and runny nose most people with allergies experience.
- Runny nose
- Stuffy nose/ nasal congestion
- Sinus pressure
- Red or watery eyes
- Itchy eyes
The severity of these symptoms varies from person to person. No two immune systems are the same, and allergic triggers will depend on where you live. As detailed above, some parts of the country have longer allergy seasons than others. Biodiversity also plays a role in allergen sensitivity as various areas of the country are home to different types of plant life. You may have terrible allergies in one part of the country and very few symptoms in another at the same time of year.
How do I treat seasonal allergies?
For most people, over-the-counter treatment is all that’s needed to reduce symptoms of seasonal allergies. Keep in mind that allergy medication will not cure allergies. Instead, these drugs help your body regulate its immune response–the release of histamines–to reduce symptoms such as sneezing, stuffiness and eye irritation.
Allergy relief comes in a variety of forms. The most common type of allergy medicine is a classification of medications known as antihistamines. Oral antihistamines are widely available, as are antihistamine nasal sprays and eye drops. These drugs help moderate your immune response to allergy triggers. You can also use a decongestant to minimize stuffiness in your nasal passages.
There are a few different medicines out there to fight back against allergies from pollen:
- Zyrtec (generic cetirizine): 10mg – 1 or 2 pills daily (available OTC)
- Claritin (generic loratadine): 10mg – 1 or 2 pills daily (available OTC)
- Allegra (fexofenadine): 180mg daily (available OTC)
- Xyzal (levocetirizine): 5mg daily (available OTC)
- Flonase (nasal steroid spray): 1-2 sprays per nostril 1-2x daily (available OTC)
- Astelin (nasal spray): 1-2 sprays per nostril 1-2x daily (Rx only) and combines well with Flonase
- Singular (generic Montelukast): 10mg daily (Rx only); also effective for asthma
- Benadryl (generic diphenhydramine): 25-50mg at night (available OTC)
- Atarax (generic hydroxyzine): 25-50mg at night (available OTC)
Though it's not a medicine, sinus rinses with Neti Pots can be good for actually removing the dander/pollen/irritants that are the cause of the allergies – ALWAYS use distilled water to avoid infections.
Keep in mind that nighttime allergy medicines commonly cause drowsiness as a side effect. Do not take these drugs during the day or before operating any sort of machinery. It is best that you only take nighttime/ drowsy options before bed.
Can I avoid allergies?
Preventing allergic reactions will depend on the allergy. To prevent pollen spores from entering your home, keep doors and windows closed during peak allergy season. You should also take a look at pollen counts. You can usually check pollen counts on your local weather forecast. If you can, avoid outdoor activities on days with high quantities of pollen in the air.
You may also consider installing an air-conditioning system with a HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filter. Air conditioners with these filters can trap pollen, dust mites, and mold spores from the air, making the air in your home less likely to irritate.
It’s not realistic to stay inside a sealed-shut house for the entirety of spring–we wouldn’t recommend you do that anyway–but these tips can at least help you during those peak times when pollen and allergens are most prevalent in your area.
What if OTC options aren’t helping?
In some cases, allergies are so severe that over-the-counter medications just won’t cut it. If you are experiencing severe symptoms such as difficulty breathing or persistent allergic rhinitis, you should talk to a health care provider–like an allergist– about more intensive treatment options. Allergists have advanced training in the treatment of allergies and can provide the most comprehensive care for serious instances of seasonal allergies. An allergist can help you determine what allergens cause your immune system to overreact and, with proper treatment, get back to living the life you want to live without the fuss of allergies.
For more severe allergies your doctor may recommend allergy immunotherapy (allergy shots, tablets, or drops), which can train your body to become less sensitive to the allergen. Before you begin treatment, your doctor may start with a blood test or skin test to determine which specific allergen you have, and then create a treatment plan specific to you that usually lasts for 3 to 6 months. A secondary maintenance phase can last around 3 to 5 years or sometimes longer. In addition to immunotherapy, an allergist can prescribe prescription-strength allergy medication if appropriate.
We recommend that you book a visit with an allergy specialist to fully understand and treat your seasonal allergies. These appointments will help you understand your exact triggers and how best to treat/ avoid them. Don’t let pollen decide how you spend your spring. Use the tips above to get your allergies in control so you can enjoy the season’s change.