Don't let seasonal allergies get the best of you
By: Joanna Robnik, M.D.
Spring is in the air. For people suffering from seasonal allergies, this statement rings true in the literal, as well as figurative, sense. Spring brings green growth of grasses, leaves and weeds; these plants release pollen into the air; pollen triggers symptoms associated with allergies.
According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, an estimated 40 million Americans suffer from some type of seasonal allergies, also known as indoor/outdoor allergies, which occur when a substance in the air enters the lungs, nasal passages or eyes and causes an immune overreaction. Common indoor allergens include cat and dog dander, dust mite feces and mold spores. Outdoor triggers include tree, grass and weed pollen.
Allergies have a strong genetic component. If one parent has an allergy, the chances are one in three that each child will have an allergy. If both parents have allergies, those statistics increase significantly – to almost 70 percent. Most allergies develop during childhood, but they can develop later in life, often after exposure to specific environmental factors that serve as allergy triggers.
Although indoor and outdoor allergies have different causes, the symptoms can be similar. The most common symptoms include: runny nose, itchy eyes, sneezing, stuffy nose and scratchy throat. Other, less common, symptoms are headache, asthma and fatigue. Allergic symptoms can lead to conditions that are more serious. For instance, itching and sneezing can lead to a sinus infection. If you have asthma, it can flare up and lead to bronchitis. Other complications can include ear problems and sleep apnea, which can cause heart disease.
Stress and anxiety can worsen allergy symptoms. Work to decrease stress and anxiety when possible.
There are a number of things you can do to decrease and remove allergic triggers from your environment, thereby decreasing the likelihood you’ll experience allergic symptoms or decrease the severity of your symptoms.
A number of these include washing items to remove pollen and dust. Wash bedding, throw rugs, curtains and clothing that has been outside. Take a shower after you’ve been outdoors; pollen can accumulate in your hair and on your clothing. Vacuum twice a week using a HEPA filter. Dust tables, shelves and other surfaces. Groom your pet with regular baths and daily brushing. Wear a mask and gloves when cleaning.
Keep your windows closed to reduce pollen entering the house. Keep your car windows closed and set your ventilation to recirculate the air. Check pollen levels at pollen.com and avoid outdoor activity when they are high.
Over-the-counter medications also help to treat allergy symptoms. Saline nasal spray can help to flush mucus out of your nasal cavities. You can make your own spray by mixing 1/4 teaspoon of salt with four ounces of bottled water. Some allergy sufferers use neti pots or a pulsating nasal irrigator to clean out nasal passages with a saline solution.
Antihistamines, such as Claritin and Zyrtec, are available over-the-counter and can work to effectively manage allergy symptoms. These medications are not addictive, although they can lose some of their effectiveness over time. You may want to switch brands periodically, to maintain effectiveness.
While they may sit next to one another in the drug aisle, antihistamines differ from decongestants. Decongestants are meant to be taken on a short-term basis, for treating illnesses like the common cold. Allergies can last for an entire season, and are most often better treated with antihistamines. If you are considering using an OTC decongestant to treat your allergy symptoms, consult with your doctor first. With any OTC medication, be sure to read the label and follow instructions for dosage carefully. If there are label warnings, pay attention.
If OTC medications don’t alleviate your allergic symptoms, it’s probably time to see your doctor or an allergist, who can help you determine what you are allergic to and how best to treat your symptoms. This may include prescription allergy medications.
Whatever method(s) you use to treat your allergies, the key is to start early – at the first sign of symptoms or even before symptoms present themselves. If you know grass is one of your allergy triggers, and that your lawn needs mowing, take your allergy medication half an hour before venturing outside.
Spring is in the air. If you are one of the millions of Americans who suffers from seasonal allergies, do not let your symptoms take control of your life. Know your triggers and avoid them when possible. Be proactive with your medications so you can decrease your symptoms and increase your enjoyment outside in the sunshine and warm spring weather.
Dr. Robnik is a board certified family practice physician at Raiter Clinic.