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Tips for relieving springtime allergies

Posted May 20, 2021 by Charles A. Zonfa, MD, FACOG | Chief Medical Office

May flowers often aren’t the only thing blooming after April showers. Springtime allergens from tree pollen, grasses and weeds can wreak havoc on your allergies causing severe allergy symptoms.

Typical symptoms include:

  • Stuffy, runny nose
  • Puffy, watery eyes
  • Itchy eyes, nose and mouth
  • Sneezing
  • Coughing
  • Scratchy throat
  • The springtime allergy season can run from as early as March through the beginning of June, but it can vary. Warmer days increase plant growth and fertilization; windy days help the pollen spread more easily; and rainy days dampen the spread of pollen. Tree pollen tends to peak in early spring and grass peaks in late spring.

    When you breathe in pollen released from trees, grasses and weeds, it can trigger allergies, also known as hay fever or allergic rhinitis. An allergy occurs when your immune system overreacts to an otherwise harmless substance. Your body produces antibodies and histamines, which cause swelling in the nose and eyes to help stop allergens from entering, and sneezing to release allergens from the nose.

    With proper precautions and treatment, however, you can enjoy the outdoors with relief from these annoying allergy symptoms that are synonymous with springtime. The key is to prevent symptoms as best you can and treat those that are inevitable.

    Avoiding allergens to prevent symptoms

    The best way to deal with springtime allergies is to try to avoid them in the first place, such as:

  • Watching pollen counts. Check the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology’s National Allergy Bureau for daily pollen counts and the breakdown of pollen types. Try to stay indoors when the count is high, which often is in the early morning and mid-afternoon.
  • Removing allergen sources from your home. Keep your home and car windows closed to help prevent pollen from entering. Instead, use air conditioning to circulate the air. Also, wash bedding and floors often, and vacuum and dust weekly to suck up pollen and dander. Lastly, use a HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filter to trap and filter airborne household allergens.
  • Avoid bringing pollen indoors. When coming inside, put your shoes and coat in a designated area so you don’t spread pollen throughout your home. Wash your hair before getting into bed each night and launder your clothes from the day. If your pets spend time outdoors, use a damp towel to remove pollen from their coats daily.
  • Treatment for allergy symptoms

    There are a range of medications — both over the counter and prescription — to treat allergy symptoms, as well as some home remedies.

  • Antihistamines work by suppressing histamines in your body, which are chemicals your cells produce to fight the allergen. Antihistamines — available in pill, nasal spray or liquid forms — can relieve a runny nose, itchy eyes, nose and mouth, and sneezing.
  • Nasal decongestants, which come in pill, nasal spray or liquid forms, shrink blood vessels in the nose to reduce stuffiness and congestion.
  • Nasal steroid sprays reduce the swelling and mucus production that causes a stuffy, runny and itchy nose.
  • Leukotriene blockers are medications that block additional inflammatory proteins in allergic reactions to reduce nasal symptoms and coughing.
  • Eye drops can help relieve itchy, watery eyes. Over-the-counter versions contain a topical decongestant to reduce swelling. Prescription drops include an antihistamine.
  • Nasal saline rinses, such as a Neti pot or squeeze bottle, irrigate your nasal passages to ease symptoms.
  • Inhaling steam, while in the shower, for example, can soothe and open nasal passages to alleviate symptoms.
  • When to talk to your doctor

    If these treatments aren’t effective and your allergies are affecting your quality of life, it’s time to talk with your doctor to discuss other treatments. Your allergist may recommend allergy shots.

    Allergy shots are a form of immunotherapy, a long-term solution that helps to desensitize people to their allergies. These shots actually contain a little bit of the allergen, which over the course of months or years, helps teach the body how to handle it better.

    Though they require time to work, allergy shots can greatly reduce the severity of your body’s reaction to an allergen, easing symptoms and the amount of medication you depend on.

    Springtime allergies affect millions of people in this country every year, but you don’t have to suffer through it. There are many treatment options available so you can get back to enjoying the outdoors, especially after a long, dreary winter. 

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