Spring is here, and spring means a beautiful burst of growth for flowers and plants. Spring also means pollen, and for many of us, that means allergies. For some patients, allergy season means avoiding spending time outside. But we want to help you find treatments that will allow you to keep doing the things you love outdoors.
How Do Seasonal Allergies Work?
As the weather warms up, plants are on a mission to get their seeds into the environment to fertilize other plants. And their delivery method of choice is pollen grains: pollen is essential for the plants we love and for our food supply. Unfortunately, for some people, those pollen grains trigger an unnecessary response from the immune system. In a nutshell, your white blood cells think those pollen grains are a health threat like a virus. Your body produces antibodies in the same way they would if you were actually sick, including a chemical called histamine, which it uses to fight infections. That’s why the symptoms are so similar to a cold virus.
What Are the Symptoms of Seasonal Allergies?
Seasonal allergies share some symptoms with the common cold. However, unlike many viruses, allergies don’t cause a fever. Seasonal allergy symptoms include:
- Nasal congestion
- Runny nose
Why Do Some People Get Seasonal Allergies While Others Don’t?
It’s unfair, but some people seem to be especially susceptible to seasonal allergies, while others are unaffected. Here are a few of the factors that may contribute:
- Genetics and family history: seasonal allergies often run in the family.
- Underlying conditions like asthma can aggravate seasonal allergies.
- Surprisingly, some studies suggest that growing up in a spotless household can make your immune system more sensitive to allergens. It turns out that a little dirt may cause your immune system to “ignore” pollen and reduce allergy symptoms.
How Can I Prevent Seasonal Allergy Symptoms?
You can prevent or reduce allergy symptoms by reducing your exposure to pollen. Some tips from the Mayo Clinic for avoiding allergens include:
- Stay indoors on dry, windy days, and spend time outdoors after a rain when the air is clear.
- Have someone else do outdoor chores like lawn mowing that bring you in contact with allergens.
- Wear a pollen mask while doing outdoor chores.
- Check local media for pollen counts daily and avoid going outside when pollen is high.
- Keep doors and windows closed when pollen counts are high.
- Use high-efficiency filters for your heating and air conditioning systems.
- As an extra preventive measure, use a portable high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter in your bedroom.
- Clean your floors with a vacuum with a HEPA filter.
What Are Treatment Options for Seasonal Allergies?
Preventive measures can help, but it’s not always possible to avoid pollen and lead a full life. Fortunately, there is a range of treatment options for seasonal allergies. Talk with your primary care provider about which treatment or combination of treatments is best for you:
- Oral Antihistamines: prescription or over the counter antihistamines block the histamine chemicals produced by your body’s immune system. Recommended antihistamines include loratadine (Claritin and Alavert), cetirizine (Zyrtec Allergy) and fexofenadine (Allegra Allergy).
- Oral Decongestants like pseudoephedrine (Sudafed) relieve allergy symptoms by shrinking the swollen tissues in your nasal passages. Your doctor may recommend combining an antihistamine with a decongestant.
- Nasal Sprays: There are several types of nasal sprays available for the treatment of allergy symptoms. These include:
- Decongestant sprays available over-the-counter and by prescription (these should be used on a limited basis).
- Steroid sprays available over-the-counter and by prescription.
- Antihistamine sprays available only by prescription.
Talk with your primary care doctor about which type of nasal spray will work best for your symptoms.
- Allergy shots/immunology: if you have severe allergy symptoms or underlying conditions like asthma, talk with your primary care provider about allergy shots. Your doctor will test you to see which types of pollen trigger your allergies. Then you’ll start getting regular injections with small amounts of whatever substance is causing your allergies. The idea is to desensitize your body to the pollen and bring down the immune reaction that causes allergy symptoms.
Can Natural Remedies Help Prevent or Treat Seasonal Allergies?
You may have read about natural remedies and alternative treatments for allergy symptoms. And while there’s no substantial evidence that natural remedies are effective, they usually don’t hurt and may offer some relief.
- Local raw honey contains small amounts of flower pollen, which some people suggest can reduce the body’s allergic response. The Mayo Clinic thinks honey is most likely a “sweet placebo.” Still, if you find that it relieves or prevents symptoms, there’s no problem with putting a little honey in your tea.
- Acupuncture is another unproven alternative treatment, but some patients do report symptom relief. Talk with your primary care provider before trying an alternative remedy. In most cases, it won’t hurt. But most patients who seek alternative therapies do best when they combine with traditional healthcare.
Staying Healthy This Spring
We want our patients to reap the physical and mental health benefits of spending time outside. But seasonal allergies can make this challenging. We encourage our patients to be aware of pollen levels and take preventive precautions. If allergies are getting in your way, talk with your primary care provider. We can come up with an effective treatment plan for your seasonal allergies with minimal side-effects. Let’s work together to shake allergy symptoms and spend time with our families outside.