Now that springtime is upon us, we look forward to trees blooming and flowers budding. However, this is also the time of year when seasonal allergies flare up. Seasonal allergies, commonly known as hay fever and allergic rhinitis, affects millions of people. The biggest culprit of these allergies is pollen, which is released by trees, grass, plants, and weeds. The pollen then causes the immune system to release histamines in the blood, which subsequently triggers the common allergy symptoms, such as sneezing, congestion, runny nose, sore throat, and itchy eyes. One symptom that can often be overlooked is itchy ears. Another symptom that occurs with seasonal allergies is skin rashes. Some patients can experience hives, which are swollen, welt-like red patches, while others can experience a flare up of eczema, which is when the skin is red, itchy and inflamed.
Other symptoms that can occur with seasonal allergies include dark circles under the eyes, wheezing, shortness of breath, cough, fatigue and headaches.
Some tips to reduce your exposure to allergy triggers include the following:
- Keep your windows closed in your home and car to avoid letting in pollen, especially when the local pollen count is high.
- Set your air conditioners to recirculate in your home and car to avoid drawing in outside pollen-rich air.
- Limit your outside exposure in the early morning when pollen counts are the highest as well as on days that are warm, dry and windy
- The best time to go outside is after a good rain because it helps clear pollen from the air
- Avoid hanging laundry outside as pollen can stick to them
- Change and wash clothes that were worn outside
- Shower before going to bed to rinse pollen from your skin and hair as well as to keep it off your bedding.
- Wash bedding in hot, soapy water once a week
- Protect your eyes from pollen by wearing sunglasses
- Use a humidifier to keep indoor air dry
- Use a portable high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter in your bedroom
- Clean the floors frequently with a vacuum cleaner that has a HEPA filter to clean the floors
There are several over-the-counter medications that can help combat allergy symptoms. Oral antihistamines, such as Claritin, Zyrtec and Benadryl help to alleviate itching, sneezing, runny nose, and watery eyes. Oral decongestants, such as Sudafed, help shrink the blood vessels in the nasal passages to reduce swelling and congestion whereas nasal spray decongestants, such as Afrin, help to alleviate nasal stuffiness. There are also combination medications that combine an antihistamine with a decongestant, such as Claritin-D or Allegra-D. If you prefer to avoid taking medications, one effective way to relieve nasal congestion is by rinsing your nasal passages with saline solution in a squeeze bottle or a neti pot. Doing this helps to flush out mucus and allergens from your nose.
If your allergy symptoms persist despite trying over-the-counter remedies, it is important to see a healthcare professional as you may need a prescription-strength antihistamine, nasal spray, or eye drops. A healthcare professional may also recommend skin tests or blood tests to help determine what allergens are triggering your symptoms. Once these allergens have been identified, some patients might consider allergy shots, also known as allergen immunotherapy, if their symptoms are persistent or severe.