Spring seems to be arriving earlier than ever this year, and -- along with it -- allergy season. As seasons change and rains bring budding trees, green lawns, and fields of flowers, millions of Americans are plagued with spring allergies. More than 35 million people in the United States suffer from allergic rhinitis -- and some may be surprised to learn it's possible to develop allergies later in life as well. It is estimated that the work missed due to allergies amounts to $250 million annually. So, what’s an allergy sufferer to do?
Seasonal allergies often come in three forms: eye allergies (conjunctivitis), skin reactions (dermatitis), and the most common – allergic rhinitis. More than 35 million people in the United States suffer from allergic rhinitis, and it is estimated that the work missed due to allergies amounts to $250 million annually.
The first pollen triggers tend to come from tree pollen, especially in the northern parts of the country. Grass pollen tends to fill the air in late spring. Mold allergens emerge after the first thaw through the first frost, and peak in the late-summer throughout much of the United States.
If you are unsure of your allergy triggers, you can visit your primary care doctor or an allergist to have a skin test. An allergy skin test is the quickest, cheapest, and most accurate way to determine what allergies you have.
Once you know your triggers, it is important to check the local pollen counts and to stay ahead of the triggers. If you decide to treat your allergies with medication, you should ideally start your over-the-counter allergy regimen 1-2 weeks before the pollen season begins.
Allergy treatment: avoid pollen
There are many ways to treat allergies. One of the best ways is to avoid the pollen.
- Keep windows and doors shut at home and in the car – pollen makes its way through screens and open spaces and into your carpeting, seats, and bedding.
- Avoid peak pollen periods – try to avoid early- to mid-morning outdoor activity when pollen counts are highest.
- Minimize pollen contact – if spending a lot of time outside, remove and wash clothes upon returning inside, try to rinse the pollen off your body with a shower, and even consider wearing a dust mask if spending a lot of time in a pollen-rich environment.
- Be careful with pets who go outside – don’t let pets who play outside spend time on your couches or beds, as they will bring pollen with them.
- Don’t hang laundry outside to dry – pollen will stick to clothes that have been hanging outside.
Hot, dry or windy days result in higher pollen counts and often spread the pollen beyond the source; rain helps lower pollen counts by washing it away.
Allergy treatment: medications
Seasonal allergies can also be treated with medications, usually OTC medications. The first step in treating allergic rhinitis is to use over-the-counter, non-sedating antihistamines each morning. If you are still congested, try using a saline nasal rinse or an oral decongestant (talk to your doctor if you have high blood pressure). Saline nasal rinses, when used 1-3 times daily, help reduce congestion and sinus drainage.
If you are unable to find relief through these treatments, talk to your doctor about other options, including corticosteroid nose spray.
You can also treat many allergy-related problems with simple over-the-counter remedies such as lozenges for sore throats and antihistamine drops for itchy, watery eyes.
Talk to your doctor
If you continue to feel badly, are unsure of your symptoms, or have questions about seasonal allergies, talk with your doctor or care team.