Does this spring find you sneezing, sniffling and itching? You’re in good company right now, in large part due to the high tree pollen counts. This year’s allergy season is a little bit late due to the cold winter; however, once it started, it hit suddenly and hard.
Also, the season hasn’t peaked yet. I think we’ll see highest pollen counts around the third week of April, and then it will start to drop gradually. Through the summer, we can start expecting to see grass pollen. In late summer and fall, we see weed pollens and mold spores really increase. Those with seasonal allergies may suffer during any season, depending on the type of allergy they have.
Treating/Managing Seasonal Allergies
Try these steps in the order listed to treat and manage your allergies.
Reducing exposure to allergens
Avoiding pollen is the first step to reduce or even prevent the allergic reaction. There is nothing we can do to prevent trees from pollinating, but we can prevent the tree pollen from coming into our indoor environment. When pollen counts are high, try these tips:
Air purifier -
- Keep your windows closed (both house and car).
- In your car, use your air conditioning. Using the vent just brings pollen in from the outside and blows it right into your face!
- If you have to be outside, wear sunglasses to help keep pollen out of your eyes.
- If you spend a lot of time outside, be sure to shower and wash your hair before going to bed. Your hair collects a lot of pollen and if you don’t wash it out, it gets deposited on your pillow.
- Don’t hang your laundry outside to dry.
- If you have yard work or gardening to do, try to avoid the early morning, as pollen counts are highest then. Wearing a breathing/dust mask can also help—especially if you’re mowing.
I’m often asked about using an air purifier to manage allergies. An air purifier can help reduce exposure to indoor allergens, such as pet allergies and the pollen/mold that comes in from outside. This has to be used as a preventative measure before the onset of symptoms. Of course, this won’t help reduce exposure to outdoor allergens. It’s also not as helpful with dust mites, as dust mites are very “heavy” proteins, and don’t float in the air. They settle into pillows, blankets and bedding.
Nasal Irrigation -
Some people find relief from using nasal irrigation. It can really help, especially for patients who have a history of sinusitis. You actually “rinse out” the irritating allergens from the nasal passages.
There are a few options. There is a nasal saline spray, and two types of sinus rinses. One is a neti pot; the other is a water bottle, which gives more pressure than the neti pot. They can all be purchased at a drug store.
Medication for controlling allergy symptoms
Once you’ve worked to reduce exposure to the allergen, the next step for symptom control is medication. There are some medicines that have more significant “sleepiness” side effects than others. For example, Benadryl and other sedating antihistamines can make you feel very groggy. Most of the 24-hour antihistamines, such as Claritin and Allegra, don’t typically cause as much sleepiness. Zyrtec does make about 10% of users drowsy. Taking medications before bed can help reduce the daytime sleepiness. I recommend these medications for people of all ages. They’re over-the-counter, and do not require a prescription.
Eye drops can also be helpful in reducing itchy eyes. Alaway and Zaditor are two over-the-counter eye drops that can help reduce the watery, itchy eye symptoms.
Two nasal steroid sprays are now over-the-counter that weren’t just a year ago or so ago. Nasacort and Flonase both work to reduce inflammation and allergic reaction inside the nose. They’re non-habit forming, and are even safe for kids. And now you don’t need a prescription.
These nasal steroid sprays can be even more effective if you start them prior to symptom onset, such as a week or two before your allergy season starts.
Allergy testing/immunotherapy (“allergy shots”)
Some people try to “power through” their allergy symptoms, thinking of them as more of an annoyance or nuisance than a real problem. But allergies can take their toll on your overall health.
They can impact your sleep, which leads to poor concentration at work or school. Sinus infections can result when the sinuses are constantly inflamed. Asthma can also be the result of allergies. Plus, just being miserable from allergies can put you in a bad mood and affect your quality of life—as well as the people around you!
If your allergies aren’t manageable through medications and avoidance, a next step may be allergy testing and shots.
Allergy testing is a way for you to determine what you are allergic to so you can focus on avoiding those specific allergens. It’s normally done with a skin prick test. For this test, your inner arms are poked with drops of liquid that contains allergens, and your individual reaction to each drop is monitored. A bump and redness are indicative of an allergic reaction. The test takes about 30 minutes to complete.
Once your specific allergens have been identified, then you can consider the option of immunotherapy, also known as allergy shots. Allergy shots gradually help you become less allergic to certain allergens. They are custom-made to a particular patient based on their skin testing results.
We start off with an extremely low dose of what the patient is allergic to, and give the injection into the back side of the upper arm. It is not an intramuscular shot, so it doesn’t hurt like many shots do. Each week, the patient receives
an increasing dose of their allergy vaccine, thus making them tolerant to these allergens. The shots start out weekly, and after about 8 months, are spread out to monthly shots. Patients receive monthly injections for 4-5 years.
Visit the Deaconess Clinic Allergy Department page to learn more. We have two convenient locations to service the community.