By Dr. Nina Radcliff
With Spring’s temperatures warming up, you may find yourself among the estimated 50 million people throughout our nation afflicted with puffy, itchy eyes; a scratchy throat; sneezing and coughing; or even shortness of breath. Reports are that local hospitals, clinics and doctor’s offices are seeing high volumes of people suffering from allergies this season. And those with asthma may find seasonal allergies are making their condition harder to control. Also if you think you are immune to allergies but have noticed some of these symptoms, understand this….allergies can begin at any point in your life.
During this time of the year, major allergy triggers are often related to tree and flower pollination that occurs in the Spring. These pollens are often lightweight and can travel significant distances, often ending up in people’s noses and mouths.
And as much as we enjoy the charms of spring, seasonal allergies — also called hay fever and allergic rhinitis — can make you feel miserable. Add to this, allergies can affect your quality of your life—sinus infections, disrupting sleep, and ability to perform well on projects at work or in school. While there is no known cure for allergies, they can be managed through prevention and treatment. So, if you are – or someone you love is — battling allergies, here are some tips to help alleviate symptoms and manage seasonal allergies.
Dr. Nina’s What You Need To Know: About Allergy Season and How to Manage It:
What is pollen? The fertilizing element of flowering trees, grass and weeds. Because pollen is lightweight, wind readily carries it over large distances. Unfortunately for seasonal allergy sufferers, this also facilitates its ability to land on our nostrils and enter our lungs.
And while we are most cognizant of the yellow pollen that collects on our cars, it is often the ones that are not visible to the human eye, that bring on misery to allergy sufferers.
Depending on where you live there are generally three pollen seasons – in the spring, trees and flowers; in the summer, grasses; and in the fall, leaves, weeds (and molds).
How does pollen cause allergy symptoms? For some of us, our body sees pollen as a foreign invader. And, as a result, it mounts a fierce, take-no-prisoners attack by releasing chemicals such as histamine or leukotrienes. These fancy – and hard to pronounce and spell – chemicals work diligently to remove the foreign invader by making us sneeze, our nose run, our eyes water, and cough. And although this is a clever disposal system, it can be agonizing.
What other problems can allergies cause? While the symptoms can cause misery, seasonal allergies can also create a plethora of other health problems:
- Sleep deprivation can result from nasal congestion or coughing that keeps us from falling asleep or wakes us up at night. This can lead to daytime drowsiness and its associated problems—difficulty concentrating, grouchiness, and headaches, to name a few.
- Asthmatics can experience an exacerbation of their otherwise well-managed symptoms. because pollen is an asthma trigger.
- Chronic sinusitis—seasonal allergies can cause chronic inflammation of the nasal passages along with mucus production that results in obstruction and subsequent bacterial obstruction
- There is also some research that suggests seasonal allergies can contribute to chronic fatigue syndrome and depression (possibly from sleep deprivation or triggered by inflammatory reactions in the body).
Also, it is surprisingly difficult to differentiate between a cold and allergies—they share similar symptoms—tired, itchy, runny nose, sneezing. This is particularly the case around this time of year, when the “illness” is just getting started.
- Allergies don’t cause a fever. If temperature is elevated, it is a good sign you have a cold.
- Length of time—allergy symptoms last weeks or months if left untreated, but a cold clears up in a week.
Seasonal Allergies and Asthma: Allergy Symptoms Could Trigger Asthma Attacks
Allergies do not automatically cause people to develop asthma.
What are some tips to survive allergy season?
If you know you suffer with seasonal allergies, start to protect yourself early on – if you have not already, take action now (before your eyes start watering and you start sneezing). And take these steps to help with relief:
Reduce your exposure to triggers:
- Block pollen from making contact with your hair and eyes by wearing a large-brim hat or cap and large sunglasses when outdoors
- Minimize time spent outdoors when pollen counts are high—this typically runs midday to afternoon—and, too, when it is windy
Keep pollen out of the home:
- Upon entering the home, make sure to change your clothes and take a shower immediately. And, park your shoes at the door.
- Use air-conditioning in the house or car
- Close windows at night or when the pollen count is high
- Wash bedding in hot water at least once a week
- Change air filters and choose high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters. They are specially designed to trap pollen and dust and can provide much needed relief from pollen in the house
- Wipe down our beloved furry friends (pets) before they enter the house
What are some effective home remedies?
- Inhaling steam through our nose is a simple method to refresh and soothe irritated sinuses and help rid the nasal passages of mucus. After boiling several cups of water, pour them into a big bowl, lean over the bowl, and drape a towel over your head. Then, breathe gently for 5 to 10 minutes.
- Saline sprays are a simple and effective method to flush pollen out of our nasal passages, thin and clear mucus, and combat the drying effects of prescription allergy medications. They are available at most pharmacies and can also be made by mixing a teaspoon of salt into 1 quart of distilled or boiled water and using a baby aspirator to administer it once the water cools.
- Neti pots are typically made of ceramic or plastic and can best be described as a cross between a small teapot and Aladdin’s magic lamp. They use a mechanism similar to saline sprays–the nasal cavities are rinsed with a saline solution to flush pollen out and soften mucus. The difference is that instead of squeezing a bottle, the “snout” of the pot delivers the solution.
What are some over-the-counter medications?
• Antihistamines relieve sneezing, runny nose, and itchy eyes and nose. Examples: diphenhydramine, loratadine, cetirizine, and fexofenadine.
• Decongestants alleviate nasal stuffiness by shrinking the lining of nasal passages. Examples: pseudoephedrine, phenylephrine, and oxymetazoline
What are some prescription medications?
• Nasal corticosteroids are an effective way to decrease all seasonal allergy symptoms by blocking allergic reactions and decreasing inflammation. And because it is directly administered into the nostrils, they tend to have the fewest side effects.
• Leukotriene receptor antagonists inhibit the action of leukotrienes, which send signals to the body to mount an attack against pollen.
• Immunotherapy introduces the allergen in small amounts to the body to boost tolerance to pollen and blunt the body’s allergic response. It is available as allergy shots or sublingual tablets.
Always check with your pharmacist before starting any new medication – and always discuss all other medications you are taking prior to starting any new medications. Follow instructions on the label. nd if you are not getting relief – DO NOT take more medication than recommended in an attempt to lessen your symptoms but call your primary physician to determine which treatment is best for your symptoms.
This season, be proactive about your allergies. Educate yourself about your triggers, seek your primary physicians help — and ensure you have an effective treatment to provide symptom relief.
Dr. Nina Radcliff is dedicated to her profession, her patients and her community, at large. She is passionate about sharing truths for healthy, balanced living as well as wise preventive health measures.
She completed medical school and residency training at UCLA and has served on the medical faculty at The University of Pennsylvania. She is a Board Certified Anesthesiologist and a member of the American Society of Anesthesiologists where she serves on committees for Young Physicians and Communications. Author of more than 200 textbook chapters, research articles, medical opinions and reviews; she is often called upon by media to speak on medical, fitness, nutrition, and healthy lifestyle topics impacting our lives, today.