Spring has sprung! Unfortunately, the warmer weather is often accompanied by sneezing, watery eyes, and itching – what gives? The truth is, environmental allergies can happen any time of year and can be due to both indoor and outdoor allergens, known as triggers. Many people have their worst symptoms at this time of year, and the culprit is usually pollen. The beautiful spring flowers, trees, and grasses release tiny pollen spores into the air, and they can wreak havoc on our bodies.
“Hay fever” happens when we come into contact with allergens like pollen, either by breathing them in or coming into physical contact with them. Our immune system sees the pollen as a threat, and starts the allergy cascade – first by releasing antibodies to attack the allergens. This causes histamines and other chemicals to be released into the blood, and in turn gives us the classic symptoms – runny nose, itchy/watery eyes, sneezing, and even itchy mouths or throats. Doctors often see other physical signs of allergies, like dark circles under the eyes or a crease across the bridge of the nose from rubbing it.
The best way to prevent allergies in the first place is by avoiding triggers as much as possible.
- Check pollen counts, and minimize outdoor activity as much as you can when they are high. Peak pollen levels are usually in the morning for most plants.
- Keep your doors and windows shut, and clean your air filters regularly.
- Pollen and dust can also collect on bookshelves, in vents, and in blinds and curtains; so make sure to keep those clean also!
- Vacuuming twice a week may help decrease pollen and dust load inside your house – just make sure to wear a mask if you have allergies as vacuuming can temporarily kick up lots of allergens into the air.
Once you have symptoms, there are ways you can help decrease them. Antihistamine medications help block the histamine from causing symptoms, but they can make you sleepy. Look for non-sedating antihistamines for use during the day, but know they might not work as well. More sedating medications like diphenhydramine can be used at night for allergy symptoms. Your doctor might also recommend a steroid nasal spray; these help limit inflammation in your nose and decrease symptoms there, and many are now available over the counter. If you have mostly eye symptoms, there are also eye drops that can help – some are available over the counter, while others require a prescription. Even though some of these medications can be purchased without a prescription, it’s always a good idea to talk with your doctor before starting them to make sure they’re a good idea for you (and to make sure that allergies are actually the cause of your symptoms!).
There are plenty of non-medication treatments too – lots of people find that nasal irrigation, using a squeeze bottle or a neti pot helps flush allergens from their nose and throat to decrease symptoms. Pre-mixed solutions are available to buy, or you can make your own with water, salt, and baking soda. You should always use distilled, sterile, or boiled and then cooled water to make these solutions and make sure to clean and dry your irrigation device after each use. Squirting bacteria directly into your nasal passages may cause local infection, but can cause more serious problems as well, like infections in the brain. Keep the devices clean and follow all directions carefully! Butterbur, which is an herbal supplement, has shown some promise to relieve symptoms as well – again, check with your doctor before taking this.
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