Spring has sprung, and so have our allergies

May 23, 2011 Marlene Peng, MD


For many, spring is time to celebrate the end of constant rain and cold weather. For those with allergies, however, spring signals the beginning of misery. Often it starts with a little runny nose and tickle in the throat, but then becomes constant congestion, itchy eyes and nose and coughing.

Seasonal allergic rhinitis, or “hay fever,” affects more than 20% of people in the United States. Allergies are triggered by allergens such as pollen or mold spores. Many trees, grasses and weeds contain small and light pollens that are easily carried by the wind, causing allergy symptoms to flare up during their pollination season.

Unless an allergy sufferer decides never to go outside during the allergy season, preventing exposure to pollens will be difficult. Some tips that can decrease exposure include keeping the windows closed when pollen counts are high, washing hands and face after coming indoors or showering before bed, and wearing a mask when mowing the lawn or gardening. Peak pollen times are between 5 AM-10 AM, so minimizing outdoor activity during this time will also decrease exposure.

Allergies not only cause nasal and eye discomfort; they also can trigger complications such as asthma and chronic sinus or ear infections. It becomes even more important in these cases to treat allergies for prevention of these more serious diseases.

An allergist can test to determine exactly which pollen is causing difficulty, select the appropriate medication to take and discuss alternate therapy options. An allergist also will assess and treat the complications such as asthma. There are many treatment options for allergies that include antihistamines, nasal sprays, and allergy shots.

Many people ask whether allergy shots really work, and the answer is a resounding yes. Treatment is based on the concept that the immune system can be desensitized to specific allergens that trigger symptoms. While common allergy medications may control symptoms, once you stop taking them, the symptoms return. The benefit of allergy shots is that they actually change your immune system’s reaction, such that it no longer sees the pollens as allergic. There are pros and cons to allergy shots, but they are a cost-effective approach to managing allergy symptoms.


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