The Best Ways to Manage Seasonal Allergies
Spring is upon us—finally!
Throughout the warmer months, mold is also
a constant allergy trigger.
While most of us are embracing warmer weather with open arms, it’s a bittersweet time for allergy sufferers as pollen from grass, trees and flowers fills the air. However, that doesn’t mean you have to endure a runny nose, watery eyes and congestion for the remainder of the season.
Approximately 40 million people in the US have some type of seasonal allergy, which results when the body’s immune system reacts to an allergen (such as tree pollen) as if it were a foreign protein or invader in the body that it’s trying to get rid of.
“This time of year, tree pollen is high,” said Dr. Sandra Gawchik, an Allergist and Immunologist at Crozer-Keystone Health System. “In the middle of May, it’s grass pollen. In summer, it’s weeds, such as English plantain. In the middle of August, it’s ragweed.” Throughout the warmer months, mold is also a constant allergy trigger.
Although many people discover they have allergies early on in life, it’s possible for some to develop them later on in adulthood as well. “You may need a longer time of exposure before symptoms occur,” said Dr. Gawchik. Symptoms to look out for include runny, itchy, watery nose and eyes, repeated sneezing, itchy throat and nasal congestion. While some may confuse allergy symptoms with those of a cold, Dr. Gawchik said it’s easy to tell the difference because allergies don’t cause fatigue, muscle aches, fever or severe sore throat.
So what can allergy sufferers do to feel better?
Unfortunately, there’s no cure for allergies. However, Dr. Gawchik says there are three different approaches to treating symptoms: Avoidance, medicine and allergy shots.
“Staying in a pollen-free environment, exercising early in the morning when pollen count is low and changing your clothes and washing your hair after spending a significant amount of time outdoors—since pollen clings to these things—are some ways to limit your exposure to pollen,” said Dr. Gawchik.
Additionally, keep your windows closed and use the air conditioner to keep humidity low, since fresh air lets in pollen and dust mites thrive in humid environments. Avoid using overhead fans as well since they stir up the pollen and dust that settles on them.
“Dust mites can also be a problem for allergies, as they live off human and animal hair and dander,” she added. “Encase mattresses, box springs and pillows in dust mite-proof covers since they can build up in these places.” Additionally, Dr. Gawchik advises sufferers to wash sheets with hot water and dry them in the dryer as opposed to outside, since that can cause them to get covered in pollen.
In addition to limiting your exposure to allergens, you might benefit from taking medications that help relieve symptoms, such as over-the-counter or prescription antihistamines or an intranasal corticosteroid (nasal spray). If you do, Dr. Gawchik advises to take them daily to get ahead of allergy symptoms, even if you’re not necessarily experiencing them. “They work if you start before allergy season; otherwise it takes a little while since you need to get over symptoms you already have.”
If medications don’t work, your doctor might recommend allergy shots. These provide symptom relief by changing how your immune system responds to the specific allergen(s), such as dust, pollen, mold and pets (cat/dog).
If you’re not sure what to do, don’t hesitate to see your physician.
“A lot of patients are embarrassed to go to the doctor because they have a runny, itchy, water nose and see more ‘serious’ patients in the waiting room,” said Dr. Gawchik. “But allergic rhinitis is important.”
If these symptoms go untreated, Dr. Gawchik warns that they can become debilitating since they can make it difficult to breathe, which can then disrupt your sleep. Additionally, 12 percent of those with allergic rhinitis that’s related to a pollen or mold allergy end up developing asthma if not treated properly.
If you’re concerned that you might have allergies or can’t find relief with avoidance techniques or over-the-counter medications, be sure to speak with a board certified allergist.
Visit Crozer-Keystone’s Asthma and Allergy services for more information on how you can minimize the symptoms of this year’s allergy season. To request an appointment with a physician who is right for you, please call 1-800-CK-HEALTH (1-800-254-3258).