Sneeze No More: Tips to Combat Spring Allergy Season - Crozer-Keystone Health System - PA

Published on April 14, 2015

Sneeze No More: Tips to Combat Spring Allergy Season

Allergist Sandra Gawchick, D.O. offers advice on managing seasonal allergies.

To request an appointment with Dr. Gawchick
or a member of Asthma and Allergy Associates,
please call 610-876-1249.

With the long winter we just endured, it’s hard to not be ecstatic that spring has finally sprung. Flowers are blooming, the grass is turning green and the trees are coming back to life. But, then you sneeze and remember that one seasonal nuisance – allergies.

“Tree pollen is up right now, that pollen count is high, which it usually is in the early spring,” said Sandra M. Gawchik, D.O., co-director of the Division of Allergy and Immunology at Crozer-Chester Medical Center. “As we proceed into spring, we have other culprits like grass pollen. And later on, in late summer, ragweed tends to be the problem.”

Pollen is released into the air by trees, grass and weeds in order to fertilize other plants, but when it gets into the nose of someone allergic to it, their immune system goes into overdrive – their immune system sees pollen as a foreign invader and releases antibodies, which normally attack bacteria and a viruses we come into contact with. When those antibodies attack allergens, like pollen, chemicals called histamines get released into your blood, which is what triggers symptoms such as itchy, watery eyes, sneezing, a runny nose, itchy throat and more.

If you are one of the 35 million Americans that are sensitive to pollen, there are some things you can do to lessen and prevent these symptoms before they affect your life.

“Start taking an antihistamine early in the season. Many patients use it on an as-needed basis and then they say it doesn’t work, but their symptoms have already started and escalated,” Dr. Gawchik said.

If you can start taking an over-the-counter antihistamine like Allegra, Zyrtec, Claritin or a similar generic medication, it will block your body’s production of histamine in response to allergens, lessening or preventing your symptoms

“Those are the newer, over-the-counter non-sedating antihistamines. There are sedating antihistamines like Benadryl, but I usually suggest patients take non-sedating forms,” she said.

Antihistamines aren’t your only option.

“If your symptoms aren’t controlled by (antihistamines), the inhaled nasal corticosteroids Flonase and Nasacort are both now over-the-counter,” Dr. Gawchik said. You used to need a prescription for these nasal sprays, but not anymore. They cut swelling, mucus and congestion in your nose. But, like antihistamines, she said “the key is to use them throughout allergy season, not just on an as-needed basis.”

But you can do more than take medication and use nasal sprays to keep your allergy systems at bay.

“If the patient is outdoors all day long, it helps if they wash their hair – it removes the pollen from their hair. And if kids are outside playing all day and don't wash the pollen off before bed, they are basically exposed to that pollen all night,” she said.

The timing at which you’re outside can also impact your allergies.

“Outside, the pollen counts are high between 5 and 10 a.m. – that’s the time that most of your pollenating plants pollenate,” Dr. Gawchik explained.

You and your kids aren’t the only ones tracking pollen into the house. When your pets are outside, they can carry dander and pollen indoors, so Dr. Gawchik suggests wiping them down when they come in and washing them more frequently.

When it gets warm out, your first instinct might be to throw open the windows and let fresh air into your house, but you might want to think twice about doing that.

“Sometimes, when it’s nice out, people open their windows, but then the pollen that’s outside gets inside,” Dr. Gawchik said, noting that the same goes for opening the windows when you’re driving. Keeping your windows shut with the air conditioning on ensures the humidity in your home is at a stable level and the pollen stays out.

And if none of these measures help, it may be time to speak with your doctor or allergist about allergy shots or immunotherapy.

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