Flowers are blossoming, trees are budding and leafing, and people are starting to cough, sneeze, and sniffle. Seasonal allergies begin affecting millions of Americans each year as early as
February, when pollens and mold spores start to become active, according to experts at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (ACAAI). Find out what you can do to relieve sneezing, sniffling, and other spring allergy symptoms.
Know your triggers
Pollens from trees, plants, and weeds are the most common sources of hay fever (also known as seasonal allergic rhinitis), say experts at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID).
These pollens can cause runny nose, sneezing, and congestion, and they can make your eyes itchy, red, and watery. If the springtime is particularly rainy or if it’s warm and humid, people who are sensitive to mold may experience increased allergy symptoms.
Limit your exposure
Keep tabs on the pollen and mold counts in your area during allergy season. This information is often reported on television and radio and in the newspaper, and you can look it up online. When counts are high, stay inside as much as you can and keep windows and doors closed to help cut down on the allergens you’re exposed to, especially during the afternoon, when pollen counts typically peak.
Additionally, keep the doors and windows of your car closed as much as possible during allergy season. If you’re driving in warm weather, use the air conditioner to keep cool. If you need to go outside to tend your garden, do yard work, or mow the lawn, experts at the ACAAI suggest you wear a filter mask rated N95 by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. Finally, do your best to clean off any pollen or mold spores after you’ve been outdoors by taking a shower, washing your hair, and changing your clothes.
It’s practically impossible to completely avoid contact with spring pollens and molds, so people with allergies often need medication to cope with their symptoms. Some medications can be purchased over the counter; others must be prescribed by a doctor or an allergist.
If you have a history of allergies, your doctor or allergist may recommend starting your allergy treatment regimen two weeks prior to the beginning of allergy season. Medications commonly used to treat spring allergies include:
- Antihistamines. These oral medications help relieve sneezing, sniffling, and itchiness around the nose and eyes, as well as watering of the eyes that results from allergic rhinitis. They’re effective, but they can cause drowsiness.
- Decongestants. These can help reduce stuffiness, swelling, and sinus discomfort. They come in both capsule and spray forms and are often prescribed along with antihistamines. Just remember to limit your use of nasal decongestants for short-term relief, as they can worsen symptoms if you use them for too long. Follow the instructions on the packaging.
- Cromolyn sodium. This type of nasal spray can help prevent the onset of allergic rhinitis by inhibiting the substances that cause your nasal passages to swell. It works best when you use it before you come into contact with the pollen or mold that causes your allergies.
- Topical nasal steroids. These anti-inflammatory medications help keep allergic reactions at bay. When combined with antihistamines, topical nasal steroids can be especially helpful for people with moderate to severe symptoms.
- Allergen immunotherapy. For some people, especially those with moderate to severe symptoms, allergy shots are recommended. This treatment can provide long-lasting relief from spring allergies, but it can also cause some serious side effects; it’s therefore best to be monitored by an allergist or other health care professional for a certain period after you get the shots.
Other things you can do
While they won’t clear up your allergies altogether, air purifiers, filters, humidifiers, and air conditioners may help provide additional relief from spring allergy symptoms.
Finally, if you’re experiencing moderate to severe symptoms, or if you’ve developed any additional complications, like sinusitis or asthma, be sure to make an appointment to be evaluated by your doctor or an allergist.