April 05, 2011
Spring is in the air. The flowers, plants, and trees are a welcome sight after a long, cold winter. But to 35 million Americans with what are called "seasonal allergies," spring is not so beautiful. It can be a time of itchy eyes, runny noses, scratchy throats, and feeling very tired. These symptoms are caused by allergens, which are at their peak in the spring.
Allergens are things that can cause allergic reactions in people. Common allergens include pollen, dander, and mold. These allergens are often at their peak in the spring, but our reactions to them may not end then. Even as spring allergen levels drop back, new pollens kick up from grasses and flowers. Then the weeds start releasing their summer and fall pollen, and this goes on until the heavy frosts of winter return.
For people with long-term allergies, it's really a must to see a primary care doctor or allergist. Most likely, you'll be given a prescription or shot to help control your allergies. Meanwhile, for people with milder seasonal allergies, there are other options.
WebMD.com has several ideas for attacking allergies. You can keep your windows closed even on nice spring days. You can also take a shower when you come into your house after being outdoors.
"After you come inside on a spring day you're covered in allergens," says Neil Kao, MD. And, allergens like pollen tend to stick to cloth. So if you sit on a couch or sleep in a bed while you're covered in allergens, you can get up in misery. In fact, when you come in from outdoors you can trail allergens all through your house. You might end up with an indoors as "allergic" as the outdoors. So wash your bedding, your pajamas, and your clothes as often as possible. Also, vacuum your rugs and carpets twice a week. That way you'll get rid of allergens during the spring season.
Another tip from WebMD.com is to filter your home's air. Change the filter in your furnace and run the air conditioner. If you have an attic fan, turn it off so the fan won't pull in pollen-filled outside air.
USA Today has more tips for fighting spring allergies, like taking off your shoes when you come into your home. By doing this, you won't track allergens through your house. Also, don't dry your clothes outside, since allergens stick to fabrics. Finally, you can "scrub" pollen from your home's air by using room air purifiers with high-efficiency particulate air, also called "HEPA" filters. These remove 99 percent of allergens from the air.
But nobody wants to spend their entire spring indoors - even people with allergies. If you do go outside, follow these tips from USA Today to ease your symptoms:
Go out early or late in the day. Pollen counts are usually highest in late morning and early afternoon.
The cooler the day, the better. Warm temperatures and higher humidity raise pollen and mold-spore levels. Pollen levels are lowest on cloudy, rainy, or still days. No wind means fewer problems. On windy days, pollen and mold blow around, too.
Stay out of the woods. Woody and grassy areas are the worst for people with allergies. Try an escape to the beach instead, since beaches have less pollen.
Watch your pets during allergy season. Pets who go in and out all day often track pollen into the house. This means you should choose to make your pet an indoor one or an outdoor one. When you can control comings and goings, you control the allergens in your home.
The Minneapolis Examiner tells us that locally harvested honey may help with minor allergies, especially watery eyes and itchy noses. Honey made from local bees is said to work like an allergy shot. Because it has small amounts of digested pollens that cause a response in our bodies, honey helps our systems get ready for the spring pollens to come. Start taking a teaspoon of honey each day for a few months before allergy season. By the time spring arrives, you may have built up some resistance to the allergens.
If changing things in your life and home doesn't work for you, it might be time to head for the store. One option is something called a salt-water nasal rinse. Nasal rinses wash out dust and pollen in your nose, which can help make it easier to breathe. They may not sound like fun, but nasal rinses often really help.
WebMD.com also lists something called "antihistamines" - medicines that work to fight an allergic reaction. Many of these drugs can be bought without a prescription. Taken once a day, they work all day and have few side effects.
Note: Never take medicine without talking with your doctor. You should even tell your doctor about over-the-counter medicines. Some medicines are dangerous for people with medical conditions.
If none of these things work, you should see an allergist, a doctor whose main focus is allergy care. An allergist offers all the options: prescription antihistamines, prescription eye drops to treat red, watery eyes, and other medicines too. Some people do better with one antihistamine than another. An allergist can help you find which is best for you.
If your main allergy problem is nasal congestion, you may need an intranasal steroid spray. This can help shrink swollen tissues, and make the nose less sensitive to pollen.
Your doctor may also prescribe decongestants. These loosen mucus and help with nasal congestion and sinus headaches. And then there are combination drugs, which attack several problems at once.
Finally, if new habits or allergy prescriptions don't help, you may want to ask about allergy shots. These may make you less sensitive to the pollen that sets allergies off. Allergy shot treatment usually takes between three and five years. During this time, people receive greater doses of allergens until their bodies become used to them and don't react as strongly.
As you can see, there are ways for people with allergies to enjoy spring. Just follow the tips above, and you may have fewer problems. You've waited all winter for spring to arrive. Wouldn't it be great to get out and enjoy it this time around?
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