Itchy eyes, runny nose, rashes? Hay fever? It must be Spring! Follow an allergist’s hints to minimise seasonal suffering.
The advent of Spring brings blue skies, bird song, sunshine, fresh flowers, green leaves – and hay fever. But with a bit of planning and forethought, allergy misery can be avoided or at least minimised, according to allergist, Dr Mark Dykewicz from Saint Louis University, Missouri, USA.
Dr Dykewicz is professor of internal medicine and chief of allergy and clinical immunology at the Saint Louis University School of Medicine. He produced a fact sheet of tips to help people minimise their hay fever and allergic reactions during Spring.
Although in warmer regions outdoor allergens can be present all year-round, the allergy season generally begins in late Winter or early Spring and runs through late Summer into early Autumn.
Pollens the Main Allergy Culprits
Generally, seasonal allergies are caused by airborne pollens – very fine powder released by trees, grasses and weeds as they pollinate and fertilize other plants of the same kind. Some moulds floating in the air can also contribute to seasonal allergies.
As the season progresses from early Spring through to Autumn, different types of pollens are released by plants and trigger allergic reactions. Trees are generally the first to pollinate, in late winter and spring, although some varieties can pollinate later in the season, depending on the region. The pollination of various grasses follows in late Spring and Summer.
Weeds can pollinate at different times of the growing season, although Dr Dykewicz said the notorious ragweed – prevalent in many areas east of the Rockies in the US – pollinates in late Summer and early Autumn.
Other countries have other weeds, grasses, shrubs and trees which contribute to people’s allergic responses, but the allergy period is usually the same – from Spring to Autumn. Outdoor moulds generally reach their highest levels in late Summer or Autumn, though some warmer regions can have significant outdoor mould counts throughout the year.
Regardless of where you are, geographically, the ways to avoid seasonal allergies are the same commonsense rules.
Five Ways to Avoid Seasonal Allergens
“There are a number of simple steps you can take to help relieve symptoms and minimize your suffering when allergy season kicks into high gear,” Dr Dykewicz said.
1. Use over-the-counter antihistamines: For many people, these drugs are very effective at reducing the classic symptoms of seasonal allergies, including sneezing, runny nose, itchy eyes and, occasionally, scratchy throat. Some of the older-generation antihistamines may make you drowsy, so ask more recent formulations that, cause little or no drowsiness
2. Keep doors and windows closed: You can’t completely seal off your home from the outside, but keeping doors and windows closed can help prevent pollens and outdoor moulds from entering. When the weather turns nice and you’re tempted to open windows to let in “fresh” air, it may be better to keep them closed and turn on your air conditioner or electric fan if you’re particularly sensitive.
3. Limit outdoor activity: Avoid being outdoors – especially to exercise – when pollen counts are high, or on windy days when pollen and moulds are being blown about. In general, pollen counts are highest in the early morning, from about 5 a.m. to 10 a.m.
4. Keep car windows up: Closing your car windows when driving helps keep out pollens, dust and mould.
5. Take a shower and change clothes: Pollen can collect on your clothes and in your hair, so when you’ve been outside for any significant amount of time, shower and change into fresh clothes as soon as you get home.
If All Else Fails
If you’ve followed all these steps and allergies are still making you miserable, it’s time to see a doctor. There are prescription medications that can help reduce or block seasonal allergy symptoms, including oral antihistamines and nasal sprays. Dr Dykewicz said nasal sprays tend to be the most effective at relieving symptoms by helping reduce inflammation and counteracting the allergic response.