Fighting spring allergy symptoms

Author: McLaren Flint

Spring means flowers blooming and lush green grass. If you are sneezing or coughing, and it tends to happen every year around this time, you may have seasonal allergies. You aren’t alone, millions of people have them too. Allergies increase doctor visits, lost school days, lost workdays, and increase the number of prescriptions you may be taking.

According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, allergies are one of the most common chronic diseases. More than 100 million Americans experience various types of allergies each year. There is no cure for allergies, but you can manage them with prevention and treatment. 

Seasonal allergies are usually caused by pollen from trees, grasses, and weeds, depending on the geographic area you call home. More than two-thirds of people with spring allergies experience symptoms all around the year.

“Some people have a higher risk for developing seasonal allergies,” said Uzma Khan, MD, board-certified family medicine physician, a faculty member at McLaren Flint Family Medicine Residency Group Practice, and chair of the Department of Family Medicine at McLaren Flint. “Family history, male gender, birth during the pollen season, firstborn status, early use of antibiotics, maternal smoking exposure in the first year of life, exposure to indoor allergens, such as dust mites, and higher levels of antibodies E (IgE) before age six can all give you a higher likelihood of having allergies.”

Patients with allergies usually experience bouts of coughing, sneezing, runny nose, nasal obstruction, and nasal itching. Postnasal drip, irritability, fatigue, and other bothersome symptoms can also occur. Young children typically do not blow their noses. Instead, they repeatedly snort, sniff, cough, and clear their throats. Some patients experience itching of the palate and inner ear. Those with allergies involving the eyes report bilateral itching, tearing, and/or a burning sensation. 

Seasonal allergies are also called hay fever and allergic rhinitis. Studies have shown that people with both allergic rhinitis and positive allergy skin tests are at higher risk of developing asthma which can cause coughing, wheezing, and difficulty breathing. Allergens can also trigger eczema causing itching and other skin symptoms.

Allergic rhinitis is strongly associated with eustachian tube dysfunction, causing ear infections. Nasal obstruction due to severe allergies can also cause sinusitis and sleep disturbances. Some allergic rhinitis patients can experience increased migraine headaches as well.

Seasonal allergic rhinitis is often diagnosed by the history alone when symptoms happen almost every year at the same time of year,” said Dr. Khan. “If the symptoms are difficult to manage or the trigger(s) are not easy to identify, then further evaluation including allergy skin testing or blood tests for allergen-specific immunoglobulin E (IgE) can be done.”

For many people suffering from allergies, avoiding allergens and taking nonprescription medications is enough to ease symptoms.

To help reduce your exposure to the things that trigger your allergy signs and symptoms (allergens):

• Stay indoors on dry, windy days. The best time to go outside is after a good rain, which helps clear pollen from the air.

• Avoid lawn mowing, weed pulling, and other gardening chores that stir up allergens.

• Remove clothes you've worn outside and shower to rinse pollen from your skin and hair.

• Wear a face mask if you do outside chores.

• Check your local TV or radio station, your local newspaper, or the internet for pollen forecasts and current pollen levels.

• If high pollen counts are forecasted, start taking allergy medications before your symptoms start.

• Avoid outdoor activity in the early morning when pollen counts are highest. Use air conditioning in your house and car instead of opening windows. 

• If you have forced air heating or air conditioning in your house, use high-efficiency filters and follow regular maintenance schedules.

• Keep indoor air dry with a dehumidifier.

• Use a portable high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter in your bedroom.

• Clean floors often with a vacuum cleaner that has a HEPA filter.

“Several types of nonprescription medications can help ease allergy symptoms,” said Dr. Khan. “Oral antihistamines and decongestants, steroid nasal sprays, and cromolyn sodium nasal sprays are all great remedies to discuss with your doctor as treatment for your allergies. Also, nasal irrigation is an effective home remedy that rinses your nasal passages with saline solution, directly flushing out mucus and allergens from your nose.”

Another option for allergy sufferers is allergy shots, which are also referred to as allergen immunotherapy.

Also known as desensitization, this treatment involves regular injections containing tiny amounts of the substances that cause your allergies. Over time, these injections reduce the immune system reaction that causes symptoms. For some allergies, treatment can be given as tablets under the tongue.

To learn more about how to treat your allergies, talk to your primary care physician. If you are in need of a primary care provider who is accepting new patients, click here.