What does spring mean to you? Sun-filled, cool-ish days with a sweet hint of warmth? Early spring flowers like tulips, irises and daffodils? Green grass, bouncy lambs and madly singing birds?
But maybe, like 40 million other Americans, when you think of spring, you think of living with a stuffed-up, runny nose; red, itchy, watery eyes; and a constant cough tickle in the back of your throat for the next several months. There may even be a couple of miserable sinus infections waiting in the wings.
Sounds … not so good.
If allergic rhinitis—commonly referred to as “hay fever”—has you dreading rather than anticipating spring, relax. There are steps you can take to make allergy season less aggravating and uncomfortable.
But first, what is allergic rhinitis? It’s an immune system reaction to the pollen and spores (allergens) released each spring by trees, grasses, weeds, flowers and some fungi, like mushrooms. Pollen floats in the air and forms a fine coating on every possible surface and comes indoors with us on our clothing, our shoes and in our hair.
When pollen is inhaled, the body’s immune system may react by producing antibodies to search out and destroy the foreign invader. The antibodies, in turn, cause the production of chemicals called histamines—and it is these chemicals that cause the characteristic allergic congestion and other symptoms.
So, what can you do to minimize your hay fever?
The best way is to avoid allergens altogether. But since most of us can’t live inside a sterile, airtight plastic bubble, we have to take other steps:
· Pollen counts tend to be highest in the early morning, so try to stay inside
· Keep doors and windows closed during allergy season
· Wear a dust mask outdoors
· Vacuum carpets frequently with a small particle or HEPA filter equipped vacuum cleaner
· Use air conditioning and an allergy-grade filter in your home ventilation system
The following are medicinal remedies that are very effective:
· Take over-the-counter (OTC) or prescription allergy medications. These include antihistamines, such as Benadryl, Allegra and Claritin; oral and nasal corticosteroids, like prednisone and Flonase; and use oral or nasal decongestants, like Sudafed or Afrin. Other allergy medications include cromolyn sodium (a nasal spray), leukotriene modifier, or nasal ipratropium.
· Get allergy shots (immunotherapy). Your doctor or an allergist will give you frequent injections containing a small amount of the allergen you react badly to. The idea is to build up a natural resistance to the allergen over time—usually from three to five years. Immunotherapy is often very effective.
There are also several natural, or alternative, remedies that can be helpful during allergy season:
· Rinse your nasal passages. Using a squeeze bottle or neti pot, you can rinse your sinuses with distilled, sterile saline water. Doing this helps carry away allergens caught in the nasal passages. It also softens and loosens mucous so that you can clear your nose. Used daily during allergy season, this can be a very effective remedy.
· Take herbals. Some herbal remedies and supplements might be helpful, though the benefits are unclear. One is an extract from a shrub called butterbur. Others include honey, capsicum, spirulina, Vit. C and fish oil. Always check with your doctor before taking herbals and supplements.
· Try alternative therapies. Acupuncture, homeopathic remedies, massage and sometimes work for some people, though their benefits have not been clinically proven.
Now, get out there and enjoy the fresh air and beauty of the spring season! For more information about allergies and other medical subjects, click here.
Leslie Vandever is a professional journalist and freelance writer. Under the pen-name “Wren,” she also writes a blog about living well with rheumatoid arthritis called RheumaBlog (www.rheumablog.wordpress.com). In her spare time, Vandever enjoys cooking, reading and working on the Great American Novel.
· Hay Fever. (2012, July 17) Mayo Clinic. Retrieved on January 28, 2014 from http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/hay-fever/basics/definition/con-20020827
· Pollen Allergy. (2012, June 7) National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Retrieved on January 28, 2014 from http://www.niaid.nih.gov/topics/allergicDiseases/understanding/pollenallergy/Pages/default.aspx
· Treatments for Seasonal Allergic Rhinitis. (2013, July 16) Effective Healthcare Program. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services. Retrieved on January 28, 2014 from http://effectivehealthcare.ahrq.gov/index.cfm/search-for-guides-reviews-and-reports/?pageaction=displayproduct&productid=1000
· Rhinitis. (n.d.)American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology. Retrieved on January 28, 2014 from http://www.aaaai.org/conditions-and-treatments/allergies/rhinitis.aspx
· Year-round and Seasonal Allergies. (2009, June) National Sleep Foundation. Retrieved on January 28, 2014 from http://www.sleepfoundation.org/article/sleep-related-problems/allergic-rhinitis-and-sleep
· Allergy Facts and Figures (n.d.) Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. Retrieved on January 29, 2014 from http://www.aafa.org/display.cfm?id=9&sub=30