Spring is in the air- along with allergies

April 5, 2010 10:34:25 AM PDT
Tips for managing spring allergies.

(Release) While most of us can't wait to get out and enjoy the bright sunshine, green grass and blossoming flowers, the change of season signals the start of spring allergies for an estimated 40 million Americans.

Experts anticipate allergy sufferers to experience the first signs of the season within the next week, but say there are ways to avoid being sidelined by troublesome symptoms.

"More Americans than ever before report suffering from seasonal allergies," said Anju Peters, MD, allergist at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. "There are no cures for allergies, but with lifestyle modifications and medications individuals with allergies should be able to lead a normal, healthy life."

The biggest spring allergy trigger is pollen and in the "Windy City" it can spread for miles, creating a path of misery for allergy sufferers along the way. When pollen gets into the nose of someone who's allergic, their immune system kicks into overdrive. Histamine and other substances are released that cause runny nose, stuffiness, coughing, itchy eyes, sneezing, and sinus inflammation.

"If allergies aren't treated properly the symptoms can take a toll on a person's quality of life," said Dr. Peters. "Symptoms such as fatigue, headaches and loss of sleep can result in low productivity at school and work. Allergies can also trigger asthma in some individuals."

While it's nearly impossible to completely avoid allergies, Dr. Peters says there are steps you can take to find relief.

  • Visit your doctor ? If you've never been formally diagnosed with spring allergies but you notice your eyes and nose are itchy and runny during the spring months, Dr. Peters recommends seeing your doctor. Your doctor may then recommend you to an allergist if symptoms are not easily treated. An allergy specialist may perform a skin test, which involves injecting a tiny sample of a diluted allergen into the skin on your arm. If you're allergic to the substance, a small red bump will develop. A blood test can also be used to detect allergies. Once your doctor finds the source of the allergy a plan of action can be made to alleviate symptoms.
  • Prepare for the outdoors ? Pay attention to pollen and mold counts, and air quality so you can plan your time outdoors and avoid times of day when allergens peak. For example exercising later in the day when pollen counts are lower may cause fewer symptoms.
  • Safeguard the indoors ? Change air filters in your home often. Regular dusting and vacuuming can also help remove allergens. Since pollens are known to stick to fabric, Peters also recommends removing clothing that's been worn outside when you get home and taking a shower to rinse allergens from your body. If you suffer from severe allergies and are having difficulty breathing it's best to keep windows and doors closed whenever possible during the spring months to keep allergens out.
  • Know the calendar- It's important to know when allergens peak during the year so you can take steps to improve your symptoms. Tree pollen sufferers will be affected from March to May. The summer months bring grass pollen, and ragweed is high during late summer and early fall. In the fall, mold allergies will occur until the first frost. Peters says new data shows that allergy seasons are lasting much longer possibly due to global warming.
  • Doctors treat allergies with a number of over-the-counter and prescription drugs. If you suffer from mild symptoms start with over-the-counter remedies.

    "There are a variety of different medications out there to help with allergies. Some common options include antihistamines which reduce sneezing, sniffling and itching. Decongestants may help with the stuffiness but should not be taken if you have high blood pressure. There are also nasal sprays that can be prescribed by your physician and are very effective in treating allergies," said Peters.

    If you find that over-the-counter remedies still aren't bringing relief, make an appointment with your doctor to discuss other options such as allergy shots.

    For more information, visit nmh.org and aaaai.org