UPMC allergist: Relief from seasonal allergies possible
Spring this year brings warmer weather and an awakening from what many would consider as a harsh winter here in northcentral Pennsylvania. The flowers, the butterflies, the fresh air. It’s a beautiful time of year unless you suffer from allergies. Suddenly, those signs of spring become signs of impending sneezing, coughing, sore throats, and puffy, watery, red eyes. Spring allergies can wreak havoc in your body. Having a better understanding of your allergies can help you find relief.
Common Spring Allergies
The most common spring allergies relate to the changes that happen during the season. During winter, there aren’t many plants growing, so you don’t have to deal with pollen. After winter passes, plants begin to grow again, which increases the amount of pollen in the air. Common seasonal allergies, also called hay fever, typically relate to those increased pollen counts.
Trees and flowers are the most common culprits, along with weeds and grasses. The worst offenders are the plants and flowers that produce powdery pollen. Unlike some flowers, such as roses, that produce pollen that is primarily transported by insects, flowers with powdery pollen sends the allergen out into the environment with every breeze that passes. Grass pollen is most often a problem in late spring heading into summer.
Those gentle spring breezes that feel so nice are also responsible for spreading the pollen around your neighborhood. Because it is carried by wind, pollen is basically everywhere during spring, which makes it difficult to escape. In fact, wind can carry pollen for miles, so you may have allergic reactions to plants that are nowhere near you at the time.
Allergy symptoms are your body’s natural response to invading micro-organisms such as pollen, dust mites, animal dander, molds, and foods. When you encounter these micro-particles, your body releases chemicals called histamines to attack and destroy the invaders.
The defensive attack can come in the form of:
• watery eyes
• a runny or stuffy nose
• post-nasal drip
• loss of taste
The severity of your spring allergy symptoms depends on several factors. The amount of pollen in the air is often a factor. On days when the pollen count is very high, you may notice more severe symptoms. Your body’s sensitivity level is also a factor. If you’re recently had contact with other allergens, that contact could affect how your body reacts to pollen in the air. Because seasonal allergy reactions can lead to asthma and sinus infections, it’s best to be proactive and keep your symptoms under control.
It’s amazing how something so tiny can cause so much discomfort in the body. If you could live in a bubble for all of spring, you might be able to avoid the pollen. While there’s no realistic way to avoid pollen completely, you can minimize the allergic reaction to make your life a little more comfortable.
Try these methods of managing your allergies.
• Keep Windows Closed: Opening windows to let in the fresh spring air is delightful, but you’re also inviting in all the pollen that can cause your allergic reaction. Instead, keep the windows and doors in your home closed as much as possible. This minimizes your contact with pollen, at least while you’re inside your home. The same idea applies when you’re diving.
• Wait for Damp Days to Go Outside: The amount of pollen in the air varies from day to day. When possible, avoid spending time outdoors on days when the pollen counts are high. Your best bet is to spend time outside on damp, cloudy days without a breeze, or after it has rained.
• Filter Your Air: Air filters can help remove even tiny particles, such as pollen and mold spores. Using air filters minimizes your exposure to those allergens while you’re inside your home. HVAC units often have the option of special allergy filters that help remove the particles. You can also use a freestanding air purifier. Change or clean the filter frequently to keep the machine running at peak performance.
• Have Someone Else Handle Yardwork: Mowing, weeding, raking, and other outdoor maintenance tasks put you in contact with a huge number of allergens. When you mow or rake, all those allergens get stirred up, which exposes you to even higher numbers. Let someone else in the family handle those tasks or hire a lawn care service to maintain your exterior.
• Take Allergy Medication: Even when you take precautions, you may still experience allergic reactions. When this happens, antihistamines or medications designed for allergies may minimize the symptoms. Taking an antihistamine on days when pollen counts are particularly high may help minimize the effects when you head outdoors.
If you’re struggling to find relief, talk to your primary care provider. Your provider can help order testing to help better understand your allergies and develop a management plan. They can also refer you to an allergist or ear, nose, and throat specialist if advanced treatment is needed.
Dr. Nathaniel Hare is an allergist with UPMC. He sees patients at 1705 Warren Ave., Suite 303, Williamsport. To schedule an appointment with Dr. Hare, call 570-320-7070. For more information, visit UPMCSusquehanna.org/allergy.