Fitness Facts: Seasonal allergies
By Connie Colbert
Director, Canyon Health and Wellness Clinic
Are you sneezing, have watery eyes and an itchy nose?
Spring has sprung and, along with it, comes blooming flowers and a whole desert landscape of allergen-producing plants. For many, this time of year can be miserable with the onset of seasonal allergies, otherwise known as allergic rhinitis or “hay fever.”
Seasonal allergies, like other types of allergies, develop when the body’s immune system overreacts to something in the environment, usually during spring, summer or fall, when certain plants pollinate.
Common symptoms include:
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Watery and itchy eyes
- Itchy sinuses, throat or ear canals
- Ear congestion
- Postnasal drainage
To reduce your exposure
Reducing sneezing, watery eyes and other symptoms means taking steps to limit your exposure to the allergens that trigger those symptoms. Here are a few things you can do:
- Stay indoors on dry, windy days. The best time to go outside is after a good rain, which helps clear pollen from the air.
- Delegate 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.
- Don’t hang laundry outside — pollen can stick to sheets and towels.
- Wear a pollen mask if you do outside chores.
When pollen counts are high
Take extra steps when pollen counts are high. Seasonal allergy signs and symptoms can flare up when there’s a lot of pollen in the air.
- 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.
- Close doors and windows at night or any other time when pollen counts are high.
- Avoid outdoor activity in the early morning, when pollen counts are highest.
- Keep indoor air clean.
There’s not one product that can eliminate all allergens from the air in your home, but there are things you can do to reduce them.
- Use the air conditioning in your house and car.
- 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.
Some over-the-counter remedies
Also, try an over-the-counter remedy. Several types of nonprescription medications can help ease allergy symptoms.
- Oral antihistamines. Antihistamines can help relieve sneezing, itching, a runny nose and watery eyes. Examples of oral antihistamines include loratadine (Claritin, Alavert), cetirizine (Zyrtec Allergy) and fexofenadine (Allegra Allergy).
- Decongestants. Oral decongestants, such as pseudoephedrine (Sudafed, Afrinol, others) can provide temporary relief from nasal stuffiness. Decongestants also come in nasal sprays, such as oxymetazoline (Afrin) and phenylephrine (Neo-Synephrine). Only use nasal decongestants for a few days in a row. Longer-term use of decongestant nasal sprays can actually worsen symptoms (rebound congestion).
- Nasal sprays, such as Flonase (fluticasone) and NasaCort (triamcinolone) are used to relieve seasonal and year-round allergic and non-allergic nasal symptoms, such as stuffy/runny nose, itching and sneezing. It also can help relieve allergy eye symptoms, such as itchy, watery eyes. This medication belongs to a class of drugs known as corticosteroids. It works in your nose to block the effects of substances that cause allergies (such as pollen, pet dander, dust mites, mold) and to reduce swelling.
- Combination medications. Some allergy medications combine an antihistamine with a decongestant. Examples include loratadine-pseudoephedrine (Claritin-D) and fexofenadine-pseudoephedrine (Allegra-D).
Rinse your sinuses
Rinsing your nasal passages with saline solution (nasal irrigation) is a quick, inexpensive and effective way to relieve nasal congestion. Rinsing directly flushes out mucus and allergens from your nose.
Look for a squeeze bottle or a neti pot — a small container with a spout designed for nasal rinsing — at your pharmacy or health food store. Use water that’s distilled, sterile, previously boiled and cooled, or filtered using a filter with an absolute pore size of 1 micron or smaller to make up the saline irrigation solution. Also be sure to rinse the irrigation device after each use with similarly distilled, sterile, previously boiled and cooled, or filtered water and leave open to air-dry.
When home remedies aren’t enough
You should see your doctor or allergy specialist if over-the-counter medications don’t help. A continuation or worsening of symptoms, despite the use of over-the-counter treatments, could suggest a worse problem, such as a sinus infection.
For many people, avoiding allergens and taking over-the-counter medications is enough to ease symptoms. But if your seasonal allergies are still bothersome, don’t give up. A number of other treatments are available.
If you have bad seasonal allergies, your doctor may recommend that you have skin tests or blood tests to find out exactly what allergens trigger your symptoms. Testing can help determine what steps you need to take to avoid your triggers and identify which treatments are likely to work best for you.
For some people, allergy shots (allergen immunotherapy) can be a good option. 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.