The good news? Spring is here. The not-so-good news? Spring allergies are here.
More than 20 million Americans are bracing for the parade of annual miseries: stuffy nose, sniffling, sneezing, coughing and itchy, runny eyes that may grind on for weeks or even months as grass, trees and weeds roar back to life.
DON'T forget the possibility of COVID.
Don’t assume a runny nose, scratchy throat, post-nasal drip and congestion mean you have a seasonal allergy. "All of those things go with both allergies and COVID-19," Peterson pointed out.
If you're sneezing and have itchy, watery eyes, it's probably an allergy. If you have a cough, fever or upper respiratory symptoms such as congestion, it could be COVID. Take a home test if you have one, and call your health care provider if you test positive or fever persists. (If you haven't done so already, visit covidtests.gov to order free at-home tests from the U.S. government.)
DO try drugstore remedies first.
Over-the-counter antihistamines like Claritin, Zyrtec and Allegra, as well as nasal sprays such as Flonase and Astepro, can provide much-needed relief. Generic brands with the same active ingredients are cheaper, of course. Check with your provider about how other medications you’re taking might interact.
Some people get a lot of relief from Sudafed and generics, but those are kept behind the pharmacy counter. Also, those medications can raise blood pressure, so it’s best to consult with your provider first.
Afrin is a popular nasal decongestant that helps with congestion in as little as one minute. However, use of this medication for longer than three days is not recommended because it can end up causing rebound congestion and making the problem worse. Limit its use to only three days.
Primary care physicians can help you alleviate severe allergy symptoms.
While expectant mothers can use many over-the-counter allergy products safely, it's always best to check with your ob-gyn, Peterson said.
DON'T let pollen inside.
Avoid the temptation to fling open doors and windows on sunny, spring days. Keep them closed to keep allergens out, Peterson said. After you work in the yard or take a long walk, remove your shoes before you go inside. Toss your clothes in the wash, take a shower. If you're sensitive, wash your hair, too, so pollen doesn't wind up on your pillow.
And don't forget Fido. After his spring walk, give him a good brushing before you let him inside, Peterson said. If you share a bed, train your pet to sleep on a blanket away from your face — and wash that blanket often.
A room air purifier or whole-house HEPA filter can help remove allergens from your air. Frequent dusting and vacuuming are a must.
DO flush the problem out.
Using a neti pot to rinse debris or mucus from your nasal cavities often helps, Peterson said. You simply fill the pot with a sterile saline solution, bend over a sink, turn your head at a 45-degree angle, press the spout into the uppermost nostril and pour. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a how-to guide.
"It's a good place to start for most people with significant symptoms," said Peterson, who recommends flushing once or twice a day. To prevent infection, always use distilled water or water that has been boiled and cooled. Pre-packaged solutions are made for this purpose.
DON'T be impatient.
Whatever you decide to try, give it a couple weeks to work, Peterson said. If symptoms persist, call your health care provider to weigh next steps. He or she may prescribe a stronger medication — or even recommend allergy testing. Patients with severe spring symptoms may need to see a specialist for regular allergy shots.
DO investigate alternatives.
While some patients swear by natural remedies like honey, butterbur or capsaicin and others say acupuncture helps, Peterson said proof of their effectiveness is not conclusive. They probably won't hurt, she added. One overlooked strategy to fight spring allergies that might pay off fast, however, is signing up for updates on North Carolina pollen levels from the National Allergy Bureau.
And, finally, DO watch the clock.
If you must be outdoors on a high pollen day, time it right. Pollen levels are high early in the morning — evening is better. Pollen levels also drop the day after it rains. But, if you must work outside when pollen is high, say to mow a lawn you've been trying to ignore, dig out that leftover N95 or K95 mask you bought during the pandemic and put it on to reduce your pollen exposure.
Finally, mark your calendar for mid-February. That's when it's time to start taking allergy meds to get a head start on another sneezin' season.