Spring is officially here and so is allergy season. If
you’re one of the 50
million Americans who suffer from seasonal allergies, this spring may make
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is calling
for one of the most severe allergy seasons in years because of the damp, cold
“A warm, dry spring following a wet winter is a recipe for
high pollen counts,” Dr. John Bosso, chief of allergy and immunology at Nyack
Hospital in New York, said in a release. “If we were to have a wet spring,
pollen might not be such a problem.”
In Charlotte, allergy season is in full bloom. “We started
seeing patients with allergy symptoms 3-4 weeks earlier than usual,” said
Jack Shepherd, a specialist in family medicine practicing at Novant Health Urgent Care & Occupational Medicine in Matthews, North Carolina.
“Overall, we’re seeing an increase in people with seasonal
allergies, many of whom say they weren’t bothered by allergies years ago,” he
Allergies are the sixth leading cause of chronic illness in
the U.S. with an annual cost of more than $18 billion. As many as 1 in
5 Americans suffer from allergies each year, reports the
American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.
You may already be experiencing the hallmarks of seasonal
allergies: sneezing, runny nose, congestion, watery eyes and itching that are
symptoms of allergic rhinitis or hay fever, the other names for allergies.
Seasonal allergies are reactions to the bloom in trees and
grasses when their pollen is strewn by the winds. The immune system reacts to
the particles in the air by releasing chemicals like histamines, which trigger
the body’s reactions such as sneezing and a runny nose.
“Over-the-counter medicines like Zyrtec and Claritin do a
good job treating symptoms without the sedative effect of products like
Benadryl,” Shepherd said.
There are a number of over-the-counter treatments available
to help manage the symptoms of seasonal allergies, including antihistamines such
as Claritin, Alavert, Zyrtec and Allegra. An older class of antihistamines with
brand names like Benadryl or Chlor-Trimeton is also effective for sneezing and
runny noses but cause drowsiness. People with medical conditions such as
hypertension and diabetes should check with their doctors before taking these
drugs. Coricidin HBP may help with symptoms without affecting blood pressure.
Shepherd said that men with trouble urinating or prostrate
problems also should consult with a doctor before using antihistamines and
Oral decongestants like Sudafed or Afrinol can help
alleviate nasal stuffiness but these products contain pseudoephedrine, which
can elevate heart rate. People who have heart disease should consult with a
doctor before taking these drugs.
Nasal sprays with cromolyn sodium like Nasalcrom can help
with runny and stuffy noses as well as post-nasal drip. Other nasal sprays like
Nasacort contain corticosteroids and help reduce swelling and stuffiness in the
“Nasacort works very well and is best used before a lot of
symptoms of allergy develop,” Shepherd said.
Rinsing your sinuses with a distilled saline is a good way
to relieve congestion. Neti pots or squeeze bottles for this purpose can be
found at most pharmacies.
“A good nasal rinsing washes away many allergens and a lot
of mucus,” Shepherd said. “Make sure the solution used is sterile.”
“People need to carefully read the labels when choosing
medications, particularly with two active ingredients,” Shepherd said. “For
instance, if you’re taking Zyrtec D and Sudafed, you may be taking too much
Sudafed.” He added that with hundreds of products available at the pharmacy’s
cold and allergy aisle, choosing your drugs can be a daunting process.
For most allergy sufferers, these over-the-counter treatments
are enough to ease the discomfort. “Most people are treated without
immunotherapy,” Shepherd said.
For severe cases, other options are available through a
doctor’s office. In some cases, your physician may recommend skin tests to
determine the exact nature of your allergy and prescribe allergy shots.
The best way to manage allergies is allergen avoidance, Dr.
Shepherd recommended. “Don’t keep your windows open at home or when driving
your car,” he said. “Delegate yard chores to someone else.”
Avoiding allergens in the air can be tough but some steps
can help reduce exposure and help manage your symptoms:
- Consider staying indoors if it’s windy outside.
- Vacuum floors frequently.
- After being outside, change and wash your
clothes so you don’t spread allergens in your house.
The American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology offered
these additional suggestions for dealing with spring allergies:
wearing synthetic fabrics that can attract pollen. Choose clothes made of
natural fibers like cotton, which breathes better and stays drier, making them
less likely to harbor mold.
- If you exercise outside, aim to run or walk when pollen counts are their
lowest – in the early morning and early evening.
- If you garden, take an antihistamine a half-hour before working outdoors. Also
wear gloves and a face mask while outside, and wash your hands, hair and
clothes after you go back indoors.
your exposure to indoor allergens to help with the severity of your spring
allergies. Vacuum your furniture and leave your shoes by the door. Use a
dehumidifier and air purifier with a HEPA filter.
Shepherd said he is struck by the number of patients he sees
who haven’t been exposed to seasonal allergens before. Many people from Arizona
or Texas have never had hay fever until moving to Charlotte, a city known for
the beauty of its tree canopy.