How to Cope with Spring Allergies

Spring allergy prevention and treatment strategies

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

It can be tough to enjoy the outdoors in bloom if you can’t stop sneezing. Taking a few steps before you step out the door can help ease the effect of spring allergies.

Allergies are the body’s reaction to a foreign material. In the case of spring allergies, this foreign material is usually plant pollen. Pollen is the allergen, and it sets off a set of symptoms that can be reduced by taking the right steps.

Allergy 101

Technically called seasonal allergic rhinitis, spring allergies bring annoying symptoms that can be quite severe.

Most common spring allergies stem from the multitudes of plant pollen that fly through the air. Pollens are the tiny, mostly invisible seed particles from plants that are abundant in the spring. The wind that spreads these pollens to fertilize other plants also blows them up your nose and mouth.

Even though there may be no blooming flowers where you live in early spring, trees produce their pollen at that time. Birch, pine, cottonwood and cedar trees are big pollen producers. Grasses pollinate in late spring. The biggest grass pollen producers are Kentucky bluegrass, timothy, Johnson, Bermuda, redtop, orchard, rye and sweet vernal grasses.

Sneezing, itchy, watery eyes and mouth, and runny and stuffy noses are the usual symptoms of a spring allergy, but some people get severe allergic reactions that include wheezing and other breathing difficulties.

Location makes a difference

Every year the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America lists 100 of "The Most Challenging Places to Live with Spring Allergies." If you live in any of these cities, you are at greater risk of being exposed to higher pollen counts. Here are the top 10 cities with the highest pollen counts for spring 2014:

  • Louisville, Kentucky
  • Memphis, Tennessee
  • Baton Rouge, Louisiana
  • Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
  • Jackson, Mississippi
  • Chattanooga, Tennessee
  • Dallas, Texas
  • Richmond, Virginia
  • Birmingham, Alabama
  • McAllen, Texas

Diagnosis and treatment of spring allergies

Many people who have spring allergies assume that their symptoms are a reaction to pollen. They may be correct, but identifying exactly what allergen is causing your symptoms is the first step to getting control of your spring allergies.

The American Academy of Asthma, Allergy and Immunology (AAAAI) reminds people that they should consult an allergist or immunologist who can diagnose their allergies and conduct tests to find out what the specific triggers of their allergies are. People who self-diagnose their allergies often end up with inadequate and ineffective treatments.

Allergy skin tests are more sensitive than blood tests in determining what a person is allergic to. To conduct a skin test, an allergist pricks the skin with a tiny amount of allergen. If the skin becomes red and swollen in about 20 minutes, the person is likely allergic to that allergen. Children and babies can have skin testing done safely.

Histamines are released by cells of the body as defensive measures against the foreign pollen particles. Over-the-counter medicines that contain antihistamines — Claritin, Zyrtec and Nasacort, for example — can help relieve symptoms. These may control the itchy and watery eyes, nose and mouth, but may not work to control swollen sinuses.

For relief from swollen and inflamed sinuses, you may need to see an allergist. Corticosteroids may be needed to reduce allergic inflammation and an allergist can prescribe medication for this symptom.

An ounce of prevention

Avoiding the triggers of your allergy symptoms is one of the keys to allergy control. A good place to start is with the day’s pollen count. Many websites report the pollen count for the day and tell you whether the levels are low, acceptable or hazardous. Some websites even tell you what type of pollen is most likely to be in the air in your area.

If you can’t check the pollen counts in your area, The Asthma and Allergy Foundation tells us that more pollen is released from plants into the air shortly after dawn. Warm breezes carry pollen into the air best. Pollen levels are lowest on humid, chilly days. Pollen levels are highest around lush vegetation.

The National Institutes of Health recommends following a few simple tips to minimize allergic symptoms. Close windows in your home and car. Stay inside when pollen counts are high and wear a mask if you have to be outside during those times.

"Two important factors allergy sufferers can control on their own are their allergen exposure and their cumulative allergen load. In addition to keeping windows closed, many allergic patients find relief from simple nasal rinsing (using saline nasal sprays or sterile saline administered through a Netti pot), repeated several times a day, to get the pollen or other allergens off of their nasal mucosa," Deborah Gordon, MD, nutrition, homeopathy and family practice expert, told dailyRx News.

"Secondly, our allergic response at any time is cumulative. If you have ever thought you have a mild allergy (headache or stuffy nose) from eating dairy or wheat or eggs or red wine, eliminating those foods during allergy season can sometimes reduce the allergic response," Dr. Gordon said.

Once you get away from an allergen, your symptoms may improve or even disappear. Learn when and where pollen counts might be high. Follow your allergist’s advice for treatment, and allergies may not get the best of you this spring.

Review Date: 
April 25, 2014