Spring is just around the corner and for many, its arrival signifies an end to hibernation-like habits formed in winter. From physical exercise such as walks, runs or bike rides to social occasions like picnics and cookouts, the warm weather presents a renewed opportunity to enjoy the outdoors. However, the season’s change also brings about the return of something far from enjoyable: spring allergies. While a mere inconvenience for some, spring allergies present a serious deterrent to enjoying the outdoors for many others. For those with strong seasonal allergies, much of springtime’s joy is overshadowed by persistent, uncomfortable symptoms such as runny nose, itchy eyes, itchy throat, sneezing and congestion. With smart habits and the right resources, spring need not be spent in a haze of allergic misery.
Some may be surprised to learn that trees are the primary culprit for spring allergies. In the Baltimore area, common trees such as maple, oak, ash and birch begin to cause problems for those with allergies as early as late-February, and continue to shed pollen into April and May. Another primary contributor to spring allergies is grass. While grass releases less pollen than trees, the pollen it produces tends to be more allergenic. Grass pollens typically spread beginning in late April, continuing through early-to-mid June and sometimes later if there is a cooler, wetter start to the summer.
Spring allergies can feel insurmountable, but the first line of defense is controlling the circumstances when and where you can. Taking account of how you sleep, for example, can be the first step in finding relief. As the season transitions from winter to spring and spring to summer, many people like to sleep with the window open, as it is no longer cold enough to turn on the heat, but not yet hot enough to use air conditioning. While cracking the window before bed can be tempting, it allows pollen to enter your room, exposing your bedding, clothes and body to allergens.
“The best treatment for allergy is avoidance,” says Jonathan Matz, M.D., an allergist with the Sinai Division of Allergy and Immunology. Dr. Matz recommends closing the windows and instead using your air conditioner’s fan function, which will cycle fresh air in from the outside while filtering out the pollen it carries.
Other than avoidance, the best option for those suffering from seasonal allergies is over-the-counter medications. Non-sedating antihistamines such as Claritin, Allegra or Zyrtec and their respective generic counterparts will keep symptoms at bay, allowing you to enjoy beautiful spring days outside. Be proactive by making sure you’re stocked up on these medications in advance, so that allergies are never an excuse to avoid outdoor activity. According to Dr. Matz, nasal steroid sprays like Flonase and Nasacort, which are also over-the-counter and have generic equivalents, are even more effective than the non-sedative antihistamines. Whether your preference is for popping a quick allergy pill or using a few sprays of nasal steroids in each nostril, the principle remains the same – seasonal allergy sufferers should always be well-stocked with medication in advance.
Those whose allergies are unmanageable with over-the-counter medications alone may need to discuss other options with their doctor, such as prescription-grade antihistamine nasal sprays and decongestants and immunotherapy, which involves the use of allergy shots to increase patients’ immunity over time. But on the whole, over-the-counter options are the most effective and convenient for the majority of people.
Allergies are an unfortunate aspect of springtime for many people, but the best defense is preparedness. This spring, try keeping windows closed when you sleep so that you can start the day fresh and symptom-free. And before winter’s chill has even fully left the air, make sure to stock up on your non-drowsy antihistamine of choice so that you’re ready for the arrival of allergy season. With such convenient solutions readily available, no one needs to be excluded from the outdoor activities that make springtime special.
Story & Photo Credit: LifeBridge Health/Newswise