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Spring’s colorful flowers and green grass signal the end of winter’s harsh weather. They also mark the start of spring allergies, and a different kind of discomfort for millions of people around the world.
Read on to learn about the causes of spring allergies, how to avoid them, and the best ways to find relief from symptoms.
Common symptoms of spring allergies include:
- itchy eyes
- dark circles under the eyes
- watery eyes
- swollen sinuses
- runny or stuffy nose
- scratchy throat
- post-nasal drip
- itching in the mouth, ears, nose, and throat
Less common symptoms can also result from the sinus pressure caused by hay fever. They include:
When spring begins, plants and trees release pollen into the air. Certain types of fungi also produce mold spores.
If you’re allergic to any of these substances, your immune system will try to eradicate them. It does this by releasing allergic (IgE) antibodies.
Allergic antibodies are designed to find and destroy substances they identify as dangerous invaders. They drive the allergens into the body’s mast cells, where they’re attacked and eliminated.
Histamine, a chemical, is released as part of this attack into the bloodstream and mucus membranes. Histamine is the substance which causes allergic symptoms to occur.
Histamine is what makes the lining of the nose and eyes swell and redden, so that additional allergens can’t enter the body through them. It also triggers sneezing, in an attempt to rid nasal passages of irritating allergens. It also causes itching.
Where you live can significantly affect the time of year seasonal allergies start and end. It can also affect the severity of your allergic response.
Spring allergies can start as early as February in warmer parts of the country, and may last into the summer, based upon the reproductive cycle of the local flora and fauna.
The severity of the symptoms you experience will be determined by the specific plants, trees, and flowers which are blooming. These vary from location to location and include:
|Trees||Grasses and weeds|
Weather also plays a role. Warm, dry days tend to have the highest pollen counts, particularly in the mornings. Wind can make symptoms worse, since pollen is airborne.
Days that are rainy and damp tend to have lower pollen counts than bright sunny ones.
Spring allergies may start earlier and last longer after a mild winter. Atypically warm weather allows trees to start pollinating sooner, extending the spring allergy season.
To keep on top of the pollen count in your area, look for a national allergy map such as this one from Pollen.com, or any local allergy map which provides information on the types of pollen that are high each day.
There are several strategies you can try for reducing spring allergy symptoms or preventing them completely.
- If you know you have spring allergies, start taking medication such as an oral antihistamine, before symptoms start. This will help to prevent your immune system from releasing histamine.
- Put HEPA (high-efficiency particular air) purifiers throughout your home. HEPA filters trap and remove pollen and other all-year allergens such as pet dander and dust mites from the air of your home.
- Use a HEPA vacuum cleaner to trap and contain pollen and other allergens.
- Avoid bringing pollen indoors by removing outdoor clothing as soon as you enter your home. Wash anything you’ve worn outdoors before wearing it again. Also wash your hair daily in the evening after being outside, and don’t wear outdoor shoes inside.
- If you have pets that go outdoors, use a damp towel to remove pollen from their coats daily.
- Keep your windows closed to stop pollen from blowing in, especially in the morning when pollen counts are at their highest.
- Change bedding, dust, wash floors, and vacuum upholstered furniture and curtains as often as possible.
Over-the-counter remedies can be very effective at reducing allergy symptoms. You may need to have a trial-and-error approach to see which works best for you.
OTC medications include:
Antihistamines work by reducing or blocking the effects of histamine. This helps to eliminate symptoms such as redness, swelling, sneezing, and itching.
Decongestants reduce congestion in the nose and sinuses by narrowing blood vessels. This decreases inflammation and swelling, allowing mucus to drain out of the nose instead of dripping down the throat.
There are various types of nasal sprays, including corticosteroids, decongestants, and antihistamines. They work by reducing congestion, swelling, dripping, and itching.
Decongestive nasal sprays provide temporary relief and often need to be used several times a day. Steroids and antihistamines may provide longer-lasting relief.
Eye drops (OTC topical decongestant or prescription drops)
OTC eye drops are designed to reduce redness and itching. Some include antihistamines.
There are also prescription eye drops which might help. These may include:
- mast cell blockers
- anti-inflammatory ingredients
Combination medications (Claritin-D, Allegra-D)
Combination medications include a decongestant and an antihistamine. Some combination medications have pseudoephedrine as an ingredient.
Pseudoephedrine is used in the manufacture of illegal drugs. For this reason, combination allergy medications are kept behind the pharmacy counter and require ID to purchase.
A number of home remedies may also provide relief. These include:
Nasal saline rinse
Saline (saltwater) can be used on its own or in addition to other medications. A nasal saline rinse can help soothe and open nasal passages, thinning out mucus and reducing postnasal drip.
Breathing in steam can have the same effect that nasal saline treatments have.
You can try filling a bowl with hot water and placing a cloth over your head to capture the rising steam. You can also try spending time in a Turkish bath or steam room.
Butterbur is a shrub which grows throughout Europe, Asia, and North America. The evidence on its ability to alleviate allergy symptoms is mixed.
Local, unprocessed honey and bee pollen
Unprocessed honey produced in your local area will contain small amounts of allergenic pollen, deposited there from flowers pollinated by bees.
Some people believe that this may make unprocessed honey work on allergy symptoms the same way allergy injections do, through desensitization. There’s no real scientific evidence to back up this theory, however, anecdotal evidence indicates that it may work for some people.
Bee pollen is thought to work in the same way, and to have a similar effect.
Advocates believe that acupuncture is very effective for eliminating allergy symptoms, such as sneezing, especially if sugar is simultaneously eliminated from the diet.
If your spring allergies are interfering with the quality of your daily life, or causing symptoms such as chronic coughing, asthma attacks, headaches, or sinus infections, consider seeing a doctor, such as an allergist.
Your doctor will examine you for symptoms. You may also get allergy tests, such as a skin prick test or specific IgE blood test, to determine which type or types of pollen or mold are at the root of your symptoms.
If over-the-counter or home remedies haven’t been effective, your doctor may recommend other types of treatments, such as allergen immunotherapy.
Allergy shots are designed to provide long-lasting relief to people with severe allergy symptoms and allergic asthma.
You’ll need to take a series of injections, sometimes over the course of several years. Each shot contains ever-increasing amounts of the substance you’re allergic to. This helps your body become resistant to it, so that your immune system no longer feels the need to fight it off.
Allergy injections are also referred to as subcutaneous immunotherapy.
Sublingual immunotherapy works in the same way that allergy shots do. Instead of shots, you place an oral tablet under your tongue for 1 to 2 minutes prior to swallowing.
Your doctor will recommend how often you take the oral tablet (somewhere between once a day to three days a week), and for how long. It typically takes three to five years to develop an immunity to a substance.
Seasonal spring allergies affect millions of people annually worldwide. They can cause uncomfortable symptoms such as nasal congestion and itchy eyes. They can also cause complications like sinus infections and asthma attacks.
Spring allergies often respond well to over-the-counter treatments. Home remedies may also help. If your symptoms are severe, your doctor may recommend allergy shots.