After a long and especially cold winter, many people are looking forward to getting out and enjoying spring this year. However, if you suffer from allergies, spring may not be as pleasant. Each year, 35 million Americans deal with spring allergies, commonly referred to as hay fever. Allergies are especially prevalent in the spring when trees and flowers are blooming and pollen is in the air.
Seasonal allergies are the result of an overactive immune system. IgE antibodies, a component of your immune system, attack common allergens like dust, pollen and pet dander. As a result, histamine and other chemicals are released into your system, causing familiar allergy symptoms like runny nose, itchy eyes and sneezing. While there is currently no cure for allergies, you can treat the symptoms. The first step is confirming that you are indeed suffering from allergies.
“It’s difficult to tell the difference between spring allergies and a common cold because they share so many of the same symptoms,” says Coordinated Health Primary Care Physician Ryan Smith, M.D. “Generally allergies are identified by looking at a patient’s medical history.” According to Dr. Smith, allergies are usually confirmed through blood and skin testing. However, skin testing is the quickest and most reliable way to determine if you are suffering from allergies and what is causing your reaction.
During the testing a physician will prick your skin to allow an allergen, like dust or pollen, to enter your system. If you are allergic to the substance, you will have a reaction like redness, swelling or itching within 15 to 20 minutes. The blood test is used to measure IgE antibodies and screens for specific allergens. It is generally used as a precursor to the skin testing.
Dr. Smith says there are several over the- counter medications available to help with allergies. “Benadryl is one of the best because it prevents the release of histamine to a higher degree,” he says. However, he warns people to be sure they read the side effects, since many allergy medications like Benadryl can be sedating. In addition to over-the-counter medication, there are other things you can do to reduce your exposure to allergens when you clean your house. Pay special attention to areas like windows, bookshelves and air conditioning vents, which can collect dust and mold throughout the winter and aggravate allergy symptoms. Also, don’t forget your basement. Mold is most likely to accumulate in those areas and can spread if it’s not taken care of. If dust and mold bother you, make sure you wear a mask.
If you suffer from allergies, limiting the time you spend outdoors between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. can also be helpful. That’s when pollen tends to be the highest. Also, if pollen counts are high, be sure to keep your doors and windows closed and avoid using fans that may draw pollen inside. You can get daily pollen updates at websites such as www.aaaai.org/nab. How you do laundry can also make a difference in the severity of your allergies. Make sure you wash your bedding weekly in hot water. Also, dry your laundry indoors. While you may like the fresh scent that line drying your clothing and sheets provides, hanging your laundry outdoors attracts pollen and other allergens. You may also want to ditch your morning showers in favor of nighttime showers. Pollen can accumulate in your hair and skin throughout the day, so it’s important to shower before getting into bed. If you don’t shower at night, you may notice an increase in your symptoms throughout the evening.
Many people are surprised to find out that pets can cause allergy symptoms, even if you aren’t allergic to pet dander. Dogs and cats that are outdoors can bring pollen and other allergens in your house. Be sure to keep your pets off the furniture and bed to prevent any symptoms. If conservative actions don’t help with your allergies, it may be time to see a doctor. “If seasonal allergies are disrupting your life and over-the-counter medication isn’t helping, then it is probably time to see your doctor or an allergist who can give you more specific treatment,” says Coordinated Health Primary Care Physician Barry Sirard, M.D.
Prescription allergy medication is stronger than over-the-counter medication and may be better able to target your symptoms. There are also allergy shots available for severe allergy sufferers. Don’t let your seasonal allergies keep you from enjoying your favorite outdoor activities. You can make an appointment with a Coordinated Health primary care physician by calling (877) 861-8080 or going to www.coordinatedhealth.com.