Health Break | Published April 4, 2011

Spring allergies: prevention and management

Spring is in the air. As we embrace this new season, we also usher in the challenges of seasonal allergies.Each year, more than 35 million Americans suffer from seasonal allergic rhinitis—also known as hay fever. Seasonal allergies are a reaction to triggers released into the air during a certain time period, such as spring or fall.Symptoms of seasonal allergies include sneezing, runny nose, itchy or watery eyes, itchy nose, coughing and post-nasal drip. Some patients report having only one or two symptoms; in some cases, it might be difficult to tell the difference between allergies and a cold because symptoms are similar.Airborne pollen is the most common cause and the biggest trigger of seasonal allergies. Pollen grains released from grass plants and budding trees can travel through the air for miles. An allergic reaction is triggered when pollen is inhaled through the nose or lands in the eye or on the skin. Some of the biggest pollen triggers are trees—specifically oak, elm, birch, ash, hickory, poplar, sycamore, maple, cypress and walnut—grasses and weeds. It is extremely difficult to avoid exposure to pollen when it is present in the air; however, there are some steps you can take to minimize your exposure:o Keep your windows closed to reduce the amount of pollen coming into your home. Frequently clean the air filters inside your home and vacuum twice a week. An air purifier can help to minimize pollen as well.o Limit early morning activities – ideally between 5 and 10 a.m. – when pollen is usually at its highest level.o Keep car windows up while traveling.o Stay indoors on windy days or when pollen counts are extremely high. The pollen count is measured in most areas and is typically reported during a local weather forecast.o Wash your hair following outdoor exposure to pollen.o Avoid mowing the grass or being outside when neighbors are doing yard work.o Dry bedding and clothing in a clothes dryer. Pollen can adhere to laundry if it is hung outside to dry.o If you take a vacation when pollen counts are high, go to a reduced pollen area like the beach.Even though some allergy remedies are available without a prescription, it is recommended that you talk with your doctor first to make sure you select the most appropriate medication. Your doctor may suggest taking an over-the-counter (OTC) medication such as an antihistamine to reduce sneezing, a decongestant to relieve congestion and swelling of nasal passages, or eye drops to relieve itchy, watery eyes. If the OTC remedies do not relieve your allergy symptoms, your doctor may recommend a visit to an allergist for a prescription medication or allergy shots. In order to treat your allergy symptoms, an allergist can determine the pollens to which you are allergic through allergy testing. An allergy skin test involves the injections of a small sample of diluted allergen just under the skin of your arm or back. If you are allergic to the substance, a small red bump or hive will appear. Allergy shots actually expose your body to the allergen until you become tolerant of it, and they can help to relieve your symptoms for a longer period of time compared to oral or nasal medications.While there is no real cure for allergies, you can manage the spring allergy season better by using appropriate treatments and preventive measures.Dr. Robert Mentyka is a board certified allergist at Geisinger-Scenery Park and a member of the medical staff at Mount Nittany Medical Center.

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