April 3, 2013
As the cool bite of winter gives way to a warm, green spring each year, millions of people will begin suffering the effects of seasonal allergies. Often called “hay fever,” seasonal allergies are a reaction by the body to the pollen that trees, grasses and weeds release into the air during the spring and summer months. For people with seasonal allergies, these tiny particles are treated as a harmful substance by the body and the allergic reaction that follows is just the body trying to get rid of the pollen.
The symptoms of an allergic reaction can range from mild to debilitating, and vary for each individual. The symptoms include sneezing, watery eyes, irritation of the eyes, nose and throat, and general congestion. The allergic reaction is similar to the symptoms of a common cold, except that the reaction continues as long as there is pollen in the body.
Controlling the allergic reaction is imperative, especially for people with strong reactions, as the symptoms can interfere with daily life and may even be bad enough to keep you in bed for extended periods of time. In general, there are four ways to go about reducing your reaction to allergens in the air, ranging from simple lifestyle changes to serious medical intervention.
The most obvious way to avoid an allergic reaction to pollen is to simply avoid the pollen, but this is easier said than done. When trees and grasses release their pollen into the air it gets just about everywhere, so complete avoidance is probably out of the question. However, there are a few things you can do to lower your exposure to pollen.
First, avoid going outside for long periods of time when pollen counts are at their highest, which is between the hours of 5 AM and 10 AM, along with a few hours in the early evening. Second, keep your home and car windows closed at all times to prevent pollen from getting inside, as once pollen gets inside your home or car, it will be difficult to avoid a reaction. Third, avoid working with plants during allergy season, which includes things like mowing the lawn or pruning trees, both of which are sure to release a large amount of pollen into the area.
Most of all, be sure to keep an eye on the weather forecast. Humid and windy days are the most likely to cause an allergic reaction, while rainy days are the least likely. By checking out the week ahead, you can not only get an idea of how bad your allergies are going to be, but can shift parts of your schedule to avoid being out of the house on the worst days.
While a direct link between general well-being and reduced allergy symptoms has yet to be found, a number of health organizations, like the British National Health Service, recommend a few lifestyle changes that could lower the severity of your reactions. These changes include increasing your exercise level, although not outdoors during the morning or evening hours, eating more fruits and vegetables, reducing alcohol intake and getting at least seven hours of sleep.
The past decade has seen enormous advances in the effectiveness of allergy medication, so much that many allergy sufferers no longer experience any symptoms at all while they are on the medications. One of the most popular medications is called an antihistamine, which blocks histamine, the chemical your body releases to combat the pollen. Some older antihistamines will make you feel drowsy, but many of the newer ones have little to no side effects. If antihistamines are not working, you can also try a cromoglycate, which controls histamine levels through a different process.
Steroids, in the form of a nasal spray, are also very effective at controlling allergy symptoms. These drugs usually take a few days or weeks to start working, and require that you use them continuously to continue seeing the benefits.
For all medication, be sure to consult your doctor to find one that works for you, and that won’t interfere with other medication you may be taking.
If standard symptom treatments don’t work, you can turn to immunotherapy, which is often called desensitization. This process involves having your doctor or allergist inject you with a small amount of pollen and letting your body react to it. These shots continue over the course of several years and eventually cause your body to stop reacting to pollen. Since this process involves forcing an allergic reaction, it should only be done under the supervision of a medical professional.