Ah, spring. The weather’s getting warmer and the flowers and trees are blooming. You want to spend more time outside enjoying the great weather, and then it hits. Your sinuses clog up, your eyes are running and you are sneezing your head off.
Welcome to seasonal allergies, also known as hay fever or allergic rhinitis. As many as one in five people have symptoms of allergic rhinitis. The timing of the symptoms depends on what is causing the allergic reaction. For some people, spring brings the worst of the symptoms. Others can react more in summer and fall, when grasses and weeds are pollinating. Some people react to allergens like spores, dust mites, cockroaches and pet dander that cause symptoms throughout the year.
You may be more at risk for developing hay fever if you have other allergies or asthma. The tendency to develop allergies tends to run in families, and men are more likely to develop hay fever. If you were exposed to secondhand smoke when you were a baby, you may be more likely to develop allergic rhinitis.
While hay fever isn’t considered a serious health risk, it can disrupt your life. Symptoms can interfere with your ability to participate in daily activities, and you may have to miss school or work. The congestion can affect your sleep. Anyone who has asthma in addition to hay fever may notice that their asthma symptoms worsen when their seasonal allergies hit. Children with hay fever may develop inner-ear infections. Allergic rhinitis also can contribute to developing sinusitis and secondary sinus infections.
Treating Seasonal Allergies
So what can you do? There are several over-the-counter allergy medications designed to treat allergy symptoms. Make sure you read the label on these medications and that they are age-appropriate, since some are only intended to treat adults. Also check for possible drug interactions if you are on other medications.
If your symptoms become severe, talk to your doctor. There are several prescriptions medications designed to treat these types of allergies. You also may need to see an allergy specialist to get tested for allergies. These tests help doctors develop a tailored treatment that may include allergy shots that help desensitize your body to the things you react to.
You may want to try other at-home treatments such as using a sinus rinse or wash to gently clear mucus and allergens from your nasal and sinus passages. A neti pot or an infant nasal squeeze bulb can be used for your sinus washes. You can either buy a prepared solution or mix ¼ teaspoon of table salt with 2 cups of warm water. Make sure you mix a new solution each time to prevent bacteria from building up in the water.
Other ways to help you avoid airborne allergens include:
- Keep your doors and windows closed and use your air conditioner at home and in the car.
- Don’t hang laundry, especially bedding, outside.
- Pollen counts are higher in the early morning, so limit your outdoor activity during those hours.
- Stay inside when it’s windy outside.
- Replace your air conditioner filters monthly and use a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter.
- Wear a dust mask when you’re outside, especially for activities like gardening.
- If possible, avoid mowing the lawn or raking leaves, since these activities send more pollen into the air.
Look for ways to keep your bedroom an allergen-free zone. You can use special cases that enclose your pillows, mattress and box springs to limit exposure to dust mites. Bedding should be washed weekly in hot water to kill dust mites. Pets should not be allowed to sleep in the bedroom. If possible, remove carpeting from bedrooms and use washable rugs instead.
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