Spring Into Action: Coping With Pollen Allergies
Did you know that allergies can surface at any point in a person's lifetime, even if you've never dealt with them before? If you are already being treated for other chronic conditions, seasonal allergies (also known as allergic rhinitis or hay fever) can be debilitating. Luckily, there are ways to keep it at bay.
The American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI) says allergic rhinitis occurs when your immune system identifies an allergen as an intruder and responds to it by releasing histamines. Those histamines cause the unpleasant symptoms, such as sneezing, wheezing and itchy eyes. While allergic rhinitis can be triggered by mold, pet dander and dust mite droppings, pollen is the most common allergen for seasonal allergy sufferers.
When Is Pollen Season?
"Pollen typically starts affecting allergy sufferers in the spring and summer," said Dennis E. Rademaker, DO, a Franciscan Physician Network allergist in Munster, Indiana. "There are different types of pollen, and it can affect each person differently, depending on the type of tree or grass from which it came."
Plants that have powdery granules of pollen that are easily blown by the wind can trigger pollen allergies. These include:
Trees: oak, western red cedar, elm, birch, ash, hickory, poplar, sycamore, maple, cypress, walnut, catalpa, olive and pecan
Grasses: Timothy, Johnson, Bermuda, orchard, sweet vernal, red top and some blue grasses
Weeds: ragweed, sagebrush, pigweed, tumbleweed, Russian thistle and cockle weed
Each plant has a pollen season. "Pollen season" often starts in the spring. But it may begin as early as January in the southern part of the U.S. The season often lasts until November. Different parts of the country have different pollinating plants and different pollen seasons.
The Indianapolis and Chicago areas are about average when it comes to pollen, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.
Managing Your Allergies
There are several ways to manage seasonal allergies, including:
Reducing Pollen At Home
- Use high-efficiency particulate arrestance (HEPA) filters at home. HEPA filters are available for use in furnaces, air conditioners and vacuum cleaners.
- Avoid bringing pollen into your home. Remove your shoes before going inside; wash your face and change clothes after working outdoors; keep doors and windows closed.
- Keep windows closed at night and use air conditioning. This cleans, cools and dries the air.
- Dry items indoors. Don't hang bedding or clothing outside to dry.
- Wash bedding in hot, soapy water once a week.
Limiting Pollen Exposure Outdoors
- Check the pollen count before spending time outdoors. Pollen.com allows you to enter your Zip code and check the pollen count for your area.
- Delegate garden and lawn work, or avoid it in the early morning. The pollen count is at its highest early in the day.
- Brush and bathe your pets regularly. Before your pets come back indoors, take a moment to brush off their fur, and bathe them on a weekly basis.
- Reduce your exposures. If you spend time outdoors, wash your hair and change your clothes when you come back inside. Wear sunglasses and a hat to keep pollen out of your eyes and hair.
Medical Management of Allergies
- Try over-the-counter (OTC) allergy medication. Ask your doctor if OTC antihistamines like Claritin®or Zyrtec® would be OK to try, or whether you should consider oral or nasal decongestants.
- Use a nasal rinse to flush out inhaled pollen.
- Visit your doctor for an allergy test. Blood tests or skin testing can help your doctor identify your specific allergen and pinpoint a successful treatment.
- Undergo immunotherapy (allergy shots). This is a long-term treatment that can last for three to five years. Immunotherapy can retrain your immune system to tolerate a specific allergen.
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