Many people see the start of spring as a welcome change with warmer weather and longer days.
But with the warm breeze comes airborne pollen and mold spores. And if you suffer from seasonal allergies, you probably feel them the same time each year. Allergies are caused by the immune system reacting to the surrounding environment from exposure to allergens you inhale or ingest. In spring and summer, tree pollen, grasses and weeds typically trigger allergies, but other allergens include dust mites, pet dander and mold. Spring is a particularly difficult time for allergies as pollen counts are extraordinarily high when flowers and trees are in bloom. In the springtime alone, which typically begins in March, hay fever – an allergy to pollen or mold – affects 30 to 60 million people in the U.S.
Determining what you are allergic to often coincides with the seasons. Seasonal allergies have a particular routine with the most common sources of allergies being trees releasing pollen in the spring, grass in the summer and weeds in the late fall. According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, the following 11 types of trees are common triggers of springtime allergies: oak, western red cedar, sycamore, maple, elm, birch, ash, cypress, walnut, hickory and poplar.
How to prevent allergy symptoms
To determine if you suffer from allergies, be aware of itchy, watery or red eyes, scratchy throat, coughing, itchy or runny nose and sneezing. Some people experience more severe symptoms such as sinus headaches and shortness of breath. The best way to beat seasonal allergies is with prevention and early treatment. If you know you suffer from allergies, start allergy treatment two weeks before the allergy season begins. Over-the-counter treatment options include nondrowsy antihistamines, nasal inhalers, nasal saline sprays and neti pots.
If none of these methods prove effective, consult your doctor who can evaluate and provide you with the most effective treatment options. A doctor can also help narrow down and determine exactly which allergens your body is reacting to – often through a skin or blood test – and provide you with a customized treatment plan. One solution for individuals who need customized treatment is an allergy shot. Allergy shots work like a vaccine, helping the body develop tolerance or immunity to particular allergens over a regimen of gradually increasing doses.
Besides medication, there are a number of things you can do to lower the amount of allergen exposure you and your family experience on a daily basis.
Avoid going out on dry, windy days and days when pollen counts are high.
Keep windows closed at night as early morning breezes can bring in a lot of pollen. Also be sure to keep windows closed on windy days.
Recirculate the air in your car while driving to reduce exposure.
Keep pets inside and bathe them frequently to remove excess dander and pollen.
Shower and wash your hair every night to remove pollen before sleeping and reduce nighttime allergies.
Put clothes that have been worn outside into the washer, not your closet or bedroom, to prevent the spread of pollen to clean clothes.
If you have to work outside, like mowing the lawn, wear a mask and be sure to change your clothing and shower to remove potential allergens.
Remove your shoes as soon as you enter your home to prevent spreading allergens on carpets and rugs. Also, be sure to clean your carpets and upholstery once a month and vacuum regularly.
Treatment for allergies is a lifelong process. The best measures for counteracting their effects are early treatment and prevention. If in doubt, it is always recommended that you seek evaluation by a medical professional who can assess your symptoms and ensure what you are experiencing are allergies and not symptomatic of another condition.
Dr. Huynh is a family medicine doctor at John Muir Health’s Brentwood Outpatient Center.