Red noses, stuffy noses, runny noses: 'Tis the season for … seasonal allergies.
Seasonal allergies, commonly known as hay fever, are often triggered by pollen grains released into the air by trees, weeds and grasses, which are especially productive in the spring. If your body overreacts to these allergens, you may experience a range of unpleasant symptoms, from sneezing and coughing to itching eyes, runny nose, headache, sore throat, ear pain — and even hives.
According to Dr. Bryn Salt, an allergy and immunology doctor with Sharp Rees-Stealy, this year may prove to be one of the worst in recent memory when it comes to affecting those who suffer from seasonal allergies.
"Allergy symptoms often relate to our weather patterns," she says. "We have had a good bit of rain followed by warm, dry weather, which can increase pollen. Some have also suggested that global warming is causing longer growing seasons, which leads to more allergies."
Researchers participating in a recent study in the Netherlands support this belief, concluding that climate warming is an important factor in increasing pollen production. Furthermore, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 19 million Americans have been diagnosed with hay fever in the past year, and the numbers continue to rise.
While allergies — the sixth leading cause of chronic illness in the U.S. — have no cure, there are things you can do to ease symptoms and reduce or avoid exposure to the allergens.
The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) recommends the following ways to reduce or prevent allergic reactions:
- Limit outdoor activities when pollen counts are high
- Keep windows closed and use central air conditioning with a HEPA filter in your home and car
- Bathe or shower daily and wash your hair to remove pollen deposited throughout the day
- Wear sunglasses and a hat to protect your eyes from pollen exposure
- Wash clothing worn outside and dry clothes in a dryer rather than on an outdoor line
"Unfortunately, complete avoidance can be difficult in San Diego, because we enjoy so much time outdoors," says Dr. Salt. "Therefore, medications may be necessary."
Dr. Salt recommends oral antihistamines to help relieve uncomfortable symptoms and decongestants for relief from nasal stuffiness. Nasal sprays also help to ease symptoms and reduce congestion, and can be started before symptoms arise to block potential allergic reactions.
If efforts to reduce reactions and medications do not offer relief from your allergies, talk to your doctor about whether you may be a candidate for immunotherapy, a long-term treatment that can reduce or prevent allergic reactions.