Spring has sprung and so have allergies. During the winter, allergy sufferers usually get a reprieve because trees and plants are “sleeping.” As temperatures rise in the spring, trees start to pollinate—making allergies particularly bothersome.

Many people are already sneezing, sniffling and feeling congested. Pollen counts have been in the medium to high range recently, which can make allergy symptoms worse.

What’s Happening to My Nose?

Allergies happen when the immune system mistakes a harmless substance as something dangerous. The body normally defends itself against damaging substances, like viruses or bacteria. But when these defenses aggressively attack something harmless–such as dust, mold or pollen—an allergic reaction occurs.

These reactions happen anywhere immune system cells are located to fight off invaders, including the eyes, nose, sinuses, throat and lungs (where most of us are feeling it now). The results include

  • rhinitis (nasal stuffiness, itching and/or discharge; sneezing; itching in the ears or roof of the mouth);
  • allergic conjunctivitis (red, itchy, watery eyes); and/or
  • asthma (airway problems like shortness of breath, coughing, wheezing).

Allergies can also manifest in the skin with rashes; red, itchy, dry skin; and/or itchy welts (hives). Food allergies happen in the lining of the stomach.

If you have allergies, watch out for daily local pollen counts. Begin preventive measures, including medicine as directed by your doctor, if needed.

Immunotherapy (“allergy shots”) and medication (antihistamines, decongestants) are among the most effective ways to treat allergies. Avoiding exposure to allergy triggers is another way to reduce the misery. The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology suggests that you:

  • Keep windows closed at night.
  • Use air conditioning to clean, cool and dry the air. Keep the filter clean.
  • Minimize outdoor activities early in the morning, between 5 a.m. and 10 a.m., when pollen counts are high.
  • Keep car windows closed when traveling.
  • Vacation somewhere that pollen is not as prevalent, such as at the ocean.
  • Don’t rake leaves during pollen season.
  • Wear a mask to mow the lawn or hire someone else to do it.
  • Don’t hang bedding or clothing outside to dry.

Other tips include removing your shoes when entering your home; washing hair at night; and shielding eyes with sunglasses (or goggles while participating in sports).

Not Sure if It’s Allergies?

Sometimes, it’s hard for patients to tell whether a cold is making them sniffle or if allergies are the cause. If symptoms are present for a couple of weeks or more, nasal discharge is clear and there are no other cold symptoms (like fever or muscle aches), allergies may be the culprit. Get a definitive diagnosis by consulting your primary care physician. Your doctor will determine treatment based on:

  • overall health and medical history;
  • severity of the allergic reaction; and
  • tolerance for specific medications.
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