Taming Your Spring Allergies

  • Rama FathiUndergraduate BSc (Hons), Pharmacology and Innovative Therapeutics, Queen Mary University of London
  • Regina LopesSenior Nursing Assistant, Health and Social Care, The Open University

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Introduction

Spring brings blooming flowers and lush greenery, but for many, it also brings the misery of seasonal allergies. Sneezing, congestion, and itchy eyes can make this beautiful season a challenging time.

However, there are several strategies you can employ to tame your spring allergies effectively. Understanding the triggers, employing preventive measures, and exploring various treatments can help you manage and alleviate the symptoms of seasonal allergies.

Reduce exposure to allergens

Reducing your exposure to allergens is the first step in managing spring allergies. Pollen, which is released by trees, grasses, and weeds to fertilise other plants, is a common trigger for many people. Here are detailed tips to help you minimise exposure to these allergens:

Stay indoors: On dry, windy days when pollen counts are high, try to stay indoors. The best time to go outside is after a good rain, which helps clear pollen from the air.1 Windy days can spread pollen more widely and increase the likelihood of exposure. If you need to be outside, try to limit your time and wear protective clothing.

Avoid yard work: Activities like lawn mowing, weed pulling, and other gardening chores can stir up allergens.1 If you must engage in these tasks, wearing a face mask can help reduce inhalation of pollen and other allergens. Consider delegating these tasks to someone who does not suffer from allergies or hire a gardening service.

Change clothes and shower: After spending time outside, change your clothes and take a shower to remove pollen from your skin and hair. This prevents allergens from being spread around your home, particularly in your bedroom where they can affect your sleep. Washing your hands and face frequently can also help reduce exposure.

Close windows: Keep windows and doors closed to prevent pollen from entering your home. Use air conditioning to cool your home if needed. Air conditioning units with clean filters can help trap pollen and other allergens, improving indoor air quality. Using pollen screens on windows can also help.

Monitor pollen counts

Keeping track of local pollen counts can help you plan your activities to avoid peak pollen times. Here’s how you can do it effectively:

Check forecasts: Local TV stations, newspapers, or online sources can provide pollen forecasts. Websites and apps often provide daily updates on pollen levels, allowing you to plan your outdoor activities when pollen counts are lower. Knowing when pollen counts are highest can help you avoid outdoor activities during those times.

Avoid peak pollen times: Pollen levels are typically highest in the early morning. Plan outdoor activities for later in the day. Evening activities are generally safer in terms of lower pollen counts, reducing the risk of symptom flare-ups. Keeping windows closed during high pollen times can further help reduce exposure.

Keep indoor air clean

Maintaining clean air inside your home is crucial for reducing allergy symptoms. Here are some detailed steps to ensure your indoor air is as allergen-free as possible:

Use air conditioning: Use air conditioning in your house and car to filter out pollen. Central air conditioning systems that use high-efficiency filters can capture a significant amount of airborne allergens. Regular maintenance and filter changes are essential to keep the system effective.

HEPA filters: Install high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters in your home’s air conditioning system and vacuum cleaner.2 HEPA filters are designed to trap tiny particles, including pollen, dust mites, and pet dander. Using a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter can help remove allergens from carpets and upholstery.

Dehumidifiers: Keep indoor air dry with a dehumidifier to reduce the growth of mould and dust mites.2 High humidity can promote the growth of mould, which can exacerbate allergy symptoms. Maintaining a humidity level below 50% is recommended to prevent mould growth. Using exhaust fans in bathrooms and kitchens can also help reduce indoor humidity.

Medication and remedies

Several over-the-counter and prescription medications can provide relief from allergy symptoms. Understanding how these medications work and their appropriate use can help you manage your allergies more effectively:

Antihistamines: Oral antihistamines can relieve sneezing, itching, and runny nose. Examples include cetirizine (Zyrtec), fexofenadine (Allegra), and loratadine (Claritin).1 These medications work by blocking histamine, a chemical released during allergic reactions. Antihistamines can be taken daily during allergy season to prevent symptoms.

Nasal sprays: Corticosteroid nasal sprays such as fluticasone (Flonase) and triamcinolone (Nasacort) can reduce inflammation in the nasal passages.2 These sprays help to alleviate nasal congestion, sneezing, and runny nose. It is important to use these sprays regularly as prescribed for maximum effectiveness.

Saline nasal rinse: Rinsing nasal passages with a saline solution can flush out mucus and allergens, providing relief from congestion. Saline nasal irrigation is a safe and effective way to clear nasal passages and reduce symptoms. Saline solutions can be purchased ready-made or made at home using a neti pot or squeeze bottle.

Alternative treatments

In addition to conventional medications, some natural remedies may help alleviate allergy symptoms. While scientific evidence varies, some people find relief using these methods:

Butterbur: Extracts of the butterbur shrub have shown promise in treating hay fever. Studies suggest that butterbur can be as effective as some antihistamines in reducing allergy symptoms without causing drowsiness. It is important to use standardised extracts that are free of pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PAs), which can be toxic.

Spirulina: This type of algae has been used as a natural treatment for allergy symptoms. However, more research is needed to confirm its effectiveness. Preliminary studies indicate that spirulina may help reduce inflammation associated with allergies. It can be taken as a supplement or added to smoothies.

Acupuncture: Studies have shown mixed results regarding acupuncture for allergy relief, but it might offer some benefit for certain individuals. Acupuncture may help to reduce symptoms by modulating immune responses and reducing inflammation. Consulting a licensed acupuncturist with experience in treating allergies is recommended.3

Consult a specialist

If your symptoms persist despite taking preventive measures and over-the-counter medications, consulting a specialist can provide targeted solutions:

See an allergist: An allergist can conduct tests to identify specific allergens and recommend treatments such as allergy shots (immunotherapy), which can provide long-term relief by gradually desensitising your immune system to allergens. Immunotherapy involves regular injections or sublingual tablets containing small amounts of the allergens. This treatment can be particularly effective for individuals with severe or persistent allergies.

Allergy testing: Skin prick tests or blood tests can help identify the specific allergens causing your symptoms. Knowing your exact triggers can help you avoid them more effectively and tailor your treatment plan.

Personalised treatment plans: An allergist can create a personalised treatment plan based on your specific symptoms and triggers. This may include a combination of medications, lifestyle changes, and immunotherapy.

Tips for managing symptoms

Here are additional tips to help you manage allergy symptoms and improve your quality of life during allergy season:

Keep a clean environment: Regularly clean your home to reduce dust and allergens. Use a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter and dust with a damp cloth to prevent dust from becoming airborne. Wash bedding, curtains, and stuffed animals frequently.

Wash bedding frequently: Wash your sheets, pillowcases, and blankets in hot water to kill dust mites and remove allergens. Use allergy-proof covers on pillows, mattresses, and box springs to reduce exposure to dust mites.

Use allergy-proof covers: Encase pillows, mattresses, and box springs in allergy-proof covers to reduce exposure to dust mites. These covers create a barrier that prevents allergens from accumulating in your bedding.

Avoid smoking and secondhand smoke: Smoke can worsen allergy symptoms and irritate your respiratory system. Avoid smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke, as it can exacerbate allergic reactions and increase respiratory irritation.

Stay hydrated: Drinking plenty of fluids can help thin mucus and ease congestion. Staying hydrated can also help your body cope with allergy symptoms and maintain overall health.

Summary

By taking proactive steps to reduce exposure to allergens, keeping indoor air clean, using medications, and exploring alternative treatments, you can manage your spring allergies effectively. For persistent symptoms, consulting a specialist can provide targeted solutions to help you enjoy the season without the discomfort of allergies. Combining these strategies can help you achieve significant relief and improve your quality of life during allergy season.

References

  1. Ridolo, Erminia et al. “Current treatment strategies for seasonal allergic rhinitis: where are we heading?.” Clinical and molecular allergy : CMA vol. 20,1 9. 10 Aug. 2022, doi:10.1186/s12948-022-00176-x
  2. Rachelefsky, G S. “National guidelines needed to manage rhinitis and prevent complications.” Annals of allergy, asthma & immunology : official publication of the American College of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology vol. 82,3 (1999): 296-305. doi:10.1016/S1081-1206(10)62612-9
  3. Brinkhaus, Benno et al. “Acupuncture in patients with seasonal allergic rhinitis: a randomised trial.” Annals of internal medicine vol. 158,4 (2013): 225-34. doi:10.7326/0003-4819-158-4-201302190-00002

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This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

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