Spring has Sprung, and So Have Allergies

Northwestern Medicine
Health and Wellness March 23, 2012
Spring FowersAlthough we officially welcomed the first day of spring this week, the mild Chicago winter made it feel more like spring on several occasions. While the early arrival of warmer temperatures was welcomed by many, seasonal allergy symptoms began earlier and experts predict a more severe season ahead. Anju Peters, MD, an allergist at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, suggests taking a preemptive approach in order to get ahead of symptoms before they get you down.

“Seasonal allergies are going to affect us differently this year,” said Peters. “The mild winter created a longer growing season, which means an earlier start to allergy season. It may also lead to a season that is more severe than usual.”

Pollen counts are expected to be heavier than average, and tree pollen, the biggest culprit for spring allergies, may run rampant, creating misery for allergy sufferers along the way.

“When pollen gets into the nose of someone who is allergic, their immune system kicks into overdrive. Histamine and other substances are released that cause sneezing, itchy eyes, coughing, nasal congestion and sinus inflammation,” said Peters.

While you can’t completely avoid allergies, Peters says there are ways to improve burdensome symptoms.
  • Visit your doctor – If you’ve never been formally diagnosed with seasonal allergies, but notice your eyes are itchy and your nose runny during the winter months, Peters recommends consulting a physician. If your symptoms are not easily treated, your doctor may refer you to an allergist.
  • Protect your home - Regular dusting and vacuuming in your home and changing the air filters regularly can help remove indoor allergens. Peters recommends removing clothing that’s been worn outside when you get home since pollens are known to stick to fabric. Taking a shower to rinse allergens from the body can also help.
  • Try over-the-counter medications – Peters often recommends patients try over-the-counter medications as a first defense. Antihistamines reduce sneezing, sniffling and itching and decongestants may help with nasal congestion, but should not be taken if you have high blood pressure.
“Treating allergies is individual and what works for one person may not work for another,” said Peters. “Don’t suffer in silence. Talk with your doctor so you can find a strategy that will work for you and allow you to enjoy the spring season.”
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