Northwestern Medicine

Millions to Experience Allergy Symptoms this Spring

Northwestern Memorial Hospital March 19, 2011

Northwestern Memorial physician offers tips to manage spring allergy symptoms

CHICAGO, IL – Spring has sprung and warm weather is on the way. While many of us are eager to store our winter coats and start enjoying the sunshine and blooming flowers, the change of season signals the start of spring allergies for an estimated 50 million Americans. According to experts, bothersome symptoms such as watery eyes, a runny nose, and fatigue can be improved with just a few steps.

“Seasonal allergies are affecting more Americans than ever before,” said Anju Peters, MD, allergist at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. “While there is no cure for allergies, lifestyle modifications and medications can offer significant relief, allowing allergy sufferers to continue daily activities without burdensome symptoms.”

Tree pollen, the biggest trigger for spring allergies, is easily spread, creating an unfortunate path of agony for allergy sufferers along the way. When pollen gets into the nose of someone who’s allergic, their immune system kicks into overdrive. Histamine and other substances are released that cause coughing, sneezing, itchy eyes, nasal congestions, and sinus inflammation.

“Recent studies suggest that pollen season is becoming longer and potentially more severe due to global warming,” said Peters. “It is now even more important to treat allergies properly so they do not take a toll on a person’s quality of life.”

While it’s nearly impossible to completely avoid allergies, Peters says there are ways to find relief. 

  • Visit your doctor – If you’ve never been formally diagnosed with spring allergies but you notice your eyes are itchy and your nose runny during the spring months, Peters recommends seeing your doctor. Your doctor may then recommend you to an allergist if symptoms are not easily treated. An allergy specialist may perform a skin test, which involves injecting a tiny sample of a diluted allergen into the skin on your arm. If you’re allergic to the substance, a small red bump will form. A blood test can also be used to detect allergies. Once your doctor finds the source of the allergy a plan of action can be made to alleviate symptoms. 
  • Protect your home – Regular dusting and vacuuming in your home can help remove allergens along with changing the air filters regularly. Peters recommends removing clothing that’s been worn outside when you get home since pollens are known to stick to fabric in addition to taking a shower to rinse allergens from your body. If you’re a severe allergy sufferer and are having difficulty breathing, it’s best to keep windows and doors closed whenever possible during the spring months.
  • Plan for the outdoors – Pay attention to pollen and mold counts, and air qualityso you avoid times of day when allergens peak. For example, exercising later in the day when pollen counts are lower may cause fewer symptoms.
  • Know the calendar – It’s important to know when allergens spike during the year so you can take steps to improve your symptoms. Tree pollen sufferers will be affected from March to May. The summer months bring grass pollen, and ragweed is high during late summer and early fall. In the fall, mold allergies will occur until the first frost.
Doctors often treat allergies with a number of over-the-counter and prescription drugs. If you suffer from mild symptoms start with over-the-counter remedies. 

“There are a variety of medications out there to help with allergies. Some common options include antihistamines, which reduce sneezing, sniffling and itching, and decongestants, which may help with nasal congestion, but should not be taken if you have high blood pressure. There are also prescription nasal sprays that are effective in treating allergies,” said Peters. 

If you find that over-the-counter remedies still aren’t bringing relief, make an appointment with your doctor to discuss other options such as allergy shots.

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