Knowing your allergy triggers
Learn which blooms are setting off your seasonal allergies and the best ways to fight them.
Flowers are blooming, birds are chirping and warmer weather is on the horizon — spring is officially here. Unfortunately, for millions of people living with spring allergies, this means the start of seasonal allergic rhinitis, which is commonly referred to as nasal allergies or hay fever. Hay fever can drastically impact the lives of those affected due to sleep disruption, sinus infections, and the inability to be productive at school or work. The main culprit causing this condition is pollen, a very fine powder released by trees, weeds and grasses.
Spring allergies are most commonly caused by tree pollen. Trees typically begin to pollinate in late winter and early spring, sending billions of pollen particles into the air. Certain factors can worsen spring allergies caused by trees. On windy days dry pollen is picked up and dispersed through the air, where it can travel for miles. Having a “trigger” tree near your home can cause worsening allergies because you are likely to be exposed to significantly more pollen than you would be from a tree that is farther away.
To combat spring allergies caused by tree pollen, get tested to learn which trees trigger your allergies. Once aware of the trigger, it is easier to avoid contact, which is the next step. Contact can be avoided by staying inside when pollen counts are high or wearing a mask when working outside. There are numerous websites such as pollen.com that detail daily pollen counts in specified areas. If you live near a trigger tree, have the tree removed if possible or snip the branches to reduce the amount of pollen it releases. There are also allergy shots (immunotherapy) available to ease tree pollen allergies and other over-the-counter solutions.
The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) is dedicated to improving the quality of life for people with asthma and allergic diseases through education, advocacy and research. Visit their website at aafa.org.
Though tree pollen is the most common spring allergy trigger, weeds, grasses and even mold can be problematic for some spring allergy sufferers. Pollen from weeds tends to be more prevalent late summer through fall, and pollen from grass late spring through summer. Mold is more prevalent during warmer weather but can be a problem year-round. The health effects of these triggers are all very similar and can include itchy eyes, throat and nose, sneezing, coughing, runny or stuffy nose, watery eyes and headaches.
“Avoidance of triggers is the best treatment for allergy sufferers, but that isn’t always possible,” says Talisa White, External Affairs Manager at the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. “It is important that you be proactive. If you know your allergies are worse during the spring season, visit with your doctor in advance of allergy season to discuss the best treatment options for you. Starting treatment before symptoms actually appear will lessen the severity of your symptoms or prevent them from developing.”
There are multiple ways that doctors treat spring allergies. Some doctors recommend over-the-counter (OTC) medicines that are effective for the majority of people. Commonly prescribed OTC medications include antihistamines, which reduce sneezing, sniffling and itching by lowering the amount of histamine (the substance produced during an allergic reaction) in the body; decongestants, which clear mucus out of the nasal passageways to get rid of congestion and swelling; a mixture of antihistamine/decongestants, which combines the effects of both drugs; nasal spray decongestants, which relieve congestion; steroid nasal sprays, which reduce inflammation; and eye drops to relieve itchy,watery eyes. There are also stronger prescription medicines that you can discuss with your doctor that can help minimize or prevent allergy symptoms.