If you have seasonal allergies, you might be miserable when springtime rolls around. As the temperatures warm and the flowers, trees and grasses begin to blossom and grow, the pollen starts to fly. You know it, because it triggers your sniffling, sneezing and watery eyes.
You’d love to enjoy the beautiful spring weather, but it feels like your seasonal allergy symptoms are forcing you to stay indoors. What can you do? Tara Carr, MD, an allergist and immunologist with Banner - University Medicine, said you want to minimize your exposure to allergens so you can reduce your symptoms. But that doesn’t mean you need to stay indoors for the season. Here are a few tips that can help you keep your seasonal allergies at bay.
How to lower your exposure to seasonal allergens
The best strategies for reducing your symptoms center around keeping yourself away from pollen:
- Avoid the outdoors in the early morning since that’s when the pollen count is at its highest, so you’re most likely to have allergic reactions.
- Consider showering at night to remove the pollen from your hair and skin so you’re not exposed to it when you’re sleeping.
- Keep your windows closed as much as possible, especially your bedroom windows.
- Leave your shoes at the door so you aren’t tracking pollen into your home.
- Clean or replace the air conditioning filters in your house and your car so they’re removing allergens from the air during pollen season.
- Vacuum your rugs and carpets frequently and dust your furniture with a damp cloth to remove pollen.
- Bathe your pets to get allergens off their fur and keep them out of the bedroom.
- Wear glasses instead of contact lenses since contacts can trap irritants against your eyes.
How a doctor can help you find the right treatment
These exposure-reducing steps can help, but you can’t completely eliminate the chance you’ll come across allergy triggers. So, you may want to talk to a medical professional about controlling your symptoms. “If you have an allergy, it’s important to be evaluated and treated,” Dr. Carr said. “Allergists can provide you information on avoidance and medical therapy and treatment options to try and reduce the allergy over time.”
Your doctor may recommend over-the-counter allergy medications such as:
- Antihistamine pills you can take once daily to treat your runny nose, itchy eyes and nose and sneezing. Today’s options are long-acting, less sedating and have fewer side effects than those available just a few years ago.
- Steroid nasal sprays, like fluticasone (Flonase) and triamcinolone (Nasacort), that you can use daily to treat and prevent all allergy symptoms. “These need to be used regularly to get the best effect,” Dr. Carr said.
- The nasal antihistamine Astepro, which is available over the counter and can be used either regularly or as needed for nasal allergy symptoms.
“These options all have good long-term safety records, and you can use them separately or in combination,” Dr. Carr said.
You can also use saline solution flushes, such as with a Neti pot or nasal irrigation bottle. These can be effective in rinsing mucus and pollens out of your nasal passages—read the directions carefully and talk to your doctor if you have any questions about how to use them. If you’re going to use a nasal spray, you should use saline flushes first, then apply the spray. Beware of overusing decongestant nasal sprays, which can create a rebound effect and prolonged congestion.
What to do if you still need relief
If your allergy symptoms are not well controlled by reducing your exposure and trying over-the-counter treatments, you should see an allergy specialist. A medical professional can confirm that the symptoms are due to allergies, and not something else that can cause similar symptoms, such as chronic sinus infections or a deviated septum.
People who have tough-to-control allergies may want to take allergy shots (allergen-specific immunotherapy) or use FDA-approved tablets (sublingual immunotherapy) to reduce symptoms. These treatments are effective, but they are long-term options that usually take a few months to begin working, so you need to start them well before allergy season begins.
Seasonal allergies may also affect your lungs since they are linked with asthma, or your skin (eczema). “If you have those conditions, it’s best to see a doctor because the medications that are most effective are prescription,” Dr. Carr said.
The bottom line
When the temperatures increase, and the pollen starts flying in the springtime, you can feel miserable if you have seasonal allergies. But you don’t have to stay indoors for the season. By lowering your exposure, talking to your doctor, and trying different treatment options, you can get the sneezing, sniffling and itching under control.