How to keep pollen from spoiling your spring
Spring is in the air, and for some, that’s enough to set off sneezing, wheezing, coughing and dripping noses.
While trees and flowers are blooming and brightening our yards, they are also emitting pollens that can make some people feel downright miserable.
Why does pollen make my nose run and eyes water?
“Tiny particles whose mission is to fertilize parts of other plants are released from trees, weeds and grasses each year,” explains Dr. Casey Nekl, M.D., an ear, nose and throat specialist at Sentara ENT Specialists in Elizabeth City, N.C. "These particles, known as pollen, hitch rides on currents of air taking them into the airways of the human body."
When an allergen like pollen enters the body, a series of reactions occurs, including the production of histamine. The release of histamine leads to allergy symptoms, such as sneezing, runny nose, watery and itchy eyes, scratchy throat, hives and shortness of breath. For some, these allergens can cause skin problems, such as eczema. Pollen can also aggravate asthma.
Here’s where “antihistamine” medication helps by combatting histamine’s effects on the body. However, when allergies cannot be controlled by these medications, it’s time to see a doctor.
How can my doctor help?
Allergy symptoms are best controlled with multiple approaches. These can include:
- Antihistamine tablets or nasal sprays
- Steroid nasal sprays
- Eye drops
- Allergy shots
- Oral Montelukast (Originally developed to treat asthma, this drug has recently come into favor as a prescription therapy for allergies. The brand name is Singulair.)
- Controlling the environment to lessen exposure to pollen
- Nasal saline flushing
- Sublingual Immunotherapy (SLIT) - Immunotherapy is a preventive treatment in which patients are given gradually increasing doses of an allergen to desensitize the immune system.
Your physician may choose to narrow exactly what pollens are causing allergies with more thorough testing.
"When an individual is not receiving relief with common treatments, identifying the allergen facilitates a more comprehensive treatment plan," Nekl says. "The skin prick test and a blood test, known as RAST, are both used to identify allergens."
Keep track of when allergies are worst, and plan ahead the following year by taking medication a couple weeks before the pollen starts circulating, Nekl advises.
What can I do at home?
Beyond medication, those who suffer from pollen allergies can take these steps at home to control allergies:
- Wear a mask while working outside
- Change air filters in heating and AC units, as well as vacuums
- Keep window and doors closed when pollen counts are high
- Check the pollen forecast
- Use HEPA covers over mattresses and pillows
- Get rid of carpentry
- Clean often, especially rugs and floors