DEAR DOCTOR K:
The weather’s warming up. For me, that means one thing: allergies. Can you give me some specific advice to help keep my allergies under control?
Inhaled pollen, from trees, grass and weeds, is responsible for hay fever. These allergens get into the air — and into our noses, eyes and lungs –causing the symptoms that allergy sufferers dread.
It takes only a minuscule amount of pollen to trigger an allergic reaction. And pollen is everywhere during allergy season, impossible to avoid completely. As a result, many people find that medication is necessary. But taking steps to reduce your pollen exposure can also help to lessen the severity and frequency of your symptoms.
Many people check pollen counts on weather apps or websites so they know what to expect on a given day. These can be of some help. But pollen counts can fluctuate depending on things like the weather or time of day. For example, they’re usually lower on cooler, rainy days. And they’re usually higher in the morning, particularly on warm days.
Trees and plants are very consistent in the levels of allergens they release into the air. In the Northeast, where I live, the pollen season starts in February or March and ends in October. In Southern states it starts earlier and ends later. In Northern climates, trees kick off the season, followed by grasses and finally weeds.
Here are some ways to minimize your pollen exposure:
- Stay indoors when the pollen count is high, especially on dry, windy days.
- Stay indoors between 5 a.m. and 10 a.m., when airborne pollen counts are likely to be at their highest.
- Keep home windows closed during allergy seasons, and turn on the air conditioner.
- Keep car windows closed when driving.
- Don’t cut your own grass; have someone else do it.
- Don’t hang clothing and bedding out to dry.
- Wash your hair before bedtime, after a day spent outdoors.
Except for very minor allergies, it’s a good idea to treat your allergies and not just suffer through them. Apart from helping you feel better, timely treatment will lessen the likelihood of complications like sinus infections and blocked ears. If you also have asthma, you may find that your asthma will improve if you treat your hay fever.
If you do take allergy medicines (antihistamines, nasal steroids and so forth), start taking them several weeks before you anticipate your allergy season will start. Clinical trials have demonstrated that this strategy is more effective than starting the medicines after you have already developed symptoms.
The best medicines for moderate to severe nasal allergy symptoms are nasal sprays of medicines called glucocorticoids. Antihistamine pills are also effective. The older “first-generation” pills are more likely to cause side effects than the newer pills. Some antihistamines come as nasal sprays and are also effective. Finally, a nasal spray of a medicine called cromolyn also is effective.
Summer should be about beauty and warmth — not nasal allergies. Some combination of these approaches should help you.