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Here Comes the Pollen!

Posted on Thursday, May 22, 2014, by Ashley Snyder

By Dr. Kathryne Buege

Flowers are blooming and the trees have buds.  The grass is greener, and spring is in the air - along with the dreaded pollens and let's not forget the mold spores.  For some of us, this means trouble - allergy season has arrived.  With cabin fever after a long winter's hibernation, this can be very frustrating.

So, what exactly are seasonal allergies?  Seasonal allergies, or "hay fever," are a group of conditions that cause sneezing and a stuffy or runny nose.  Symptoms occur only at certain times of the year.  Most seasonal allergies are caused by pollens from trees, grasses or weeds, or mold spores, which grow when the weather is humid, wet or damp.

What are the symptoms?

  • Stuffy nose, runny nose and sneezing a lot (for me, my body has not figured out how to sneeze softly or daintily.  Or that one sneeze, not 4 or 5 in a row, is plenty.)
  • itchy or red eyes
  • sore throat or itching of the throat or ears
  • waking up at night or trouble sleeping, which can lead to feeling tired during the day
  • wheezing or coughing

When a person has a seasonal allergy, his or her immune system acts as if the substance is harmful to the body, causing symptoms.  Seasonal allergies sometimes run in families, and many people first get seasonal allergies when they are children or young adults.

What can you do?

  • Stay indoors
  • Keep car and house windows closed and use air conditioning instead
  • Take a shower before bed to rinse pollen off hair and skin
  • Wear a dust mask if you need to be outdoors.  Yeah, right!  Although this works and does prevent symptoms, probably not ideal!  

Thankfully there are over-the-counter medications and prescription medications to help combat allergy season.

  • Nasal Rinses  Neti pot, saline nasal spray, and the dreaded saline wash.  The saline wash is basically an enema for your nose: take warm distilled water, mix saline packet, and squirt it up one nostril and repeat with the other.  This works to clean the inside of your nose and wash away pollen and/or infection.
  • Steroid Nasal Sprays  These may take a few days or weeks for maximal effect.  This medicine helps to reduce inflammation and sometimes works best with a decongestant the first few days.  Side effects include local irritation of the nasal mucosa, drying and burning, and nose bleeds.
  • Steroid Nasal Spray combined with Antihistamine  This may be helpful for allergy sufferers who do not obtain sufficient relief with one agent.  This method is approved for those age 12 and older.
  • Antihistamines  These work to curb symptoms like itching, sneezing and a runny nose.  There are two different categories of antihistamines:
    • First Generation  Benadryl is a first generation antihistamine, whose side effects include sleepiness/drowsiness.  Young children who take Benadryl may also experience paradoxical agitation.
    • Second Generation  Zyrtec, Claritin and Allegra are all classified as second generation antihistamines.  Zyrtec in particular may cause sedation in some adults, as compared to Claritin  and Allegra, which are non-sedating at their customary dose.
  • Allergy Shots  These may be given weekly or monthly and do reduce symptoms, but take months to work.
  • Decongestants  These work to combat stuffy nose symptoms.  People with high blood pressure should avoid this medication and take a high blood pressure-specific alternative, such as Coricidan HBP. Also, do not use decongestant nasal sprays for more than three consecutive days, as this can actually make symptoms worse.
  • Herbal therapies  If taking Allegra or Claritin, avoid St. John's Wort, as this may render the medication less effective.  Patients with weed pollen allergies should be cautious about taking Echinacea Purpurea, which may cause anaphylaxis in atopic patients.

There are other medications available, so make sure to consult with your doctor/medical care provider regarding the best treatment regimen for your allergies.  Also, click here to check out MASH Urgent Care's Facebook post with more helpful hints on your allergy treatment options.  Hopefully, you can get your allergies under control and enjoy the warmer weather that has finally arrived!