Surviving Allergy Season
Your nose is running, your eyes are tearing and you can't stop sneezing. Do you have to suffer through another allergy season? Find out what you can do to feel better.
If you suffer from hay fever, you don't have to stay indoors while everyone else is enjoying the new blossoms and colorful foliage.
You're not alone
Seasonal rhinitis - or "hay fever" - is the most common allergic condition in the U.S. About one in five people suffer from it. At best, hay fever is an inconvenience. At worst, the sneezing, runny nose, itchy eyes and scratchy throat can cause you to miss time at work or school. It can also lead to other illnesses.
Why is it called "hay fever?"
"Hay fever" isn't caused by hay - and doesn't cause a fever. The name was used by 18th century British doctors to describe farmers who complained of sneezing and watery, itchy eyes after working with freshly cut hay. It was later discovered that they were allergic to the mold growing in the hay and not to the hay itself.
What causes seasonal allergic rhinitis?
Your immune system produces antibodies to protect against bacteria, viruses and other invading substances. In an allergic reaction, these antibodies overreact to pollen, mold spores and other harmless allergens. This leads to a release of histamine, a chemical that causes swelling of mucous membranes in the nose, sinuses and eyes.
Hay fever tends to run in families, and sometimes improves in adulthood. It is often linked to allergens like dust, animal dander and mold. Seasonal allergies often go hand-in-hand with asthma and eczema.
- Runny nose, stuffy nose, sneezing
- Itchy, watery or red eyes
- Itchy or sore throat, enlarged tonsils
- Dry cough
One in five people with allergic rhinitis also have asthma. Many others have eczema. Allergic rhinitis can make wheezing and skin rashes worse.
Tips for avoiding allergies
Since pollen is so widespread, it's hard to avoid. However, there are some simple things you can do to reduce your exposure to pollen.
- Don't go out early in the morning. Pollen counts are highest between 5 a.m. and 10 a.m.
- Keep your home pollen-free. Leave your shoes outside and change your clothes when you come home.
- Don't hang your clothes outside to dry.
- Try to avoid mowing the lawn or raking leaves. If you must do yard work, wear a face mask.
- Wash your hair every night.
- Wash bedding in hot water once a week.
- Use air-conditioning in your home and car. Change air conditioner filters regularly. Use a HEPA (high efficiency particle arresting) filter that removes pollen and other common allergens from the air.
- Check the pollen counts in your area. They tend to be lower on humid, windless days.
See your doctor if:
- Over-the-counter medications aren't helping
- You have year-round allergies
- You feel stuffed up or blocked on only one side of the nose
- You have any of the following symptoms:
- Productive cough
- Achy sinuses
How your doctor can help:
- Medications. Some medications, such as nasal steroids, require careful monitoring. Take them only if you're under a doctor's care. Talk to your doctor about the dosing and timing of your medications. Some people should start taking medication before the allergy season begins.
- Treat other conditions. If you develop asthma or a respiratory infection, have it treated.
- Allergy testing. This identifies what substances you are allergic to if the above medical treatment does not relieve symptoms over several allergy seasons.
- Allergy shots. Shots help reduce your reaction to certain allergens. The shots, which you receive over a period of time, contain the allergens you've reacted to.