Spring is here. You’ve been waiting all winter long for the sun to shine and the flowers to bloom. Unfortunately, now that it’s here you can’t enjoy it. You’ve had a runny nose and itchy eyes since the snow started to melt. It’s possible that you might have a cold, but it could also be seasonal allergies. How do you know it's allergies and not a cold? If it is allergies, is there anything you can do to alleviate your symptoms? Find out below.
When you just can’t get rid of your cold, it might not be a cold at all. Seasonal allergies affect nearly 8% of Americans over the age of 18. You just might be one of them. Although everyone experiences seasonal allergies differently, common symptoms of seasonal allergies (hay fever) include:
- Itchy nose, throat, eyes, sinuses, or ear canals
- Runny or congested nose
- Watery eyes
- Postnasal drip
- Ear congestion
- Dark circles under your eyes
- Wheezing, coughing, or shortness of breath
Many people find relief during the cold winter, but spring brings symptoms back full force. The most common cause of allergies seasonally is pollen. Pollen floats through the air from a variety of plants. Pollen is nearly invisible to the eye, but these small particles can cause major problems. If you have allergies, your body’s immune system has produced antibodies, which tell allergy cells to release chemicals including histamine. This histamine can trigger things like a runny nose or itchy eyes and you may experience more allergy symptoms on windy days when pollen counts are high. Common pollens that can trigger hay fever include:
- Trees including birch, cottonwood, box elder, elm, maple, and oak.
- Grasses like Timothy, Johnson and Bermuda.
- Weeds such as ragweed, sagebrush, Russian thistle and plantain.
Dealing with seasonal allergies is a miserable experience. Thankfully, there are some things you can do to prevent and ease your hay fever symptoms. Try these tips:
- Avoid going outdoors when pollen counts are high. You can check your local weather for pollen counts in the morning.
- Seal up your house. Keep your doors and windows shut.
- Replace the air filters on your furnace and air conditioner regularly.
- If you go outside for a long period of time, wash your hair when you come inside. This can help to clear out pollen and other allergens.
- Keep your house vacuumed and dusted regularly. Wear a mask while you vacuum or dust to protect yourself from allergens that get thrown into the air while cleaning.
Beyond basic prevention, there are also things you can do to help alleviate the symptoms of your springtime allergies. Over the counter medications such as antihistamines can help reduce sneezing, itching, and congestion. You may also find relief with nasal sprays, particularly the corticosteroid sprays, that can help decongest or ease inflammation. In addition, antihistamine eye drops may also help relieve itchy or watery eyes.
It’s a good idea to discuss your springtime allergies with your doctor. They can recommend both over-the-counter and prescription medications that will help you feel better. If symptoms are severe enough, consider seeing an allergist who can do allergy testing and discuss a more targeted approach, including allergy immunotherapy, commonly referred to as allergy shots.