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Nip spring allergies in the bud

  • The symptoms of spring allergies are similar to a common cold and include nasal congestion; sneezing; itchy, watery eyes; and itchy, runny nose.
  • Allergy symptoms, unlike that of a cold, can last weeks or months.

It’s spring, which means warmer temperatures, sunshine, showers and flowering buds. For many, it means spring allergies. If you are one of the millions of Americans who suffer from hay fever, spring may be less welcoming after a long winter.

But you don’t have to suffer or stay indoors. There are a number of effective treatments that will let you enjoy the great outdoors. Kenneth Johns, MD, an allergy and immunology specialist with the Allina Health Coon Rapids Clinic and Allina Health Maple Grove Clinic addresses some of the more common concerns about spring allergies.

What types of allergies do you see in the spring?

The major types of allergies we see in the spring are related to the types of allergens that appear. These are, in order:

  • ·outdoor mold in early spring to
  • tree pollen when the trees start to flower to
  • grass pollen toward the end of spring.

What are the symptoms of spring allergies?

The symptoms of spring allergies are similar to a common cold and include nasal congestion; sneezing; itchy, watery eyes; and itchy, runny nose.

How do you know whether you have just a common cold or whether it’s a seasonal allergy?

It can be really hard to tell allergies and upper respiratory infections apart. In general, allergy symptoms tend to last longer. A typical cold or respiratory virus may last from a week to two weeks, with an average of about ten days. Allergy symptoms, however, can last for weeks or months. There is usually more itching with allergies than with a respiratory infection.

If your symptoms do not respond to over-the-counter medication, whether it’s a cold or an allergy, you can always get care now with one of Allina Health’s many convenience care options, such as a virtual visit.

If you do suspect you have allergies, you may want to be tested. In a traditional skin prick test, which is also called a scratch or puncture test, tiny amounts of suspected allergens are introduced underneath your skin, usually on your forearm or back. If you are allergic, a small welt will appear almost immediately. Blood tests are done usually when a skin test is not possible, such as in cases where someone has had a severe allergic reaction or if you take any medication or have certain skin conditions that may interfere with the skin test results.

Who gets allergies and when do they develop?

Some people develop spring allergies when very young. Most people develop allergies over a course of a few years in their late teens to early 20s. Often the allergies peak when they are in their 20s, plateau in the 30s and 40s and then gradually fade away. Adult onset is not very common, but occasionally happens. When an older adult begins to show signs of an allergy, it is often due to something else. For example, they may be reacting to an irritant, such as smoker’s dust. Adults who develop symptoms of an allergy at a later stage in life should see a specialist for a correct diagnosis as it may require a different treatment.

How do you treat allergies?

There are three basic treatments for allergies:

  • Avoidance
  • Medication
  • Desensitization

How can you avoid allergens?

Avoidance is simple in principle, difficult in practice. If you aren’t exposed to the allergen, you won’t have an allergic reaction. But avoiding springtime allergens is nearly impossible. No one wants to keep their windows closed after the long winter, and I really discourage people from staying indoors 24/7. Beyond that, there’s not a whole lot you can to avoid those allergens.

If you have been told to install an air cleaner, air filter or a HEPA system, it may be a good idea for some reason besides allergies. There’s no really good evidence that these help with hay fever or other airborne allergies. Avoidance methods such as anti-allergenic pillows and changing the pillowcase will help with allergies to dust mites, but not with spring allergies.

What medications are available?

A variety of medication options are available, many of which are over-the-counter. You may need to try different ones and in different combinations to see which works best for you. Medications include:

  • antihistamines
  • topical steroids in the nose
  • eye drops

If these over-the-counter medications don’t seem to help, then you should see an allergy specialist.

What is desensitization?

Desensitization is the application of immunotherapy allergy shots. With these shots, you receive, small subcutaneous doses of allergens. Over time, this exposure causes you to become desensitized to the allergen. Shots are given weekly at first and then spaced out over longer periods of time until you no longer need them. Allergy shots, have been in use for about 100 years and are effective for the right patient with the right allergy.

Allergy tablets that are taken sublingually (under the tongue) are also available for ragweed and some pollen allergies. Talk to your doctor to see if this is something that may work for you. 

 

 

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