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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.

Spring brings warmer temperatures, sunshine, showers and flowering buds. For many, it also means spring allergies. If you are one of the millions of Americans who have hay fever, spring may be less than welcome.

But you don’t have to stay indoors. There are several treatments that will let you enjoy the great outdoors. Keep reading as Kenneth Johns, MD, an allergy and immunology specialist at Allina Health, addresses 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.

Allergy symptoms include:

  • nasal congestion
  • sneezing
  • itchy, watery eyes
  • an itchy, runny nose.

Tame seasonal allergies. Get care now.

Is it a common cold or a seasonal allergy?

Allergy symptoms can be similar to upper respiratory infections. In general, allergy symptoms tend to last longer. A typical cold or respiratory virus may last one to two weeks, with an average of about 10 days. Allergy symptoms, however, can last for weeks or months. Allergies cause more itching than respiratory infections.

If your allergy symptoms do not respond to over-the-counter medicines, get care now with one of Allina Health’s convenient care options, such as a  virtual visit.

Types of allergy testing

Allergy testing can help identify allergies from animal dander, dust mites, insect venom, mold and pollen. In a traditional skin prick test, also called a scratch or puncture test, tiny amounts of suspected allergens go underneath your skin, usually on your forearm or back.

If you are allergic, a small welt will appear almost immediately. Blood tests are usually done when a skin test is not possible, such as when someone has had a severe allergic reaction or if you take medication or have a skin condition that may interfere with the skin test results.

Who gets allergies and when do they develop? 

Some people develop spring allergies when they’re young. Most people develop allergies during their late teens to early 20s. Allergies often peak for people in their 20s, plateau in their 30s and 40s and then gradually fade away. Adult-onset allergies are not very common. When older adults show signs of an allergy, it is often from 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.

Allergic asthma

Allergies and asthma often happen at the same time. Allergic asthma occurs when allergens, such as pollen or dust cause your immune system to respond and trigger asthma symptoms. Lower your risk of an allergic asthma attack by avoiding your triggers and talking to your health care provider.

Learn more about asthma symptoms and treatments.

How do you treat allergies?

There are three treatments for allergies:

  • avoidance
  • medication
  • desensitization.

How can you avoid allergens?

Avoidance is simple in principle, but 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 discourage people from staying indoors 24/7.

Consider installing an air cleaner, air filter or a HEPA system to relieve your allergy systems. While there’s no evidence air cleaners help with hay fever or other airborne allergies, they can reduce asthma symptoms and protect you from common illnesses like the flu and cold. Anti-allergenic pillows and changing the pillowcase can help improve allergies and prevent dust mites, but not with spring allergies.

What allergy medications are available? 

A variety of over-the-counter and prescription medicines are available. You may need a combination of medications recommended by your doctor to see which ones work best for you.

Medications include:

  • antihistamines
  • topical steroids in the nose
  • eye drops

If over-the-counter allergy medications don’t help, consider seeing an allergy specialist.

What is desensitization? 

Desensitization is the application of immunotherapy allergy shots. With these shots, you receive small doses of allergens. Over time, this exposure causes you to become desensitized to the allergen. You’ll get weekly shots at first and then spaced out over longer periods until you no longer need them. Allergy shots have been used for about 100 years and are effective for specific allergies. Allergy tablets that are taken under the tongue are also available for ragweed and some pollen allergies. Ask your doctor if allergy shots are right for you.

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