The weather is changing for the better outside, but not everyone is pleased. If you’re like millions of other Americans who suffer from seasonal allergies, the warming weather also signals the coming of pollen season along with itchy eyes and a running nose. To help you get a jump on your seasonal allergies, I’ve put together a few pieces of information that I think will be helpful in getting you well prepared.
Where do seasonal allergies come from?
Our body’s immune system has a variety of different cell types to combat various invaders. The cells that trigger allergies are mast cells and basophils and they’re supposed to fight foreign invaders that can infect our bodies. In the case of allergies, these cells get tricked into thinking that pollen found in the air is a foreign invader. They respond by releasing a variety of inflammatory compounds to fight off the pollen, which leads to the itchy eyes and runny nose that you get during seasonal allergies.
How do we normally treat seasonal allergies?
Most of the time, you probably only treat your allergies with a variety of over-the-counter medications that help with your symptoms. The most commonly used medications are antihistamines, which block the activity of one of the more troublesome inflammatory compounds released by mast cells and basophils. But there are different classes of these medications and it’s important to know the difference.
- 1st generation antihistamines: The most common drugs of this kind are diphenhydramine or chlorpheniramine, which are in a lot of “nighttime” formulations of medications. While these medications work well to reduce allergy symptoms, they also make you sleepy, so avoid them if you’re looking for daytime relief.
- 2nd generation antihistamines: The second generation addressed the issues of sleepiness by switching to a drug form that can’t access the brain. As a result, you’ll get relief from your symptoms without dozing off. Common drugs in this class are loratidine and cetirizine.
- 3rd generation antihistamines: These have only just recently hit the market and are more targeted forms of the second generation. They have names like levocetirazine or desloratidine. While they sound fancy, the benefits are probably marginal compared to the second generation.
Some people find these medications drying and prefer nasal sprays. A steroid nasal spray that uses triamcinolone was recently approved for over-the-counter use. Don’t worry; these aren’t anabolic steroid so you’re not going to bulk up. But if you do plan to use the nasal spray, follow the directions carefully and contact your doctor if you have any problems.
You can also find nasal sprays that use the antihistamines mentioned above and also work well to relieve nasal symptoms. These are sometimes combined with a drug called pseudoephedrine that helps to fight congestion in your nose. This serves as a one-two punch to decrease inflammation and dry up the mucus flow in your nose.
What can I do now to prepare?
Start by recalling when your allergies have typically started in the past. It’s a good idea to start taking medications like those mentioned above about two weeks before your allergy season typically starts. That helps you to get ahead of the game and keeps your symptoms under control from the start, rather than trying to catch up once they hit you.
The second step is to find a reliable source for the daily pollen count or allergy forecast. On those days when the count is highest, try to minimize your time outside and make sure you have medications with you. If you do have to go out, try to change your clothes and take a shower when you get home to wash the pollen off. Some people even use a neti pot to wash the pollen out of their nose and sinuses. That way you won’t continue to trigger your allergies once your get inside. Keeping your doors and windows closed during peak pollen levels will also help.
Third, think carefully before planning any big outdoor trips during allergy season. It might seem like a great idea now, but you’re going to be miserable if your allergy symptoms are acting up. Aim for July or August, when pollen levels tend to dip.
And finally, think about what worked for you in the past. At this point, you’ve probably tried a lot of different things. Those methods that always seem to help are ones you should keep doing. Plan ahead so that you have the supplies you need when allergies start acting up.
I know it can be a miserable part of the year, but with good planning, allergy season doesn’t have to catch you by surprise. Start planning now and you’ll be in good shape when the plants start blooming.