Preparing for—and Coping With—Spring Allergies
Sunny or not, warm or not, spring eventually arrives—and with it, spring allergies.
The official start of spring is March 20, but anyone living in the Greater Delaware Valley knows that the weather doesn’t always take on a spring-like character until later.
“The part that becomes unpredictable is obviously the weather,” says Einstein Healthcare Network allergy specialist Gary Kuan-Hsiang Huang, MD, PhD. Dr. Huang practices at Einstein Medical Center Philadelphia. With one Nor’easter after another rolling through the area, he adds, the onset of spring this year might be delayed.
When things start to warm up, though, pollen inevitably begins to circulate in the air. Those extremely fine particles find their way into the body. For many of us, pollen triggers everything from itchy eyes, nose and throat to a worsening of symptoms in people with asthma and other respiratory conditions.
“The classic complaints involve itching and watery eyes,” Dr. Huang says. Additionally, “nose and throat symptoms include sneezing, runny nose, itching of the nose, itching of the throat, and post-nasal drip, which can lead to a lot of throat clearing, a dry cough, or a mucus-y cough. You can get congested if the swelling extends to the sinuses, and give you a hay fever-like sensation. Patients with allergic asthma can also have seasonal flares as the pollen count rises.”
Different pollens tend to bloom at different times of the spring and summer, says Dr. Huang. “Trees tend to bloom first and bring out their pollen first, usually by April or May,” he says. “By June, grass pollens are in the air. And by mid-summer, there are weeds.” People can be allergic to some or all.
Rainy days also cause airborne molds to develop. People with allergies can be sensitive to those, too.
Generally, though, look for allergies to subside during rainy days, which tend to keep pollen grains out of the air, and expect allergies to worsen during sunny, breezy days.
Over the next few decades, Dr. Huang adds, research suggests warm-weather allergies will worsen, due to global climate change. With warmer weather, plants tend to generate more pollen on a year-to-year basis. “It’s estimated that by 2040, we will see a doubling of the pollen we saw in 2008,” he says.
So what can you do to keep allergies under control? Here’s some advice from Dr. Huang:
First, you can prevent them. There are several ways to do this:
- Close the windows of your home and car.
- Use air conditioning, if you have it.
- Install allergy blocking filters in your furnace. The effectiveness of furnace filters is measured from 1 to 16. Look for a rating of 10 or above.
- Change your clothes after prolonged exposure outdoors.
- Consider washing your hair, especially if your hair is longer.
Second, treat your allergies.
Many people take over-the-counter antihistamines and use nasal steroid sprays. Some even irrigate their nostrils with saline. But OTC medications don’t always do the trick—and for people with asthma, allergies can trigger serious reactions. Control of seasonal allergies can help control asthma symptoms. If you suffer from warm-weather allergies, Dr. Huang recommends consulting with an allergist.
“There are different nasal steroid and oral antihistamines available over the counter, but there are other medications that a doctor can prescribe,” he says. “So definitely talk to your doctor to figure out your allergy and the best strategy for treating it. There’s definitely also value in talking to your doctor for people with bad asthma control. It would be useful to review your strategy so allergies do not affect your quality of life.”