The birds are beginning to chirp, dogwoods are blooming, the sun is shining and the cool March wind is whispering that Spring is climbing out of hibernation and ready to roar! However, if you are one of the approximately 36 million Americans who suffer from seasonal allergies you know exactly when the Spring season is here because your itchy, watery eyes, runny nose, along with the sneezing and wheezing remind you that Old Man Winter is in the rear view mirror.
What is an Allergy?
An allergy is the body’s natural immune reaction to a substance that would normally be harmless to most people. The immune system acts as a defense against harmful invaders such as bacteria or viruses. People may have allergy symptoms only during certain times of the year such as spring or fall (Seasonal allergies) others may have allergy symptoms all year round. Dust, indoor mold, dander, or house dust mites are most commonly associated with year-round symptoms. The culprits for seasonal allergies are typically grass, outdoor mold, weeds and pollens. Seasonal allergies may also be referred to as hay fever or allergic rhinitis. When the immune system is triggered by allergens that it mistakenly thinks is a harmful invader, chemicals such as histamines and leukotrienes are released from cells into tissues around the eyes, nose, and lungs causing allergy symptoms.
The most common allergy symptoms are sneezing with a runny or clogged nose, coughing, postnasal drip, itchy, red eyes, watery eyes, or scratchy throat. If you experience these symptoms during certain seasons or most of the time then you may want to consult your doctor or nurse practitioner for more information.
How can I PREVENT Seasonal Allergies?
Allergies can be annoying and may interfere with the activities that you enjoy or even your work.
While there is not a cure for allergies at this time, the good news is that there are ways in which you can control your symptoms. Here are a few practical ideas that you can do to prevent or minimize allergy symptoms:
- Close the windows at home and in your car to prevent pollen exposure
- Run the air conditioning in the car and put the air on “recirculate” so you do not pull in the outside air
- If you must work outdoors, wear a face mask to filter pollen
- Wash items such as throw rugs in hot water (dust mites)
- Dust frequently with a damp cloth or oiled mop
- Vacuum frequently and use vacuums and air cleaners with HEPA filters
- Brush your cat or other animal more frequently (or get a nonallergic person to do this for you)
- Keep animals out of your bedroom or living areas
How can I TREAT Seasonal Allergies?
After all else fails or if you are not able to completely avoid certain allergens then your pharmacist, doctor, or nurse practitioner might be able to recommend a medication that can prevent or ease allergy symptoms. There are two main types of treatments used for allergies depending your symptoms: allergy shots and medications (prescription or over the counter).
- Antihistamines block the effects of the chemical histamine, a substance released when the body is reacting to an allergen. Claritin®, Alavert®, or loratadine are common over the counter medications taken by mouth that treat sneezing, runny nose, itchy or watery eyes. These should little to no drowsiness. Benadryl® (diphenhydramine) and chlorpheniramine are also available over the counter but can cause drowsiness, dry mouth or eye, blurred vision, loss of alertness or coordination and should be avoided if operating a motor vehicle. Allegra® (fexofenadine) and Zyrtec® (cetirizine) are prescription medications that can also be used for allergy symptoms.
- Decongestants shrink inflamed nasal tissues and relieve nasal congestion or stuffiness. A decongestant nasal spray or tablets can be good for temporary relief and should not be used more than 3 to 5 days because chronic use of decongestants may worsen congestion over time. The most common side effects of are trouble sleeping, anxiety or irritability. People with high blood pressure or other heart conditions should ask their doctor first before trying a decongestant product. Decongestants are available over the counter such as Sudafed® (pseudoephedrine) or Sudafed PE® (phenylephrine); however, due to new state and federal regulations pseudoephedrine decongestants containing products must be purchased from the pharmacist. There is a limit to the amount of pseudoephedrine a person can purchase in a specific time frame.
- Eyedrops are available as prescription or over the counter to treat eye allergy symptoms such as itching, burning, tearing, or swelling of the eyelids. Place a cool washcloth over the eyes can help relieve symptoms. There are many types of eye drops that can be used to target specific symptoms.
- The classes of allergy eye drops available include:
- mast cell stabilizers
- artificial tear
- combination products
- The classes of allergy eye drops available include:
Ask your pharmacist, primary health care provider which product is best for you as some products may not be suitable for certain conditions such as glaucoma or cataracts. Seek medical attention if the symptoms do not improve or worsen.
- Intranasal corticosteroids or steroid nasal sprays reduce the nasal inflammation that causes allergy symptoms, not just treating the symptoms when they occur. Nasal sprays are usually taken on a regular basis to prevent and reduce nasal symptoms. Common side effects include headache, sore throat, nosebleeds and cough. Flonase® and Nasacort® Allergy 24HR are now available over the counter without a prescription. Several other prescription nasal steroids are also available.
- Allergy shots must be given in a physician’s office and are given based on your allergy history and sensitivities. The shots contain a small amount of the allergens to help your immune system build up a tolerance or recognition to common allergens. Possible side effects include mild redness, itching, and swelling of the injection site.
The key is that allergy symptoms can be prevented or controlled if the proper steps are taken. Track your symptoms and triggers so your healthcare provider can help you develop an action plan against allergies. Remember that there are plenty of options available so talk to your Pharmacist about what may be right for you!