Spring is unquestionably one of the best times of the year. The weather warms up, days grow longer and the landscape glows with the welcoming colors of flowers and tree blossoms. While the season might seem idyllic, for those who suffer pollen allergies, spring can become a difficult, and even miserable, time of year.
The pesky pollen that lingers on windshields in the mornings can cause far more than a minor inconvenience. Some 50 million Americans suffer some form of nasal allergies, which is as many as 30 percent or American adults and 40 percent of children. Pollen allergies in particular tend to flare up in the spring, frequently lying dormant during the cold winter months. A common allergy, known medically as seasonal allergic rhinitis and more colloquially as hay fever, it wreaks havoc on sufferers.
Common symptoms of pollen allergies include sneezing, runny nose, increased congestion, coughing, and, in severe cases, swelling of the eyes. The latter symptom is especially difficult, as it dramatically impacts how an individual can interact with the world, leading to significant loss of study for children, and work for adults. In the past, those chronic symptoms have led to a collective loss of 6 million work and school days in a single year.
There are three main culprits for pollen allergy sufferers: trees, grasses and weeds. Tree pollen peaks from March through May and common culprits of allergies in Pennsylvania include oak, maple, ash, walnut, beech, elm, hickory, sycamore and willow trees.
A second wave of allergens comes in May and June in the form of grasses. Locally, triggers include June, Bermuda—found commonly around golf courses—orchard, timothy, fescue, sweet vernal and rye grasses.
Lastly, from mid-to-late August through early November, prior to the first hard frosts of the winter, weed pollen allergies peak.
Symptoms are generally consistent across all of these allergens. Elizabeth Bailey, a nurse practitioner at Allergy & Asthma Specialists, which has offices throughout the region, notes that eye symptoms are worst during tree pollen season.
Luckily, there are treatment options to minimize allergic reactions. The experts at Allergy & Asthma Specialists can diagnosis and treat symptoms, whatever they may be. “We really try to get them to start preventative medicine two weeks prior to the season,” says Bailey of patients they see on a regular basis and have knowledge of pollen allergies in advance. That’s why it is important to start early and identify your allergy triggers before the pollens are in the air. Allergy skin testing can be performed at anytime to identify your triggers and help schedule a timely treatment plan before symptoms get out of control. Allergy sufferers mistakenly think they must be symptomatic to be allergy tested, but that is not the case. Get a jump on your symptoms and get tested before the pollen season.
For new patients seeking relief, it’s a different path to alleviating allergies. “If we see them for the first time, we’ll start them on antihistamines and/or a nasal steroid—there is some benefit to helping the eyes with nasal steroids,” she says. These work by blocking histamine, a chemical the body releases when it’s exposed to an allergen, often resulting in sneezing and other symptoms. Nasal sprays help block some of those reactions as well as reduce inflammation and even some nasal congestion. In some cases, medicines known as leukotriene receptor antagonists will be prescribed since they can block some of the receptors that trigger allergic reactions. These treatments are far more effective than over the counter drugs, which have side effects like drowsiness.
Beyond treatments, Bailey recommends pollen allergy sufferers take other steps to alleviate symptoms including keeping windows closed during pollen season, using a HEPA filter on air conditioning systems, wearing sunglasses when outdoors, taking a shower after coming in from the outdoors to remove pollen, and, if severe enough, limiting time outdoors during peak season. For those with pets, she also recommends wiping the pet down immediately after it comes inside to remove pollen clinging to fur.
No matter the allergy, the experts at Allergy & Asthma Associates can help diagnose and treat it so that you can get back to enjoying the season.
To schedule a visit with the board certified allergists/immunologists of A&AS at one of the eight convenient locations, call 1-800-86COUGH, extension 2