No Youre Not Imagining It: Seasonal Allergies Are Worse This Year
School of Medicines Fred Little on reasons for the spike and what you can do about it
Its that time of year againyoure sitting outdoors enjoying the sunshine, when all of a sudden, you start to feelitchy. Within an hour, that itch has turned into a full-blown sneeze attack complete with watery eyes and congestion, and now youre running to the nearest pharmacy to buy some Zyrtec.
Seasonal allergiesor an allergic reaction to the tree and grass pollens that float around in the spring and summer, known as allergic rhinitisaffect nearly 60 million people in the United States every year. This year, theyre particularly bad in the Northeast, which can be attributed to factors such as climate change and recent dry spells, says longtime allergist Fred Little, a Boston University School of Medicine clinical associate professor of medicine and the director of the Boston Medical Center allergy-immunology fellowship.
We spoke with Little about how allergies work and what you can do to cut down on the sneezing, itching, and watery eyes.
What Can You Do To Manage Your Allergies
While it’s difficult to entirely eliminate the effects of allergens on your body, there are steps you can take to make the symptoms less severe. Over-the-counter medications and antihistamines can treat allergies for a few weeks without a problem, and nasal steroid sprays work well for chronic symptoms. Other solutions include:
If you have seasonal allergies and work outside, change out of your daytime clothes once you’re home. This will reduce your exposure to any allergens collected during the day.
- Wash your sheets weekly to reduce allergen buildup.
- Keep your windows closed.
- Stay inside from 10am to 4pm if possible.
- Saline sinus rinses help flush out allergens and limit the allergic reaction.
- If you’re allergic to your pets, keep them out of your bedroom.
- Plan ahead for next monthâs allergy. If you know oak tree pollen will be high in March and April, start taking medication in February.
No one likes allergies. With a few lifestyle changes and basic caution, you can manage your allergies and get back to your life.
I Don’t Have Allergies Why Do I Have Symptoms
Leyko said plant growth after rain doesn’t only affect people with allergies.
“People react to weather changes,” Leyko said. “Storms coming in, barometric pressure changes and humidity. Some people just react to that in itself.
“So these environmental physical changes that have nothing to do with allergies, those do affect our noses. Our noses respond to various stimuli so that it itself can cause some congestion and some pressure in the head.”
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What Else Can I Do To Prepare For Allergy Season
Even if you’re already taking OTC allergy meds, you may still experience symptoms. So, what then?
Luckily, there are a few other solutions. First, Dr. Ogden recommends consulting with a board-certified allergist who can discover *exactly* what’s causing problems for you. “You need to take proactive steps,” she saysand the easiest way to cut down on symptoms is to find out what’s causing them, so you can avoid them.
Once you know what the culprit is, don’t exercise outside or sleep with your windows open. Both may be tempting once the weather gets warmer, but “you have to isolate yourself from your allergens,” Dr. Ogden says, so embrace the indoors to reduce the chance of having a reaction.
And try to remove allergens once you get home: Take nighttime showers, make sure to shampoo your hair, and wash your face to make sure nothing’s stuck to your eyelashes. “You just want to remove pollen residue,” Dr. Ogden explains. For extra protection, consider investing in an air purifier for your bedroom.
The downside? Allergy shots are a bit of a time commitment. You’ll need to get them once a week for six to eight months, then once a month for a minimum of two years, says Dr. Parikh. You need to be a little bit patient too, because it can take about six months to start feeling better. So, if you want protection by March, you’ll probably have to start in September the year before.
How To Get Rid Of Seasonal Allergies Naturally
One of the best natural remedies for treating seasonal allergies is allergen immunotherapy. Immunotherapy is a process by which the patient is given tiny amounts of the offending allergen. This is done gradually over time until a maintenance level is reached. Allergen immunotherapy can help reduce and eliminate symptoms.
Even without seeing an allergist, there are some at-home things you can do to reduce your symptoms:
- Saline nasal sprays available over-the-counter. These help flush out irritated nasal passages caused by allergies or overuse of decongestant nasal sprays.
- Nasal rinses and washeshelpful for people with nasal allergies. A solution of saltwater and baking soda is used. Using the solution in a rinsing device can help shrink swollen membranes, improve airflow, and open sinus passages. You can buy a premixed solution packet at pharmacies or make your own.
- Air filters high-efficiency particulate air filters help trap indoor airborne allergens, such as pollen, mold, dust mites or pet dander, before they can circulate in your home.
- Air conditioners and dehumidifiers help reduce moisture in the air. They also limit mold growth. An air conditioner is also helpful in cooling your home. This will limit the need to open windows, which would allow pollens into your home.
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Its Allergy Season: Here Are The Worst Months For These 15 Common Allergies
Bees collect pollen from the sunflowers at Maria’s Field of Hope in Avon, Ohio. Stacker and Wyndly found the worst months for the most common seasonal allergens. Joshua Gunter, cleveland.com
STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. Coughing, sneezing, stuffy nose, and itchy eyes are all symptoms of seasonal allergies.
And while spring and summer are associated with the return of warmer weather, outdoor gatherings, and vacations, it also marks the return of allergy season.
Data journalism website Stacker explains that the reason some allergies strike seasonally is because of their cause, like different plants and flowers, only bloom during certain parts of the year. Some of the symptoms could range from mildly irritating, to shortness of breath.
Pollen is typically the culprit found in small, egg-shaped grains that are released from different plants and flowers as they bloom and carried by wind and insects to cross-pollinate other plants. Spring tends to be dominated by tree pollen, while summer allergies lean toward plant allergens from grass.
Wyndly, which works to provided permanent allergy relief, cited research from the division of allergy and clinical immunology at Johns Hopkins University to look at how 15 common allergies manifest in different months.
What Causes Allergies In Florida
The main cause of allergies in Florida is ragweed, as long summers lead to allergies due to foliage having the optimal weather to grow.
Apart from allergies to plants, mold is the second largest cause of seasonal allergies in Florida during the fall season. Mold allergies are unlike pollen allergies because when the temperature drops, mold simply becomes benign . Where there are humid and moist conditions, you can count on mold thriving as it is the perfect environment for it to grow. If you are sensitive to allergies, ensure that you never leave water standing, and try to make your home as dry as possible.
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Bu Today: What Can People Do To Decrease Their Pollen Exposure
Fred Little:Unlike somebody with a food allergy, who can control their exposure to that food, its very hard to control exposure to pollens, as theyre so pervasive. Even indoors: as we come in and out of our houses, we wear the clothes we were wearing outdoors and bring pollens into the house. There are some things that can be done to minimize pollen levels in the house. For one, if you have the resources, keep windows closed during the night and day and use air conditioners to keep the air cool. For people with really bad allergies to pollens, they might want to change out of their outside clothes when they come inside and wash them . That can be helpful for people who have severe allergies and want to keep the house as pollen-free as possible. But no house or apartment is airtight, so it can be hard to keep the outdoor environment from coming indoors.
More People May Experience Seasonal Allergies
ANN ARBOR, Mich. Every spring, summer and fall allergy sufferers in Metro Detroit brace for the inevitable an explosion of pollen that can make or break those outdoor plans after being forced to spend months inside during the long Michigan winter.
Pollen really brings out the worst in me. Its a really bad time, scratchy throat. Its just its all the worst things always happened around this time of year, Robby Harden said.
Harden, 29, has been living with his allergies since he was a child. He, like most allergy sufferers, can pinpoint the first time his allergy symptoms kicked in.
I was just outside of recess one day, and I came inside and one of my teachers asked if I was in a fight or something, and because my face was all puffy and I didnt feel bad at all, he said. But then I was in the bathroom looking in the mirror and I was in shock. I couldnt believe what was happening. So that was kind of like my big rude awakening that seasonal allergies can really affect me in a pretty big way.
His allergies and asthma that came with it became so severe he ended up in the hospital over and over.
Millions of children are treated for pollen allergies every year, according to the Mayo Clinic. Those seasonal allergies that often come with childhood asthma dont have a cure and do permanent damage to the lungs.
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You Can Be Allergic To Dust Pollen Grass Or Mold To Name Some Of The More Common Allergens
Depending on which of these triggers a sneezing attack in your body, the season in which you come into contact with it the most will be your worst month. For example, if your allergies tend to come on when the air is thick with pollen, then it’s likely that your allergies will be the worst during the spring, according to Everyday Health, and could potentially carry through to the fall, depending on where you live.
In contrast, if you get all itchy and sniffly when you’re near a ton of airborne dust, then winter might be your bad season for allergies, since you’re stuck inside for a longer part of the day, and dust might accumulate in your apartment when the windows are shut.
There are even more variables to take into consideration, though, than simply considering which season your allergen is likely to be the most prevalent.
Does Benadryl Help With Seasonal Allergies
Benadryl® is a first-generation antihistamine. Antihistamines do exactly what they describe they block histamine. Histamine is the chemical released as an allergic response that causes allergy symptoms, including sneezing, runny nose, hives and red, itchy, watery eyes.
However, first-generation antihistamines tend to make you drowsy. Do not take them when you must do any activities that require you to be alert. Also, recent research suggests theres a link between long-term use of Benadryl and memory loss. So be sure to talk with your doctor before using Benadryl.
While Benadryl may work for your allergy symptoms, there are other option with fewer side effects.
Worst States For Allergies
Get ready to discover the top worst states for seasonal allergies. I compiled the data from the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America top allergy capitals article. From this article, I created averages to come up with these 35 states with the worst allergies in the U.S.
The AAFAs report was compiled by considering the following:
- Spring and Fall Seasonal Allergy Scores
- Over-the-counter allergy medications
- Availability of board-certified allergists in the local area
Is It An Allergy Or Covid
When COVID-19 and seasonal allergies are circulating at the same time, every sniffle can lead you to worry that you might have the virus. From the perspective of a parent, one of the biggest issues is when kids in school have allergy symptoms that are poorly controlled, and then the school system sends them home or says they need a physicians note, Dr. Leeds says.
The CDC has a Venn diagram that shows symptoms the two conditions have in common. These include congestion, cough, difficulty breathing, fatigue, runny nose, sore throat, and shortness of breath. But comparing the most common symptoms reveals clear differences. Seasonal allergies usually cause itchy or watery eyes and sneezing, while COVID-19 is characterized by fever and chills, muscle and body aches, new loss of taste and smell, nausea and vomiting, and diarrhea.
Because of COVID-19, people are afraid of you when youre sniffling, says Dr. Hsu. But it goes both waysa lot of people are sniffling and sneezing and coughing, and they are not getting tested for COVID-19, because they assume its allergies. And they are probably correct.
Often the distinction is clearpeople with allergies itch more, and they dont have the fatigue, malaise, and fever that comes with COVID-19. But anyone who is concerned should call their doctor, she says.
What Is The Best Way To Treat Seasonal Allergies
The best way to treat any allergy is to avoid exposure. This is easier said than done when your allergies are caused by things in your environment. When possible, limit time outside when your allergy triggers are the most active. You can also limit outdoor allergens from coming inside. Try keeping your windows closed, and changing clothes and showering after being outside.
Allergy & Asthma Network has developed a helpful tool to help you monitor pollen counts. This can help you determine when your allergy symptoms may be at their worst.
In addition to allergen avoidance, work with your allergist to develop an allergy treatment plan. This can include the use of over-the-counter and prescription medications.
Allergy medications can help reduce symptoms. Options include antihistamines, nasal sprays and other medicines.
Learn when your allergies are at their worst. Then start taking your allergy medications two weeks before symptoms typically begin. This primes your immune system to better handle seasonal allergens when they arrive.
You can also pre-medicate with an antihistamine and/or a corticosteroid nasal spray two hours before allergen exposure. For eye allergies, eye drops may help with managing symptoms.
Allergy shots often provide long-lasting relief for pollen allergy. Sublingual immunotherapy is a pill form of immunotherapy. Its available for grass and ragweed pollen allergies.
Is The Heat Wave Making Allergies Worse
Another factor to consider is how weather patterns are affecting pollen-producing plant growth, Jin said.
“If you have a late winter, then sometimes the spring allergy season doesn’t start till a little bit later,” he said. “Or if you get more of the heat and changes into summer weather a little earlier, than that might stimulate the grass that’s growing in our environment to pollinate sooner.”
But whether high temperatures, like Central Indiana’s recent heat wave, physically impact your allergies differ from person to person, Jin said.
“There are some people who are a little bit more sensitive to temperature, to humidity in the context of their allergy symptoms, or if they happen to have asthma as well,” he said. “So there certainly are people where those changes will affect them more than others, but a lot of that does sort of come down to the individual.”
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Allergy Forecast: A Bad Year For Everyone
Like taxes, allergy season is one of those things you just cant avoid. In fact, due to climate change, it may be getting worse. Warmer temperatures lead to more pollen production, so 2021 may be the most intense allergy season yet. And due to COVID-19 quarantine, children may especially have a rough year.
When is allergy season?
It starts in the spring and continues until the fall, but different allergens, the substances that trigger allergies, appear at different times.
: As spring begins, tree pollen is the top allergen, followed by weeds and grasses. In some parts of Maryland, its not unusual to see cars covered by the itchy stuff.
May to July: In May, all the trees, grass and weeds gang up to pump out allergens, making it a bad time for allergy sufferers. This is the start of peak allergy season, which continues until July.
: Enter ragweed, a common flowering plant. Ragweed is the leading cause of seasonal allergies, with 75% of all sufferers allergic to it.
With temperatures falling and plants starting to go dormant, the air starts to clear, bringing an end to outdoor allergy season. Now its possible to breathe a sigh of relief without coughing.
See the Interactive Allergy Forecaster for allergy conditions where you live.
COVID-19 and childrens allergies
Surviving allergy season
If your or your childs allergy symptoms are severe or continue a long time, your health care provider may be able to help or refer you to an allergist.
What Allergy Treatments Are Available
Treatments can help a great deal, says Dr. Hsu. Allergy treatment has changed over the past 10 years, with a number of first-line medications now available over the counter, she says. So, while we have lots of consultations with patients, we dont necessarily send a prescription to the pharmacy. We often advise people on what to buybut we want to be very specific, because there are certainly a lot of over-the-counter medications that we would not recommend as first-line treatments.
For instance, she might start with antihistamines for itching and runny nose, steroid nasal sprays for nasal passage congestion, and antihistamine eye drops for ocular symptoms. If a patient is still uncomfortable, she might recommend a decongestant, but not for daily use, since its a medication patients can become overly reliant on. Likewise, some patients should avoid antihistamines that are excessively sedating, she says.
The problem is that some people think theyll just grin and bear it. But… you can take steps to minimize those weeks of misery.Yale Medicine pediatric allergist Stephanie Leeds, MD
Its helpful when patients have a skin or blood test to find out exactly what they are allergic to. If you are really symptomatic, its helpful to get tested at least once. I dont think you need to be re-tested year after year, but at some point, establishing the specific triggers can be helpful, because then you can take steps to avoid exposure, Dr. Leeds says.
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