I know spring is finally sprung when I walk outside, anxious to soak up some warmth and sunshine, then sneeze and rub my itchy eyes. Behold the heavenly aroma of the hyacinth… and the cough and wheeze which follow. I gravitate, lighter than air (if you knew me, that’s saying something) towards the crab apple tree in full bloom… and quickly thereafter start the steroids and applying cold compresses to my hives. Allergy season is here, my friends. Let the sneezing begin!
Environmental allergies can manifest themselves in a variety of ways and if you’re unlucky enough to have them, you may experience any and all of the following: itchy, watery eyes; serial sneezing; runny nose; popping ears; itchy skin; wheezing and sputtering.
Avoidance of the pollens and other allergens is a very effective way of dealing with allergies – possibly as effective as medication – so you can:
- Stay inside when pollen counts are highest, generally in the early- and mid-morning.
- Stay inside when the air quality is especially bad.
- Keep your windows closed and the air conditioning on.
- Stay inside when you hear the sound of lawnmowers.
- Take a shower, change and wash your pollen-covered clothes as soon as possible after playing in the great outdoors.
But can your allergies be controlled without forcing you to live in a bubble? Fortunately, yes. There are a variety of over-the-counter (OTC) medications called “antihistamines” that are pretty effective at controlling allergy symptoms. They’re all fine to use now and then if you can tolerate a little (or possibly a lot) of drowsiness and fatigue. The older antihistamines like diphenhydramine (Benadryl) are more sedating while newer ones like cetirizine (Zyrtec) and loratadine (Claritin, Alavert) are less sedating.
For the floodgate that noses can sometimes be, occasional use of a decongestant like pseudoephedrine (Sudafed) can be helpful. Pseudoephedrine usually has the opposite effect of antihistamines and acts a stimulant so it can keep you awake at night, and raise your blood pressure. Try to avoid OTC nasal sprays and definitely avoid the OTC asthma medications.
When OTC medications just aren’t enough, ask your health care provider for some help. We have a variety of very useful drugs in our tool belts, and when necessary can refer you to an allergy specialist for testing and possibly desensitization therapy.
So by all means, get out there for a hike, a run, a picnic, to study, or whatever is your pleasure. But if the great outdoors leave you gasping for breath or struggling for a Kleenex, give us a call.
Victoria Rentel, MD