About this time every winter, many people’s thoughts turn to spring with its sunny skies, warm temperatures and blooming trees and flowers. But not those who suffer from allergies. For them, spring means itchy eyes, a runny nose, sneezing and a host of other symptoms.
You don’t have to wait until you start suffering to do something about seasonal allergies. It is important to stay ahead of the pollen. Left untreated, allergies can cause sinus swelling, leading to chronic sinusitis. Allergies can also affect your digestive tract. Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can be a direct result of the allergic response, seriously affecting your quality of life.
“Prevention is always better than treatment,” says Shankar L. Lakhani, M.D., of Family Allergy & Asthma Care in Dover.
Preparing now can keep symptoms under control throughout the season.
Lakhani outlines several ways to keep allergy symptoms under control.
If you’ve never been allergy tested before, now’s a great time to do it. Everyone’s triggers are different, he says, so learn what you’re allergic to—as well as how and when to start treatment— it before symptoms worsen.
Pre-treating allergies leads to better control of symptoms, says Lakhani. Delaware’s allergy season begins around mid-March, but birch and oak trees can bloom even earlier if weather conditions are favorable. Start taking antihistamines about one week before you anticipate the onset of symptoms to ensure a therapeutic level in the bloodstream. Corticosteroid nasal sprays should be taken a month prior to the start of allergy season for the cells to experience full impact and turn off the inflammatory chemicals. Sublingual immunotherapies are now available for tree pollen, but these must be started in December or January. Asthma medication should be taken two weeks before the start of the allergy season.
Tree and grass pollen are the main allergy culprits come spring. The Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control will resume reporting pollen counts on March 1. Local pollen counts can also be obtained from the National Allergy Bureau of the American Association of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. Keeping track of the amount and type of pollen circulating can help you plan outings accordingly. Lakhani recommends staying indoors when pollen counts are high, especially during the peak times: mid-morning and early evening.
Conduct a thorough spring-cleaning session that includes banishing cobwebs, dusting everything from light fixtures to bookcases, washing curtains, sweeping floors and vacuuming rugs. Dry laundry—and even stuffed animals—indoors at a setting of 130 degrees to rid fabrics of dust mites. If you’re clearing out your yard, wear a NIOSH-95 mask to reduce the inhalation of pollen. And when you’ve finished, be sure to shower, shampoo and change—pollen spores can get tracked into your home via any pollen that’s sticking to your clothes and hair.
It may be tempting to throw open the windows and let in the fresh spring air. But Lakhani says that’s the worst thing you can do. That refreshing breeze will also bring the pollen into your home. Keeping your doors and windows closed will provide a safe haven during the peak pollen season. Likewise, keep your windows closed and your fan turned off when driving.
Experts recommend using a HEPA filter and changing it every three months to keep the air inside your home clean. Mite-proof pillowcases and mattress encasements can also provide allergy relief.
Tree and grass pollen are not the only offenders. Mold can occur in any area that does not dry properly, including bathrooms, kitchens and basements. Clean or remove anything with mold from your home, and keep humidity levels between 30 percent and 45 percent. “Anything less than 30 percent is too dry and can cause nose bleeds, while anything greater than 45 percent means more mold and dust mites can come in,” says Lakhani.