Q. How do you know if you have developed seasonal allergies? Last year, I think I experienced them for the first time.
A. If you’re uncertain you have seasonal allergies, look no farther than your nose. When your beak is irritated by allergens from pollen or mold spores, it lets forth with a fairly constant flow of clear and thin mucous. This is known as allergic rhinitis or "hay fever." A good way to tell allergic rhinitis from the common cold is by how long the sniffles last. While a cold typically hangs around for a week to 10 days, allergic rhinitis can stretch on for weeks or even months. What's worse, many people have additional symptoms that have one thing in common—they impact a person's quality of life. These include:
- Frequent sneezing
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Temporary loss of smell due to the constant runny nose
- Postnasal drip with coughing
- Itchy nose and throat
- Itchy, runny and burning eyes
- Allergic conjunctivitis (inflammation along the lids causing redness and even crusting)
- Dark circles under the eyes caused by increased blood flow to the sinuses; this is referred to as allergic shiners.
Additionally, some people with allergies develop asthma, which may cause coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath.
As far as when your seasonal allergy symptoms will hit, that all depends upon where you live and what you are allergic to. For instance, springtime in the Eastern, Southern and Midwestern parts of the United States brings pollens from trees such as oak, maple, juniper and elm. When early summer arrives, so does pollen from grasses such as bluegrass, timothy and orchard grass. In the later part of the summer, ragweed greets allergic individuals with a blast of pollen.
If you live in the Western part of the county, some species of trees give off their pollen from December through March. In the Southwest, the pollinating season for grasses may last from early spring through early summer. In the fall, pollen from weeds such as sagebrush and Russian thistle can be found all over the place (clothes, car, home, office, even on your outdoor pet). And, to add even more allergic insult, no matter what part of the country you live in, mold spores can be airborne from the spring all the way through late fall. Depending upon what pollens or mold spores you are allergic to, your personal allergy season may last a few weeks or many months.
Fortunately, through personal experience and/or allergy testing, many people identify what sets off their seasonal allergies (for example, that overgrown lawn your husband forgot to mow). In these cases, avoidance of allergy triggers as well as preventive measures will help to decrease those annoying symptoms.
- Trying to minimize outdoor activity between 5 a.m to 10 a.m., as well as on dry and windy days. During these times pollen levels are at their peak.
- Shower and wash your hair every night. This will help rinse off the pollen and mold spores it collected during the day.
- Place pillows and mattresses in washable covers.
- Clean bed linen often.
- Drying your clothes indoors and not on an outdoors clothesline. This way, pollen and mold spores aren't blown onto them.
- Keep home and car windows closed and use an air conditioner. Change the filters often.
- Use a vacuum with a high-efficiency particulate air (or HEPA) filter.
- Bathe outdoor pets often in order to minimize the amount of pollen and mold spores they spread around the house.
- Wear a filter mask while gardening or mowing the lawn.
- Stay indoors if possible on high pollen-count days. To keep track of this number, check out the Web site of the National Allergy Bureau.
If avoidance and preventive measures don't help, there is still hope. Speak with your primary care physician or allergy specialist. Fortunately, we have a wide array of medications that can decrease your allergy symptoms and increase your enjoyment of the changing seasons.
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