- - Thursday, March 19, 2015

The warming weather triggers spring allergy season. Yes, you read that correctly – spring allergies. In fact it is expected to arrive earlier for most of our nation this year. But how is that possible when we have been battling winter storms and blizzards … into March? And how do we suddenly switch gears from gloves, hats and thermals to making sure we carry plenty of tissue to dab our eyes and blow our nose?

Dr. Nina’s What You Need To Know: About Allergy Season & How To Survive It

What is pollen? It is the fertilizing element of flowering trees, grass, and weeds. It is lightweight, and thereby easily carried by the wind over large distances. Unfortunately, for seasonal allergy sufferers, this also allows it to readily land on our nostrils and enter our lungs.

How does pollen cause allergies? For some, our body sees pollen as a foreign invader and mounts an offense against it by releasing chemicals such as histamine or leukotrienes. These fancy, hard to pronounce (and spell) chemicals try to exorcise the foreign invader. Although a clever disposal system, it results in agony for those who suffer from seasonal allergies with symptoms that may include: sneezing; wheezing; nasal congestion; coughing; itchy, watery eyes; runny nose; and itchy throat to name a few.

What are some tips to survive allergy season?

• Reduce our exposure to triggers
• Wear a large brim hat, cap and large sunglasses when outdoors to block pollen from making contact with our hair and eyes
• Consider exercising indoors, particularly during peak pollen hours, which run midday to afternoon
• And remember, a weakened immune system increases our chances of allergic reactions – so manage the stresses in our life (or at least the way we react to it) which will help to keep our immune system strong

• Keep indoor air, furniture and bedding clean
• Change our clothes and take a shower as soon as we get home, as well as park our shoes at the door, so that we do not transport pollen indoors
• Close windows at night or when the pollen count is high
• Use the air conditioning in our house or car
• Change our air filters and choose high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters. They are specially designed to trap pollen and dust and can provide much needed relief from pollen inside our homes
• After pets go outdoors, wipe them down before letting them back in the house

Home remedies
• Breathing steam is refreshing, soothes irritated sinuses and helps rid the nasal passages of mucus — and it’s simple. Just boil several cups of water and pour into a big bowl. Lean over the bowl and drape a towel over our head. Breathe gently for 5-10 minutes.
• Saline sprays are a simple and effective method to “flush” pollen out of our nasal passages, thin and clear mucus, and fight off the drying effects of other prescription allergy medications. Saline nasal sprays are available at most pharmacies, but can also be made by mixing a teaspoon of salt into 1 quart of distilled (or boiled) water and using a baby aspirator to administer it (once the water cools).
• Neti pots are typically made of ceramic or plastic and can best be described as a cross between a small teapot and Aladdin’s magic lamp. They use a similar mechanism to saline sprays where we rinse our nasal cavities with a saline solution to “flush” pollen out and soften mucus. The difference is that instead of squeezing a bottle, the “snout” of the pot delivers the saline solution.
• Don’t wait! If last year’s allergy season was memorably problematic to us, let’s prevent a repeat performance by starting treatment early — even before symptoms set in. In medicine, this intention to prevent is termed “prophylaxis.” In plain terms, it’s just smart thinking to get ahead of the problem. Whether it is antihistamines, nasal sprays, prescription pills or other over-the-counter medications, consider starting them sooner rather than later. And remember not to stop because we are doing fine.

Unfortunately, this may mean starting them now and continuing into October. However, preventing our allergies from getting picked up for another season may make it worthwhile.

And yes, sometimes there is confusion this time of year if our runny nose is because of a cold, flu or allergies. The changing weather can affect our health. If we experience any type of fever, sore throat or runny nose with a yellowish discharge that is most likely a cold. However, if we experience a runny nose with a clear discharge, coughing, watery eyes or sneezing then allergies could be the culprit. Understanding the difference can have a huge impact on our recovery time.

As the sunshine lengthens our days, we say farewell to those winter blues, dangerous frigid temperatures and flu season. Let the turning of the season be filled with blessings of being symptom free, not “bless you’s” from our sneezing.

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