You made it through the winter chill – not to mention cold and flu season. And while you may be looking forward to nice weather as spring gets underway, you may also be preparing yourself for the itchy, watery eyes, runny nose, recurring headaches, sore throat and other symptoms that many people experience with the change in seasons. A whopping 50 million people — or one in three Americans — have seasonal allergies, according to the Asthma and Allergy Association of America.
“Allergies occur when your immune system overreacts to an allergen, such as pollen, which would be harmless under normal circumstances,” says Haejin Kim, M.D., an allergist and immunologist at Henry Ford Health. “Our bodies recognize allergens as a threat and release chemicals like histamine in defense, which causes your blood vessels to dilate, your eyes to water, your sinuses to plug up and your skin to itch.”
Unfortunately, pollen allergies are more than just a springtime nuisance. People with severe allergies may be sidelined for weeks, as symptoms interfere with work, play and even sleep. But before you stock up on antihistamines and Kleenex, try these four strategies to minimize the toll of seasonal allergies.
- Close your windows. Once the weather is warm enough, close doors and windows and turn on the air conditioning, if that’s an option for you. Air conditioning not only reduces indoor humidity (which help allergens thrive), it also filters out mold spores and pollen. Just make sure to get your heating and cooling systems inspected every 6 months — and change the filter every 1 to 3 months.
- Flush out your nose. “Using a neti pot helps flush your nasal passages and gets the allergens out of your system as often as necessary,” Kim says. What’s a neti pot? It’s a container designed to rinse debris, mucus, allergens and air pollutants from your nasal cavity. Fill the container with distilled or sterilized lukewarm water and one half teaspoon of salt. Then tilt your head sideways over the sink and place the spout of the container in the upper nostril. Breathing through your mouth, pour the saltwater solution into your nostril so the liquid drains through the lower nostril. Repeat the process on the other side.
- Try medication. Over-the-counter and prescription medications like intranasal steroid sprays, decongestants and antihistamines can help manage the most common allergy symptoms (congestion, drainage, sneezing and itching). The key is taking medication before the season begins. “We see people come in during peak season to get relief, but that’s often too late,” explains Kim. “The goal is to get medication on board before the pollen season starts.” So if you know you suffer from itchy, watery eyes every August, start taking allergy medication in July.
- Get allergy shots. The idea behind allergy shots is to expose your immune system to the allergen (by injecting it under the skin) so it can gradually develop a more appropriate response. Getting injections once a week for six to seven months and then every month for three to five years can change the way your immune system reacts to allergens. Once your treatment is complete you will be desensitized to those specific allergens for up to 10 years.
Most importantly, if you are struggling with severe seasonal allergies, see your doctor. “Suffering through allergy season isn’t normal,” Kim says. “There are myriad solutions to help you find relief and breathe a little — or a lot — easier this spring.”
To find a doctor or allergist at Henry Ford, visit henryford.com or call 1-800-HENRYFORD (436-7936).
Dr. Haejin Kim specializes in in allergy and immunology and sees patients at Henry Ford locations in Novi, Dearborn and Brownstown Township.