While you're probably looking forward to nice weather as spring gets underway, you might also be preparing yourself for the unpleasant allergy symptoms — like itchy eyes, runny nose, recurring headaches and sore throat — that many people experience with the changing seasons.
“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 helps certain allergens thrive), it also filters out mold spores and pollen. Just make sure to get your heating and cooling systems inspected every six months — and change the filter every one to three 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. Sinus rinse "kits" have prepackaged buffered salt that you can use with distilled or sterilized lukewarm water to help flush out your sinuses.
- 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,” Kim says. “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 ten 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 1-800-436-7936.
Dr. Haejin Kim specializes in in allergy and immunology at Henry Ford Health. She sees patients at Henry Ford Health Center — Brownstown, Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, Henry Ford Medical Center — Columbus and Henry Ford Medical Center — Fairlane.