Spring is a time of suffering for millions of Americans. As the mercury rises, trees pollinate. For those with seasonal allergies, uncomfortable symptoms ensue. Their itchy eyes, runny nose, sneezing and congestion often start a search for relief at the drug store or a doctor’s office.
“When pollen counts increase, we definitely get busier,” said Donald Stevenson, MD, a board-certified allergy specialist at Scripps Clinic.
Allergies are part of a chain reaction in the body. Substances called allergens trigger a response from the immune system. Antibodies are produced, histamine and other chemicals are released, and that cocktail causes a cluster of allergic symptoms.
When those symptoms primarily affect the nose and eyes, allergic rhinitis or conjunctivitis are the technical terms used. The condition is common in the United States — and costly.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, allergic rhinitis causes nearly 17 million physician office visits every year, and accounts for a lot of missed time at work. Along with asthma, it is among the leading causes of absenteeism due to chronic illness.
Dr. Stevenson offers the following advice for those who want to ease their suffering during allergy season:
- Avoid the allergen
When pollen is everywhere, it’s not always possible or practical. But if you can, stay indoors during the early morning hours, when pollen counts are highest, and keep your car and home windows closed. Use air conditioning in your car to filter out the pollens
- Take medication
From over-the-counter antihistamines to prescription steroids, there are plenty of options available from your doctor or the drug store.
- Get allergy shots
When medications fail and avoidance isn’t plausible, allergy shots can be highly effective. Treatment consists of a series of injections containing small amounts of the allergens to which a person is allergic. After a course of shots, symptoms often subside completely.