Flowers are blooming, or lawns or trees are bursting with new greenery, and -- like clockwork -- your eyes water, your nose runs, and the sneezes keep coming. You wish you could enjoy the nice weather, but you end up miserable whenever you head outside.
You think it might be a cold, but there’s a pattern. Every year, you have the same symptoms when spring (or summer or fall) is in the air. You probably have seasonal allergies, which are sometimes called hay fever.
Some plants, including ragweed, grasses, and oak trees, make a fine powder called pollen that’s light enough to travel through the air. This is how these plants grow and reproduce themselves.
More than 25 million Americans are allergic to pollen. Some people are allergic to tree pollen, which is in the air in spring. Others have a problem with grass pollen, which is more of a summertime issue. Still others have trouble with weed pollen, which is common in the fall.
If you have a pollen allergy and go outside on a day when it’s flying around, your body will react as if it’s being invaded. Your immune system will make a lot of something called histamine to fight back. When this happens, you can have symptoms like:
- Itchy throat
- Red, itchy, watery eyes
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Wheezing or coughing
Your doctor may first want to confirm that you have an allergy. An allergist can give you a skin-prick test to see what’s causing your problem.
Once that’s narrowed down, there are a few ways to treat pollen allergies:
- Nasal irrigation. It rinses out your sinuses using a squeeze bottle, neti pot, or other device with a saltwater (saline) solution. Make sure you use distilled or sterile water. If you use tap water, you must boil it and let it cool off before you use it. Or you can filter it with a filter that says “NSF 53” or “NSF 58” or says “absolute pore size” of 1 micron or smaller. Also, be sure you clean the bottle or neti pot after every use, also using distilled, sterile, boiled, or filtered water.
- Over-the-counter (OTC) drugs. Antihistamines block the histamine your body makes. If your nose is stuffy, decongestants can help you breathe easier. Some nasal sprays help allergy symptoms, too.
- Prescription medication. If the OTC drugs don’t work, your doctor may prescribe something stronger. Some prescribed meds block chemicals other than histamine that can trigger allergies. Others treat the symptoms caused by certain kinds of weed or grass pollen.
- Allergy shots. If you don’t have any luck with medications, allergy shots may help. You’ll go to the allergist every few weeks for the doctor to inject a tiny amount of what’s causing your problem under your skin. After a period of months, your body should get used to the trigger and your symptoms should get better.