If your seasonal allergies have gotten worse over the past few years, increased temperatures, humidity and air pollution may be to blame.
According to Razi Rafeeq, MD, an allergy and immunology specialist with ProMedica Physicians, these factors may be contributing to the increasing pollen counts and longer allergy seasons that we’ve seen in the past ten years.
Intense allergy seasons can be challenging for those diagnosed and undiagnosed with allergies.
“Some people know they have allergies and they have it under good control, but then the allergies come back with a vengeance,” said Dr. Rafeeq. “Others have never had allergies before and are having those symptoms for the first time. Very often they think they have a cold from the cold and flu season, but they actually have allergies.”
Generally, tree pollen allergies begin in March and last until the end of May in Northwest Ohio and Southeast Michigan. Tree pollens are soon followed by grass pollen which begins in early May and can last all summer. Plus, if it’s a particularly rainy spring and summer, there may be high counts of mold spores, which also contribute to seasonal allergy issues. At the end of summer, weed pollens and particularly ragweed pollen appears in the air and can cause havoc in allergy sufferers until the first frost in early October.
The overlap and back-to-back seasonal allergy seasons can be especially frustrating for those with multiple allergies and also for individuals with year-round allergies.
“Someone could be allergic to their pet, they could have indoor mold and dust mite allergies, and these symptoms not only affect them during the spring and summer, but also year round,” explained Dr. Rafeeq.
Reducing Allergy Symptoms
Fortunately, a few lifestyle changes can help those with allergies reduce their symptoms. Dr. Rafeeq suggested the following practices:
- Keep your windows closed. Whether you’re driving with the windows down or enjoying the spring breeze throughout your house, the fresh air is an opportunity for outdoor pollen to agitate your allergies. Keep your windows closed and use air conditioning as needed.
- Plan your time outside. If you exercise outdoors or like to garden, look at the pollen counts and plan your activities accordingly. A pollen count of ten or less is considered low, 10-100 is medium and above 100 is a high pollen count. Pollen counts are generally highest in the morning and in the late evening.
- Wash the pollen away. When you come in from the outdoors, take off your shoes and jacket. Shower and wash your hair, particularly before going to bed, otherwise the pollen will stay on your clothes and bed.
- Take your medications regularly. Children, in particular, may not always get their medications on a regular basis as parents may only give them medicine when the allergy symptoms are bad. If you know the allergy season has started and will go on for some time, give your child their medication on a daily basis to keep symptoms at bay.
Using Allergy Treatments
According to Dr. Rafeeq, antihistamines are typically the first choice of medication given to people with allergies. Non-sedating antihistamines that last up to 24 hours are recommended. For some, antihistamines may not be enough. Decongestants may be recommended next, but because they may raise your blood pressure, they aren’t good to take long-term. Allergy eye drops are very effective and can also be used on an as-needed basis.
In many cases, Dr. Rafeeq prefers the use of nasal steroid sprays. “They are very effective. Not only do they help with sneezing, itching and runny nose, they also help with congestion and stuffiness, unlike most antihistamines,” he explained. “They also get to the area where you need the medication, without any systemic side effects, and they are the most effective.”
If these medications aren’t enough to tackle your allergies, it’s time to see a specialist.
“They need to see a board-certified allergy/immunologist specialist to confirm that they have allergies and to identify what they are allergic to and to look at all the treatment options,” said Dr. Rafeeq.
“Specialists have many other treatment options to consider when medications fail,” said Dr. Rafeeq. “Allergy immunotherapy, for instance, gives individuals small amounts of the allergens to desensitize and teach the immune system to tolerate the allergens—often permanently.” These can be done as allergy shots or under the tongue (sublingual) tablets for some allergies. The benefit of allergy immunotherapy is that it can help reduce allergy symptoms, decrease medication needs and improve quality of life.
Seeking specialist treatment is especially important if your allergies are affecting your quality of life, leading to frequent sinus infections, or if you have asthma or eczema.