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Do Spring Allergies Have You Sneezing?

by Nathaniel Hare, MD

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Spring is in the air—and it could have you sneezing. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), over 20 million American adults and six million children experience seasonal allergies every year.

With spring comes pollen from trees, grass, and weeds which can trigger an abnormal response from your immune system. Mold can also trigger an allergic reaction in the spring. If you have seasonal allergies, your immune system may be in overdrive, causing symptoms such as:

Headache

  • Sneezing
  • Stuffy nose
  • Itchy, watery eyes
  • Wheezing, chest tightness

Is it a Cold or Allergies?

Often, people confuse allergies for a spring cold, which isn’t surprising as the symptoms can be very similar. Allergy symptoms usually come on suddenly and last longer than a cold. Other differences between allergies and a cold include:

  • Allergies do not cause a fever
  • Allergies are not contagious
  • Allergies rarely cause coughing
  • Itchy, watery eyes are more common with allergies

If you think you may be suffering from allergies, an over-the-counter antihistamine should lessen the allergy symptoms. If you have a cold and the symptoms last more than ten days, you should see your doctor.

Treating Your Allergy Symptoms

Your best defense against spring allergies is to control your environment. You can limit your exposure to allergens by keeping your doors and windows closed and using an allergy filter on your air conditioning units. Watch your local weather forecast for pollen counts and avoid spending long periods of time outside on days when the pollen counts are high. If you spend time outdoors, wash your clothes and take a shower after you are exposed to the pollen.

If controlling your environment isn’t enough to relieve your symptoms, it may be time to see an allergist. An allergy doctor will conduct a skin or blood test to see how you react to potential allergens. Allergy treatments may then include one or more of the following options:

  • Over-the-counter antihistamines—medications that block histamine and stop symptoms like sneezing, runny nose, itchy eyes, and swollen throat.
  • Prescription antihistamines—most antihistamines are now over-the-counter, but some are still only available by prescription.
  • Nasal sprays—medications that reduce the swelling in your nose which cause a stuffy, runny, and itchy nose.
  •  Inhalers—medications inhaled into the lungs that open up your airways. Inhalers can include daily use or rescue inhalers used for immediate symptom relief.
  • Biologic medicines—typically used to treat severe asthma to target the cause of inflammation in the lungs.
  • Allergy injections or immunotherapy—a series of injections to desensitize your immune system to the allergens which trigger your symptoms. Shots are usually given weekly or biweekly for three-to-five years. Immunotherapy treatment is the closest thing to a "cure" for allergic symptoms.

While there are many over-the-counter remedies to relieve allergy symptoms, you should visit your doctor to determine if your symptoms are caused by allergens or if there's another condition leaving you suffering longer than expected. The good news is that you and your doctor, working together, can find a treatment that works for you.

Dr. Nathaniel Hare is board certified in Internal Medicine and Allergy and Immunology. He sees patients at SH Allergy at River Avenue, 451 River Ave., Williamsport. To schedule an appointment with Dr. Hare, call 570-320-7070.