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Can't Stop Sneezing? Here Are 5 Tips to Survive Seasonal Allergies

It’s spring, the weather’s getting warmer, and flowers are starting to bloom. For many, it’s the most blissful time of year. But for those 50 million Americans who suffer from nasal allergies, not so much. The new beginnings of the season are often accompanied with red eyes and a stuffy nose. Kleenex, anyone?

Seasonal allergic rhinitis – also called hay fever – is unfortunately one of the most common chronic diseases in the U.S., according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. Plus, it’s an equal-opportunity disease, affecting people of all ages, both children and adults.

While there is no cure for seasonal allergies, there are ways to avoid triggers that cause you to flare-up and treatment that can ease your seasonal allergy symptoms. Before exploring tips on how to manage allergies, however, let’s take a look at why you’re sneezing in the first place!

What’s Causing My Seasonal Allergies?

Like any allergy, hay fever develops when your body’s immune system becomes sensitized to certain particles in the environment that it considers dangerous. The seasonal allergies you have depend on the time of year when common outdoor allergens, according to American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology, like molds and fungi release their spores or when grasses, trees or weeds release pollen into the air.

During springtime, tree pollen is the most frequent culprit of allergies. Springtime is also coincidentally “pollen season” when pollination is at its peak.  Then, summer tends to bring grass pollen allergies and fall ragweed allergies. To fight against any perceived invader, or allergen, your body releases chemicals, including histamine, into the bloodstream. And for allergy sufferers this results in allergy symptoms – your irritating cough, runny nose or itchy throat.

The best route to take is to first test for allergies to see what it is that is causing the allergic reaction.

How to Cope with Hay Fever Symptoms

Regardless of whether your allergies are mild or severe, or if it is a skin or eye allergy, it doesn’t take long for you to start feeling lousy after seasonal allergy symptoms strike. So how do you prevent seasonal allergies from getting in the way of your day? Here are some helpful tips to reduce or keep symptoms from worsening.

Tip #1:  Make Sure It’s Really Allergies

Before you can properly treat allergic rhinitis, it’s best to determine that your symptoms are actually a reaction to allergens. After all, your nasal congestion could be a sign of a cold or sinus infection. The symptoms for all three of these illnesses are similar, but there are some telltale differences that can help you pinpoint a correct diagnosis.

Colds and sinus infections often cause a runny nose with yellow or green discharge, whereas the mucus from allergies is clear and watery. Additionally, because a cold or sinus infection is caused by bacteria or a virus, you’re likely to have a fever with these. With allergies, even a low-grade fever is uncommon. If you’re experiencing sinus pressure, bad breath and achy teeth, you likely have a sinus infection.

The duration of your illness can also be a clue as to what you have. Colds and sinus infections typically last two days to two weeks; on the other hand, allergies can last anywhere from a couple days to a few months depending on how long you’re exposed to an allergen.

Tip #2: Avoid Extended Time Outdoors When Pollen Counts Are High

Chances are if the weather outside is rainy, cloudy or windless, your allergies won’t act up as much. Only those with extreme sensitivity to pollen or mold will have symptoms when the pollen count is low. However, if the day’s warm, dry and windy, there’s a good possibility you’ll be symptomatic.

To determine what the pollen and mold levels are in your geographic area, the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology’s National Allergy BureauÔ provide an allergen guide with accurate pollen counts.

Since pollen counts tend to be highest in the morning, with peak times in the middle of the day, it’s best to venture out in the late afternoon or early evening. If you’re planning on doing yard work, try wearing a mask. Those marked N95 are approved by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health as being 95% effective at filtering out particles.

Also, if you’re planning on exercising outdoors, consider going after work and make sure to shower in the evening so your hair and skin are clean and you’re not sleeping in pollen.

Tip #3: Allergy-Proof Your Home

Ensuring your home is a safe haven from pollen may require a little work, but it will help you keep allergens at bay:

  • Refrain from keeping your doors and windows open during allergy season. Instead, use an air conditioner with a HEPA filter to help you regulate your home’s temperatures. This goes for in the car as well where outdoor allergens may be getting into your air vents without the protection of a garage.
  • Take your shoes off at the door so you’re not tracking pollen or mold across your floors. If you have dogs or cats, make sure you wipe their paws and fur as well.
  • Choose easy-to-clean furnishings, flooring, curtains, and blinds if you are an indoor allergy sufferer. It’s not hard for dust, mold spores, pollen particles and pet dander to collect, especially in crevices and hard to reach places.
  • Your allergies could also be caused by the foods you eat – even in a seasonal situation, since some foods are only available seasonally. With food allergies, trying an elimination diet to remove foods from your diet, one at a time, to see if your symptoms persist after a period of abstinence. Gluten, dairy, soy, refined sugars, peanuts and eggs are some foods that tend to cause allergic reactions.

Tip #4: Ease Seasonal Allergy Symptoms with Medication  

If reducing your exposure to allergy triggers isn’t possible or effective, over-the-counter (OTC) or prescription allergy medications can provide some relief. Your local drugstore should offer a variety of products depending on your symptoms and whether you prefer tablets, nasal spray or eye drops – but before beginning any treatment, you should speak with your doctor.  

How It Works: Block histamine from binding to receptors in your blood vessels which prevents symptoms like sneezing, itchy watery eyes and skin rashes.

Popular Brands: 

OTC

  • Allegra (Fexofenadine)
  • Benadryl (Diphenhydramine)
  • Chlor-Trimeton (Chlorpheniramine)
  • Claritin (Loratadine)
  • Dimetapp (Brompheniramine)
  • Zyrtec (Cetirizine)

Prescription

  • Clarinex (Desloratadine)
  • Vistaril (Hydroxyzine)
  • Xyzal (Levoceterizine)

Possible Side Effects

  • Drowsiness
  • Headaches
  • Dry eyes, nose or mouth
  • Nausea & vomiting
  • Stomach pain or Irregular bowel habits

How It Works: Contain anti-inflammatory steroid hormones that reduce the swelling of mucous membranes and provide nasal decongestion, relieving symptoms like runny nose.

Popular Brands: 

OTC

  • Flonase (Fluticasone Propionate)
  • Nasacort (Triamcinolone Acetonide)
  • Rhinocort (Budesonide)

Prescription

  • Beconase (Beclometasone Dipropionate)
  • Nasonex (Mometasone Furoate)
  • Veramyst (Fluticasone Furoate)

Possible Side Effects

  • Nosebleeds
  • Headaches
  • Vision changes
  • Dizziness
  • Facial swelling
  • Difficulty breathing

How It Works: Block the action of leukotrienes, or chemical messangers that have an important role in the inflammatory response that happens in your airways.

Popular Brands: 

Prescription

  • Singulair (Monrelukast)

Possible Side Effects

  • Headaches
  • Upset stomach
  • Tooth pain
  • Dizziness
  • Mild rash
  • Upper respiratory tract infections

How It Works: Prevent histamine from being released by certain cells in the body, known as mast cells, minimizing allergic and inflammatory responses in the body.

Popular Brands: 

OTC

  • Opticrom (Cromolyn)

Prescription

  • Alamast (Pemirolast)
  • Alocril (Nedocromil)
  • Alomide (Lodoxamine)

Possible Side Effects

  • Dry or irritated eyes
  • Eye redness or pain
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Headaches
  • Unpleasant taste

How It Works: Reduce swelling of the nasal tissues and blood vessels, which make it easier to breathe through your nose.

* Note: These are not suitable for long-term treatment of allergic rhinitis and it’s recommended that they not be used longer than 5-7 days.

Popular Brands: 

OTC

  • Afrin (Oxymetazoline)
  • Sudafed (Pseudoephedrine)

Possible Side Effects

  • Blurred vision
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • High blood pressure
  • Fast or uneven heartbeat
  • Easy bruising or bleeding

While there’s no significant difference between these medications, studies show that steroid nasal sprays tend to be the preferred choice for treating hay fever. If your seasonal allergy symptoms don’t improve, it’s possible to try another allergy drug or combine two different medications (e.g., an antihistamine tablet and a steroid nasal spray). However, you should read drug labels to be sure that two medications will not negatively interact with one another.

If allergy season hasn’t started and the experts are predicting it’s going to be a rough spring, you should start taking medicine for allergies before seasonal pollens or molds are present and your allergy symptoms become more acute or disruptive.

Tip #5: Consider Allergy Shots for More Lasting Relief

Maybe you’ve tried adjusting your lifestyle or taking medications as a way of doing allergy management and you’re still suffering from seasonal allergy symptoms. Your doctor might refer you to an allergist or immunologist to be evaluated for allergy shots, also known as allergy treatments or allergen immunology.

Similar to vaccines, allergy shots work by releasing a particular allergen into your system so that – with gradually increased doses over time – you become desensitized to it. If you choose to get shots, expect to receive a series of injections once or twice a week for 3 to 6 months during a build-up phase, and then biweekly and possibly monthly for 2 to 4 months during a maintenance phase.

While such allergy treatments may sound intense, there’s good news! Immunotherapy often leads to more long-term relief from your allergy symptoms even after you’ve stopped receiving shots.

Where Can I Get Allergy Testing Done?

The most important part of allergy treatment is knowing what specific allergens are causing your symptoms. This way, you can better combat them. Not sure whether your sneezing is from mold, pollen or other substance? From New York and Connecticut to Missouri, Oregon and California, GoHealth Urgent Care partners with health care systems near you where you can go to get an allergy test

Key Takeaway Points

Short from living in a bubble to stop your exposure to allergens, it’s difficult to protect yourself against all of the indoor and outdoor allergens that are always in the environment. But there is such a thing as enjoying spring, despite your allergies. By keeping track of your signs and symptoms, reducing your exposure to allergens and receiving proper treatment, you can do your best to stay healthy this allergy season. Hey, you might even hear less people tell you, “gesundheit!”

GoHealth Urgent Care partners with these regional healthcare providers:

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