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Seasonal Allergies and How to Combat Them

By Gail Zacok
On April 2, 2013

Spring is in the air, along with those pesky substances that cause sneezing fits, runny noses, and itchy eyes, otherwise known as allergens.  There are many irritants that can trigger allergic reactions which range from food, to medicine, to animals.  Hay fever, specifically, is generally caused by windborne pollens.  Once inhaled, the pollen starts a chain reaction through our immune system where the end result is inflammation which causes nasal congestion, sinus pressure, watering eyes, scratchy throat, increased mucus production causing runny nose, post-nasal drainage, cough, itching of eyes, ears, roof of mouth and throat, and sneezing.

In the Midwest, spring is tree pollen season.  The most typical offenders include elder, alder, birch, oak, elm, maple, and hickory.  Overlapping with the tree season is grasses, which start to pollinate in the summer.  Examples of these are Bermuda, Timothy, fescue, and orchard grass. 

As hay fever tends to be cyclical, identifying your "bad" seasons will help play a part in the prevention of symptoms, and at times, subsequent illness (sinusitis, pharyngitis, bronchitis, ear infections).  There are several types of medications that help block the body's reaction to allergens.  The most widely used class of drug for allergies are anti-histamines.  Over the counter (OTC) examples of these include loratadine (Claritin, Alavert), cetirizine (Zyrtec), fexofenadine (Allegra), chlorpheniramine (Chlor-Trimeton), and diphenhydramine (Benadryl- also used in OTC sleep aides, causes sleepiness). 

Anti-histamine eye drops help with itchy, watery eyes.  They are available OTC and by prescription.  Singular, a pill indicated for allergies +/or asthma, is available by prescription.  Another excellent option is steroid nasal sprays, which also require a prescription.  The steroid is absorbed locally in the nasal tissue causing a reduction in inflammation and mucus production. 

Pill and nose spray decongestants (pseudoephedrine, phenylephrine) will help with symptom relief but should be used with caution.  Pill form is not recommended for persons with high blood pressure due to the stimulant properties.  Nasal decongestants, such as Afrin, can be habit forming.

If your experience with these types of symptoms is interfering with your daily routine, please follow up with your primary care provider or come to the IUN Health Clinic to discuss treatment options.

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