If "gesundheit" is becoming the byword of the day, you may have entered hay fever season. That's the time of year when your immune system may go a little haywire, overreacting to all the pollen in the air.
There's a lot you can do about seasonal allergy symptoms – especially if you work closely with your doctor. To get the most from your doctor appointments, first know the right questions to ask. With the help of allergy experts, WebMD has given you a few to get you started. Also, be prepared to answer your doctor's questions – about your allergy triggers, symptoms, and responses to any medication you've taken. Then, you can discuss a treatment plan for seasonal allergies that may work best for you.
1. How can I be sure this is hay fever and not a cold or something else?
With hay fever, the typical symptoms are sneezing and a runny nose. But there's also more itching and watering than is typical with colds, says Kelly Stone, MD, PhD, staff clinician with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md. Eyes can be itchy and watery, too.
Colds or flu may share some of these symptoms. But other symptoms, such as fever, sore throat, and body aches, also tend to be present. "With colds, the symptoms typically last for seven days or so, then go away," says Stone. But with allergies, symptoms last longer. It's a predictable pattern: "The symptoms of allergies tend to be present when pollen counts are high, and go away when the allergen is no longer present," says Stone.
2. What are the possible triggers for my hay fever? Can I take steps to avoid them?
If you have hay fever, it may not take long for your nose to "sniff out" the general source of the problem – whether it's trees blooming in spring, grass being mown in summer, or ragweed and mold flying in the fall.
Although it's easier said than done, avoid these triggers as much as possible, says Richard F. Lavi, MD, allergist with the Allergy Asthma & Sinus Relief Center Inc. in Twinsburg, Ohio. For instance, try to stay inside when pollen counts are highest. That's typically between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. "After being outside for long periods, remove your clothing and shower, so you're not continuously exposed to the pollen," Lavi says.
If your symptoms are really severe, stay inside with windows closed and use air conditioning, if needed. Also:
- Keep your car windows closed.
- Don't hang clothing out to dry.
- Track pollen counts by checking local newspapers or web sites such as that of the American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology. You can also call the National Allergy Bureau at 800-9-POLLEN or download WebMD’s Pollen Widget.