At last, the first warm days of spring! Time to open the windows, pack away the winter coats, get out in the garden -- and head to the pharmacy to stock up on allergy medications.
If you greet the arrival of spring each year with a stuffy nose and watery eyes instead of a happy heart, it's time to take a new look at your seasonal allergies. You may have been struggling with spring allergies for years, but that doesn't mean you can't learn a few new tricks about coping with them.
With the help of one of the nation's top allergy experts, WebMD has put together some tips for managing seasonal allergies that can help you enjoy spring instead of just suffering through it.
Allergies: Who Gets Them and Why?
About 40 million people in the U.S. have some type of "indoor/outdoor" allergy, known as seasonal allergies, hay fever, or allergic rhinitis, says James Sublett, MD, FACAAI, a clinical professor and section chief of pediatric allergy at the University of Louisville School of Medicine and managing partner of Family Allergy and Asthma in Louisville, Ky.
"Allergies have a strong genetic component -- if your parents had allergies, you're far more likely to have them yourself," he explains. "Most allergies develop in childhood, but in some people, they develop later after exposure to environmental factors 'flips the switch.' For example, we know that diesel particulate exposure can trigger allergies. The end result is a runaway response in the immune system."
Among the most common allergy triggers, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, are:
Tree, grass, and weed pollen
Dust mite and cockroach allergens
Cat, dog, and rodent dander
Seasonal and other indoor/outdoor allergies aren't just annoying. Asthma is sometimes triggered by allergies (although most people with allergies do not develop asthma). But if you do have asthma and your allergies aren't well controlled, you may be more likely to have asthma attacks, which can be dangerous and even life-threatening.
Here's what you need to know to control your allergy symptoms before they ruin a perfectly good spring season.
Treat Allergies Early
Spring pollen season starts much earlier than many people think. In large swaths of the country, including the eastern seaboard and the Ohio Valley, pollen starts filling the air as soon as the weather warms up just enough for the trees to begin budding.
"Here in Kentucky, we'll see pollen sometimes in mid-February," says Sublett. "As long as you're not in the snow belt up around the Great Lakes, the pollen season starts very early, and by mid-March we'll have our first peak."
This means that if you take medications to control your seasonal allergies, the time to start them is mid- to late-February, not late March. "Allergies create an inflammatory response that is like a smoldering fire. If you can keep it smoldering rather than flaring, you'll do a lot better," says Sublett. "By starting your medications early, you're less likely to have a snowball effect with your symptoms."