Spring is in the air. Literally. From weeds to spores to grass and tree pollens, the warm weather is almost here, driving airborne allergen levels through the roof. That means your allergy symptoms -- the sniffling, sneezing, and itchy eyes -- are in overdrive and apt to stay that way for months.
What can you do? WebMD asked some of the country's leading allergy experts to weigh in with answers to your top questions about spring allergies. Here are suggestions for helping you find some much-needed relief this season.
Alternaria. Aspergillus. Cladosporium. Penicillium. Unless you have a special fondness for fungi, you’re probably not too familiar with these or any of the thousands of other common molds.
But if you’re among the estimated 5% of Americans who have mold allergies, you may be all too well acquainted with the itchy eyes, nasal congestion, coughing, wheezing, skin irritation, and other symptoms mold allergies can cause. Severe mold allergies can even trigger potentially dangerous asthma attacks.
There is a world of spring allergens out there. How can you possibly figure out which one is playing havoc with your eyes, nose, and throat?
"The allergy skin test is the quickest, most inexpensive, and most accurate way to find out what you are allergic to, whether it's mold, grass pollen, or a type of weed," says Neil Kao, MD, an internal medicine physician specializing in allergy and immunology at the Allergic Disease and Asthma Center in Greenville, S.C.
Talk with your primary care doctor or an allergist. Both can give you an allergy test. The skin is pricked slightly to allow an allergen, such as grass or mold, to enter the outer layer; after about 15 to 20 minutes, the physician will check for a reaction, such as hives or redness and swelling, which will identify the specific allergen causing your symptoms.
Once you know your trigger, keep an eye on allergen levels in the air using WebMD's Pollen Counter during the spring season, and avoid your triggers as much as possible -- the first steps in keeping your allergies under control.
How can I manage my allergies using over-the-counter medication?
Spring allergy relief is within your reach -- on your local drugstore's shelves. "Start by taking an over-the-counter, non-sedating antihistamine, such as generic Claritin, every morning. If your nose remains congested, add a saline nasal rinse or oral decongestant pill (if you don't have high blood pressure). You can also take a long-acting decongestant nose spray for a few days, if necessary. If these treatments don't clear your nasal congestion, ask your doctor about adding a corticosteroid nose spray," says Paul Enright, MD, WebMD's allergy expert and research professor of medicine and public health at the University of Arizona.
Other over-the-counter tools for managing your allergies are lozenges to soothe a sore throat, which can be irritated by postnasal drip from your runny nose, and antihistamine eyedrops to relieve itchy, watery eyes.
Look for antihistamine on the label when shopping for eyedrops; these treat the root of your allergy symptoms, instead of eyedrops that just relieve the redness (also known as decongestant eyedrops). If you do buy the latter, be sure you don't use them for more than two to three days -- over time you will need more and more to relieve the redness.