Get Ready for Spring Allergy Season

Medically Reviewed by Luqman Seidu, MD on May 02, 2016
4 min read

Spring means longer days, picnics, and time outdoors. But if you or someone in your family has allergies, it’s time to be on alert, too. Use these tips.

If you have seasonal allergies, pollen can make your nose runny, your eyes itchy, your throat scratchy, and your mood miserable.

Try to stay indoors in the morning and early afternoon, when levels of the sneezy stuff tend to be their highest. Make the extra effort to do that if you have asthma.

“If it's a high-pollen count [for] a number of days, it can cause a severe asthma episode, and asthma can cause death,” says Stanley Goldstein, MD, an allergist in Rockville Centre, N.Y.

Take your allergy medications right away, especially if you stopped taking them in the winter, says Derek K. Johnson, MD, medical adviser to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. That'll help lessen your symptoms.

As many as 15 million Americans have food allergies. You’ll want to work with your doctor to find out which eats give you problems. Once you find your triggers, avoid them.

That can be hard to do at a picnic, though. People mix up serving spoons or drop crumbs from one dish into another.

When Allison Inserro of New Jersey goes to a picnic or barbecue, she brings food along for her 11-year-old son, who is allergic to dairy, eggs, sesame, peanuts, tree nuts, and mustard.

“If I bring enough food to share at a potluck, I always keep some set aside for him," she says. "I don't have him serve himself from the main table, because I'm concerned about mustard drippings or crumbs from baked goods.”

Most importantly, don’t dig in to something if you’re not sure what its ingredients are.

“Unless you can either read the box that the food came out of or talk to the person who specifically made the food themselves, it's best to avoid eating it,” says Mark Holbreich, MD, a board-certified allergist in Indianapolis.

If you’re allergic to bees, wasps, and hornets, Holbreich suggests you take these steps to steer clear of stings when you enjoy the sunshine.

  • Wear shoes when outside.
  • Try not to wear bright-colored clothes or perfume. Both can attract these bugs.
  • Be careful when you drink from an open container. Insects can hide inside.

Michael Fleegler, who has a life-threatening allergy to bee stings, says he follows one strict rule at picnics. “I only drink clear liquids out of a clear cup,” he says. “That way, I can see if there's anything in the drink that doesn't belong there.”

Allergy specialists have a few more important, potentially life-saving tips for you.

Beware of anaphylaxis. Certain foods, medications, or insect stings can set off a severe, potentially fatal reaction called anaphylaxis. Symptoms include swelling (of the face, eyes, and tongue), hives, breathing problems, and loss of blood pressure.

To stop or curb the reaction, your doctor might tell you to use a medicine called epinephrine at the first sign of trouble. You inject it into your middle or outer thigh. You'll need to call 911, too, because the medicine's effects don't last and you’ll need more attention.

An auto-injector is “like a fire extinguisher,” Johnson says. “Once you have a fire, you don't have time to run out and buy one. You may never use it, but you have to get one anyway.”

If your doctor prescribed epinephrine, you should carry two auto-injectors with you at all times. That way you'll always have enough medicine should something come up.

Pack a survival kit. It’s a good idea to carry diphenhydramine (Benadryl) along with your auto-injector. It won’t replace a shot, but it can help. Johnson suggests the fast-melt or liquid form. “If you have a problem, it's easier to get that in [your mouth] than to swallow a pill,” he says.

Have backup medicine. When you go on vacation, bring enough medicine with you.

“You have to be more vigilant when you're traveling,” Goldstein says. “If you're traveling to a very remote area, and you know you have a potential for bee-sting anaphylaxis, you may want to take several [auto-injectors].”

Have help on hand. Tell your friends and family exactly how to help you or your child before a reaction happens. Tell them where your auto-injector is, and teach them how to use it, Holbreich says.

These handy tips can help you avoid a dangerous situation while not missing out on the joys of spring.