It’s the end of March. The spring equinox, the “official” indicator of spring, has passed yet there’s still some, me included, who beg to differ with the calendar. I moved from Virginia four years ago where I lived for a total of 28 years. My kids grew up there and we enjoyed the early springs, and the April cherry blossoms. This year spring came early in Virginia after a very warm winter and the cherry blossoms bloomed in March. That was NOT the case in the west.
The west, especially the southwest, has been plagued by a multi-year drought. The dams in my home state of Utah were almost empty, which is a real problem because they supply most of the water for this high desert state. The governor of Utah got into a little trouble for mixing religion and politics by urging Utahns last fall to pray for rain. Whether it was prayer or a quirk of El Niña this was a record year for snow and rain in Utah and most of the west. Some of the ski resorts, in this greatest snow on earth state, have over 700 inches of snow. This has certainly been a tale of two different cities/states between the east and the west. While the timing of the transition from winter to spring may be different depending on where we live, we will still have the same problems to deal with if we are burdened with allergies, which is the subject of my blog today. As we transition into the season of allergies, there are things we should pay attention to that can help us avoid some of the impact of allergies.
Allergies impact many of us. They are one of the most common medical conditions. It is estimated that over 100 million Americans are affected by different types of allergies. Hay fever, the most common allergy, affects 26% of adults and 19% of children. Many allergy symptoms are seasonal. When I was young I developed mild allergy symptoms that occurred every other August. Now that seems to me to be an extremely specific plant blooming allergy. Each of us is either affected by allergies or we know someone close to us who is.
If you live in the east, you might not have been ready for the early onset of allergies that came from the early spring. Spring is when many allergies start and will continue through summer and early fall. There isn’t a cure for allergies, but they can be controlled through a good allergy treatment plan based on your medical history, the results of allergy tests, and symptom severity. Many people with asthma are also affected by allergies. Allergies can be a trigger for an asthma attack. Allergic reactions and asthma attacks are caused when your body senses that the pollen or allergens that enter your body are harmful, and releases antibodies to combat the allergens. Too much of these antibodies cause inflammation and swelling. Older people may be especially affected by allergies especially if they are also asthma sufferers.
The good news is there are some things we can do to lesson the impact of allergies on our life. Below are some everyday steps, recommended by the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, that will reduce our exposure to the most common allergen, pollen.
- Check pollen counts or forecasts daily and plan outdoor activities on low pollen days.
- Keep windows closed during pollen season or peak pollen times.
- Use central air conditioning or air cleaners with a CERTIFIED asthma & allergy friendly® filter and/or HEPA filtration.
- Remove your shoes before entering your home.
- Limit close contact with pets that spend a lot of time outdoors. Wipe furry animals off when they come inside or bathe them weekly (if appropriate).
- Dry laundry in a clothes dryer or on an indoor rack, not on an outdoor line.
- Wear a mask outside to block much of the pollen in the air from getting into your nose, mouth, and lungs.
- Wear sunglasses to limit the amount of pollen that gets into your eyes.
- Cover your hair with a hat or other hair covering when outdoors so pollen doesn’t collect in your hair.
- Change and wash clothes after outdoor activities.
- Shower before bed to keep pollen out of your bedding.
- Wash bedding in hot, soapy water once a week.
- Clean your blinds or curtains regularly.
- Vacuum your carpets, rugs, and fabric furniture once a week. (A CERTIFIED asthma & allergy friendly® vacuum will trap pollen, dust mites, and pet dander and stop it from spreading in the air while vacuuming.)
As you can see these are all ways to limit your contact with pollen. Some people already remove their shoes when they come indoors but I think they were trying to eliminate dirt rather than pollen. Many of us have pets but I never considered that they could also transport pollen.
There are over-the-counter medicines that can greatly decrease the impact of allergies. Consult your doctor as to which would be best for you. Even over-the-counter medicines can interact with prescription medicines. You might consider taking these medicines a couple of weeks before the allergy season starts, depending on what your healthcare provider recommends.
If you do not get complete relief from medicines that treat allergy symptoms, talk with your allergy doctor about immunotherapy. Immunotherapy is a long-term treatment that can help prevent allergic reactions or make them less severe. It can change the body’s immune response to allergens.
Allergies can have a huge impact on our quality of life but there are things we can do to lessen their impact. Being able to go outside without being stuffed up is nothing to sneeze at.