The good news for allergy sufferers is that springtime mountain cedars and tree pollens have generally subsided.
The bad news: It’s summertime. While heat doesn’t influence the amount of pollen in the air, it does aid in the formation of ground-level ozone, which, in turn, can exacerbate allergy symptoms.
Summertime, and the sneezin’ is easy
Worldwide, allergic rhinitis affects between 10% and 30 % of the population, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI), and 17.6 million adults were diagnosed with hay fever in 2012 alone.
But what’s making us sneeze? Part of the problem, the EPA says, is ground level ozone — a component of smog — which is formed when pollutants emitted by cars, power plants, industrial boilers, refineries, chemical plants and other sources react chemically in the presence of sunlight
“For summer, it will be grass pollen along with high ozone levels combining for a one-two punch,” says Dr David Khan, associate professor of internal medicine at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, Texas. “In July, cedar elm will appear.”
To cope, Dr Khan, who also directs the asthma clinic at Parkland Memorial Hospital, offers these tips:
- Limit outdoor exposure during peak times — from mid-morning to midday.
- Air-conditioning filters out some allergens. Keeping windows closed lessens the amount of allergens that travel into the home.
- If you’re out for long periods during the day, take a shower before bedtime to wash off some of the allergens and prevent them from being transferred to pillows. “Your hair can be like a pollen magnet,” warns Dr Khan.
- Wear a mask while mowing the lawn or doing yard work.
- Take allergy medications before you go outside, so they have time to work into your system.
What kind of allergy medications?
Choosing the right medications to help control symptoms is important, Dr Khan says. Antihistamines are the most common medications used for allergies. They can help relieve itching, sneezing and runny noses, but don’t generally help with stuffiness. Oral decongestants like pseudoephedrine generally work for stuffy noses.
Topical decongestants — nose sprays — aren’t a good long-term solution because you can become addicted to them, causing nasal passages to swell even more, and possibly resulting in other nasal problems as well.
If symptoms aren’t subdued or allergies are interfering with your lifestyle or work, it’s probably a good time to find an allergy specialist and see if other treatments may help.
“It’s reasonable to try some of the over-the-counter drugs first, and if you’re not satisfied with those results, then you need to see a doctor,” says Dr Khan.
Prescription antihistamines can offer more potency and be less sedating than over-the-counter measures, Dr Khan says. Corticosteroid anti-inflammatory nasal sprays can be used regularly, often once a day, and are generally safe and effective. (These are not the same as anabolic steroids that athletes sometimes abuse and for which some school systems now test.)
Antihistamines, decongestants and corticosteroids, however, do no more than depress symptoms. “Although you’ll be reducing the effect of the allergic reaction, you’ll still be just as allergic at the end of the day,” Dr Khan says.
Shots are the most effective medical treatment, he says, actually making allergy sufferers less allergic. There’s also a novel clinical approach, called rush immunotherapy, which simply means taking more shots over a shorter period of time. Doctors think this may help expedite results.