Tips for coping with spring pollens

Special to The Dallas Examiner | 4/14/2014, 11:13 a.m.
Even after a cold winter that delivered ice, snow, flu and colds to the region, many North Texans do not ...

Special to The Dallas Examiner

Even after a cold winter that delivered ice, snow, flu and colds to the region, many North Texans do not welcome warm spring weather because for them it ushers in weeks of sneezing, congestion and itchy eyes. It’s the time of year when pollen goes airborne, spreading for miles and triggering one of the annual rites of spring – seasonal allergic rhinitis, also known as hay fever.

“It can be a miserable time for allergy sufferers,” said David Khan, M.D., staff allergist of the Asthma and Allergy Clinics at Parkland Health and Hospital System, “and unfortunately there’s no magic cure for spring allergies. But there are ways to manage them, from medications to lifestyle adjustments that help to limit your exposure.”

The big offender that sets off springtime allergies is tiny grains of pollen released into the air by grasses and trees. When they get into the nose and eyes of someone who is allergic, they send the immune system into high gear, activating allergic cells in the body to release chemicals in an attempt to protect itself from a foreign invader, in this case, harmless pollens. Chemicals called histamines enter the tissues causing the familiar symptoms associated with seasonal allergies – nasal, throat and eye irritation. For asthma patients, the symptoms can be more severe.

Dallas earned the dubious honor of ranking number 18 on the 2013 Allergy Capitals ranking of U.S. cities by the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. Some of the worst spring allergy offenders in the North Texas area include mountain cedar, oak and pecan trees, along with several grass pollens. Mountain cedar starts in the winter and as it subsides, other tree pollens appear in March, followed by grass pollens which taper off in June when rising temperatures slow down blooming plants and pollen counts drop.

If you dread springtime due to your allergies, Khan recommends that you find out specifically what pollens you are allergic to so you can better manage your seasonal symptoms.

“An allergy specialist can provide a proper diagnosis, perhaps using allergy testing, to help identify the allergens that trigger reactions and provide medications as well as advise on how to avoid exposure,” he said. “I would recommend that anyone who has persistent asthma or allergies (fall, spring, summer or year-round) should see a physician to make sure their allergies are effectively treated.”

Over-the-counter medications can help with mild symptoms but many patients require prescription drugs or nasal sprays that are more effective. Prescription nasal sprays work by reducing allergic inflammation, blocking histamine or both. Khan also stated:

• If your symptoms are milder and isolated to the nose and eyes, antihistamines are the mainstay of treatment and control.

• If oral antihistamines are not effective, try adding a prescription nasal steroid or antihistamine spray. In addition, using salt water flushes before nasal spray use can be helpful.

• If antihistamines and a nasal steroid spray don’t do the trick, allergy shots can be very effective.

• For people with asthma: make sure you are taking all of your controller medications, are on medication to treat your allergies, and have an action plan to treat exacerbations.

• Before you turn on your air conditioner for the first time, clean your vents and change the filter as clogged filters are less effective at keeping pollens and molds out of your home.

• When pollen is at its peak, stay indoors as much as possible.