"It's going to be the worst allergy season yet."
That's a warning we've heard from experts nearly every year for the past few years, but this year, they might be right…
We've already had one of the earliest starts for allergy season… It began for many folks all the way back in January.
Millions of Americans experience seasonal allergic rhinitis – or "hay fever" – in spring. They spend the season coughing, sneezing, and rubbing itchy eyes.
And it's no wonder that spring is the worst season for most allergy suffers. This is the time of year plants dormant during the winter come back to life, releasing pollen throughout the season.
If you've ever walked out to your car in the morning only to find it turned a pale shade of green overnight, that's pollen.
But not everyone suffers from allergies in the spring. Exactly how and when you experience symptoms depends on your trigger allergen...
Seasonal allergies occur when your immune system treats pollen as an invader... producing antibodies to defend your body... and causing stuffiness, sneezing, itchy eyes, and coughing.
There is no cure for seasonal allergies, and the most common drugs folks use to relieve symptoms have harmful side effects. For example...
Claritin is one of the most popular go-tos for allergy sufferers. It blocks histamine (the chemical that causes allergy symptoms) binding to prevent allergies. But its side effects include drowsiness, headaches, constipation, and dry mouth. It can also raise your blood pressure.
Benadryl is another popular drug to treat allergies. Benadryl is a type of anticholinergic, which blocks the neurotransmitter acetylcholine in our nervous system. This class of drugs relax nerves in many of our body's systems. That includes the cardiovascular system, the GI system, and the lungs. People take these drugs for problems like allergies, depression, COPD, Parkinson's disease, and even for an overactive bladder.
But a 2019 study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that a group of popular medications increases your risk of dementia by 50%.
Nasal sprays are a non-pill way to treat congestion from allergies. But the relief is only temporary and can actually cause your nasal lining to swell, leading to even more congestion. And overuse can lead to holes in your nasal septum. Worse, the drugs can permanently kill your sense of smell.
Or you could try allergy shots, which work by regularly injecting small doses of the allergen causing your allergic reaction. However, they can take years to become effective and can have dangerous complications, like anaphylaxis (a life-threatening allergic reaction).
I try not to use these potentially harmful drugs.
If you're like me, you want to avoid drugs... so try these alternative solutions to reduce your allergy symptoms.
Plan your day. Pollen counts often soar around midday, so you can still enjoy going outdoors in the mornings and evenings.
Plenty of websites track pollen counts and help you plan your outdoor activities. My research assistant uses an allergy tracker on the Weather Channel's website to plan her activities. The tracker breaks down which allergy triggers are most active on any given day. For example, she checks for low grass pollen days to plan on mowing her lawn.
Pollen.com also offers a tracker and more information on allergies.
Choose where you vacation carefully. If you are allergic to mold, for example, destinations with cooler temperatures will have fewer mold allergens. If you are allergic to pollen, places near the coast have lower levels of pollen. You can look up the allergy forecast for a specific state or county at AirCompare or find state-specific allergy triggers at The Weather Channel.
If you have allergies to feathers or common dust mites, it's a good idea to bring your own pillow. Small inns and bed-and-breakfast places are popular, but make sure to double check with the owners about their pets. They may allow their dog or cat in common areas. If you have a strong allergy to either, check first. And remember, the air conditioner won't just keep you cool... It will filter out common allergens, too, so make sure to run it in your hotel room.
So do what I do and plan ahead. And pack a hypoallergenic pillow cover just in case.
Keep your air filters clean. I keep a HEPA air filter in my bedroom, and I clean it once a week. But it's not the only filter to think about...
Clean out and replace filters on your central heating and cooling system as well as your gas furnace. Dirty filters reduce airflow, which puts a strain on your system.
In the kitchen, be sure to clean the filters on your range hood and microwave fans. Not all models contain filters. But if they do, take them out and clean off all the grease and debris. That way, the fan won't blow out all the germs and grit next time you run it.
Use a neti pot. The neti pot is another one of my preferred methods to cut down on allergies. This is an old Hindu device used to wash the sinuses.
But if you try it, be careful... and follow the instructions. If you don't use sterilized or distilled water, brain-eating organisms found in tap water can enter the brain through your sinuses. In late 2011, two deaths in Louisiana were blamed on the improper use of a neti pot.
If my allergies get especially bad, or my eyes get itchy, one of the drugs that I will sometimes use is Zaditor, a histamine-receptor blocker. It helps me with nasal and eye reactions. I also like to use nedocromil sodium eye drops.
And if your allergy symptoms are severe enough, your doctor may prescribe other medications. (One colleague in our office says his airways get so constricted in the spring, his doctor prescribes asthma medications.)
What We're Reading…
- Check out AccuWeather's forecast for this allergy season.
- Something different: We're losing the race against superbugs.
Here's to our health, wealth, and a great retirement,
Dr. David Eifrig and the Health & Wealth Bulletin Research Team
April 7, 2022