If you suffer from spring allergies, you should be taking allergy medication now, even before trees and plants start blooming. The medication should be in your system before the trees start pollinating and should be taken daily to be effective, says Dr. Lourdes de Asis, Section Chief of Allergy and Immunology at Montefiore Nyack Hospital.
“If you start sneezing in early spring, you’re most likely allergic to tree pollen,” Dr. de Asis says. “You should be taking medication from mid-March through June or July.” People allergic to grass suffer most between May to September, while people allergic to weeds such as ragweed can feel the effects from August to the first frost.
Common over-the-counter allergy medications include antihistamines, decongestants, nose drops, and eye drops. Dr. de Asis cautions that people shouldn’t take decongestants if they have glaucoma, heart conditions, high blood pressure, prostate problems, or thyroid problems due to higher risk of possible harmful side effects.
Immunotherapy for Allergies
If over-the-counter medications aren’t adequately controlling your allergy symptoms, it’s time to talk with an allergist, who can determine what you are allergic to through skin testing. “People who have allergies more than six months of the year, or whose asthma or chronic sinusitis is aggravated by allergies, should be evaluated and considered for immunotherapy,” Dr. de Asis said.
Once allergy testing determines what pollen or other substance a person is allergic to, the allergist will give a series of injections—known as immunotherapy—which contain a little bit of that substance. The shots allow your body to build up tolerance that prevents allergens like pollen from causing symptoms. The shots start with a build-up phase, which involves injections with increasing amounts of the allergen about one to two times a week. This phase often lasts three to six months. The maintenance phase begins once the maximum dose is reached. Once a person reaches this phase, they usually come in for treatment once a month, for at least three years.
An exciting new development is an oral type of immunotherapy. Small measured doses of an allergen at an effective dose are placed under the tongue to boost tolerance to the substance and reduce symptoms. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved four allergy tablet products—two are for different kinds of grass pollen, one is for dust mites and one is for short ragweed. “An allergic person first undergoes testing to determine if he or she is allergic to grass, ragweed, or dust mites and under the allergist’s supervision begins taking these tablets every day on their own,” Dr. de Asis said. “Whether you should get a shot or take the daily tablets is a personal preference. Your physician will weigh the pros and cons of each with you.”
Tips for Reducing Seasonal Allergy Symptoms
If you’re prone to seasonal allergies, here are some tips to reduce your sneezing, stuffy nose and watering eyes:
- Monitor daily pollen and mold counts online—check the American Academy of Asthma, Allergy and Immunology website (http://www.aaaai.org/global/nab-pollen-counts/northeast-region). In spring and summer, during tree and grass pollen season, levels are highest in the evening. In late summer and early fall, during ragweed pollen season, levels are highest in the morning.
- Keep windows and doors shut at home and in your car during allergy season.
- Take a shower, wash your hair, and change your clothes after you’ve been working or playing outdoors.
“The Northeast has a very high concentration of tree pollen in the spring,” Dr. de Asis said. “If you’re prone to severe seasonal allergies, talk to your doctor. With the very good treatment available, there’s no reason to suffer.”