What to do with pollen allergies
If you’re already taking OTC allergy meds (and, you know, keeping your windows closed and washing your face and hair after coming inside), allergy shots, a.k.a.
allergen immunotherapy, make your immune system less reactive to allergens (read: pollen), and for some people, they can even induce a cure, says Dr. Parikh.
“By giving little increasing doses of what you are allergic to, you train the immune system to slowly stop being as allergic,” she says. “This is the best way to address allergies, as it targets the underlying problem and builds your immunity to a specific allergen.”
Allergy shots are a bit of a time commitment. You’ll need to get them once a week for six to eight months, then once a month for a minimum of two years, says Dr. Parikh. You need to be a little bit patient, too, because it can take about six months to start feeling better (so if you desire protection by March, you’ll probably own to start in September the year before). But a life without allergies? Sounds worth it to me.
Cassie ShortsleeveFreelance WriterCassie Shortsleeve is a skilled freelance author and editor with almost a decade of experience reporting on every things health, fitness, and travel.
Kristin CanningKristin Canning is the health editor at Women’s Health, where she assigns, edits and reports stories on emerging health research and technology, women’s health conditions, psychology, mental health, wellness entrepreneurs, and the intersection of health and culture for both print and digital.
An allergy is a reaction the body has to a specific food or substance.
Allergies are extremely common.
They’re thought to affect more than 1 in 4 people in the UK at some point in their lives.
They’re particularly common in children.
Some allergies go away as a kid gets older, although many are lifelong.
Adults can develop allergies to things they were not previously allergic to.
Having an allergy can be a nuisance and affect your everyday activities, but most allergic reactions are mild and can be largely kept under control.
Severe reactions can occasionally happen, but these are uncommon.
Substances that cause allergic reactions are called allergens.
The more common allergens include:
- mould – these can release little particles into the air that you can breathe in
- medicines – including ibuprofen, aspirin and certain antibiotics
- grass and tree pollen – an allergy to these is known as hay fever (allergic rhinitis)
- food – particularly nuts, fruit, shellfish, eggs and cows’ milk
- latex – used to make some gloves and condoms
- insect bites and stings
- animal dander, tiny flakes of skin or hair
- dust mites
- household chemicals – including those in detergents and hair dyes
Most of these allergens are generally harmless to people who are not allergic to them.
What does that mean for my allergy meds?
When should I start taking them?
There’s no point in waiting until you’re miserable to take allergy meds, especially if you desire to hold up your outdoor workouts.
In fact, allergists recommend you start taking meds a couple weeks before allergy season arrives, or, at the latest, take them the moment you start having symptoms, says Dr. Parikh. Taking them early can stop an immune system freak-out before it happens, lessening the severity of symptoms, he adds. Check out the National Allergy Map to figure out when to start taking meds depending on where you live.
As for which allergy meds to take, if you’re seriously stuffed, start with steroid nasal sprays such as Flonase or Rhinocort, which reduce inflammation-induced stuffiness, says Dr.
Keet. And if you’ve got itching, sneezing, and a runny nose, too, glance for non-sedating antihistamines such as Zyrtec, Xyzal, or Allegra, she adds. Just remember: While OTC allergy meds suppress symptoms, they don’t cure the problem, so they may be less effective if your allergies are worsening, notes Dr. Parikh.
Getting assist for allergies
See a GP if you ponder you or your kid might own had an allergic reaction to something.
The symptoms of an allergic reaction can also be caused by other conditions.
A GP can assist determine whether it’s likely you own an allergy.
If they ponder you might own a mild allergy, they can offer advice and treatment to assist manage the condition.
If your allergy is particularly severe or it’s not clear what you’re allergic to, they may refer you to an allergy specialist for testing and advice about treatment.
Find out more about allergy testing
Symptoms of an allergic reaction
Allergic reactions generally happen quickly within a few minutes of exposure to an allergen.
They can cause:
- a red, itchy rash
- wheezing and coughing
- a runny or blocked nose
- red, itchy, watery eyes
- worsening of asthma or eczema symptoms
Most allergic reactions are mild, but occasionally a severe reaction called anaphylaxis or anaphylactic shock can happen.
This is a medical emergency and needs urgent treatment.
Okay, so when does allergy season 2020 start?
Well, it’s technically *always* allergy season due to year-round offenders such as dust mites, mold, and pet dander, says Purvi Parikh, MD, an allergist and immunologist with Allergy & Asthma Network. But some allergens–pollens, specifically—are seasonal.
Tree pollen, for example, pops up in the spring (generally in tardy March to April), grass pollen arrives in the tardy spring (around May), weed pollen is most prevalent in the summer (July to August), and ragweed pollen takes over from summer to drop (late August to the first frost), says Dr.
And even worse news: Climate change means allergy season begins earlier and lasts longer, adds Corinne Keet, MD, PhD, a professor and allergist at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
To get super-specific, Pollen.com has a National Allergy Map that provides an up-to-date allergy forecast in diverse areas around the country and an Allergy Alert app that gives five-day forecasts with in-depth info on specific allergens, helping you decide if you should stay indoors that day.
Certain areas own also seen a particularly large increase in pollen during allergy season. In 2019, the New York Times reported on the extreme blankets of pollen that hit North Carolina; Georgia and Chicago also faced especially aggressive allergy seasons too.
In Alaska, temperatures are rising so quickly (as in numerous other far northern countries), that the pollen count and season duration are seeing unprecedented growth.
How to manage an allergy
In many cases, the most effective way of managing an allergy is to avoid the allergen that causes the reaction whenever possible.
For example, if you own a food allergy, you should check a food’s ingredients list for allergens before eating it.
There are also several medicines available to help control symptoms of allergic reactions, including:
- lotions and creams, such as moisturising creams (emollients) – these can reduce skin redness and itchiness
- decongestants – tablets, capsules, nasal sprays or liquids that can be used as a short-term treatment for a blocked nose
- antihistamines – these can be taken when you notice the symptoms of a reaction, or before being exposed to an allergen, to stop a reaction occurring
- steroid medicines – sprays, drops, creams, inhalers and tablets that can assist reduce redness and swelling caused by an allergic reaction
For some people with extremely severe allergies, a treatment called immunotherapy may be recommended.
This involves being exposed to the allergen in a controlled way over a number of years so your body gets used to it and does not react to it so severely.