Tips to Live By

5 Tips for Avoiding Seasonal Allergy Symptoms

April 19, 2022 - Katie McCallum

Whether pollen is falling from trees or grasses are in full bloom, there's no second-guessing that allergy season has arrived. *sniff, sniff*

Is there anything you can do to keep seasonal allergy symptoms at bay?

"A person with seasonal allergies is sensitive to allergens that are only around at certain times of the year," says Dr. Omar Ahmed, an ENT doctor at Houston Methodist. "Plant pollens are the classic example."

This is different from someone with perennial allergies, which are triggered by allergens that are present year-round, like dust, mites or pet dander.

With seasonal allergies, you have the advantage of being able to prepare — and Dr. Ahmed has five tips to help you do that.

1. Know when it's time to prepare

When is allergy season exactly? Well, that depends ...

"There are actually three different allergy seasons: springtime, summertime and fall," says Dr. Ahmed.

Each one of these seasons is marked by a different type of plant pollen being released:

  • Spring – tree pollen is high
  • Summer – grass pollen is high
  • Fall – ragweed pollen is high

Depending on which type of pollen, or pollens, you're sensitive to, you may experience allergies during one of these seasons — or two ... or even all three.

"Usually you can tell which allergy seasons you need to worry about from your history — the season or seasons when your symptoms have traditionally acted up the most," says Dr. Ahmed. "An allergy test can help identify triggers, too, but this isn't usually needed when it comes to seasonal allergies. You're your best historian."

2. Take steps to reduce your pollen exposure

The best way to avoid seasonal allergy symptoms is to avoid pollen exposure altogether by staying indoors.

This is challenging, of course, so it's important to at least take steps to limit your exposure.

"Pollen counts are highest in the mornings, so it's generally a good idea to keep windows and doors closed as much as possible during this time," explains Dr. Ahmed. "They're also higher on some days than others, and you'll want to be most stringent with your avoidance techniques on days and weeks when pollen counts are high."

Tips to limit pollen exposure:

  • Check the pollen count using your weather app and plan your day accordingly
  • Avoid driving with your windows rolled down, especially in the mornings
  • Wear a mask if you need to be outdoors
  • Set your car's A/C to recirculate the air, rather than drawing it from the outside
  • Consider changing clothes and showering when you arrive home after being outdoors

3. Pre-treat symptoms if you're a regular sufferer

"If you know your allergies are likely to start acting up as a particular season looms, it's a good idea to start an over-the-counter nasal steroid spray regimen in anticipation of your symptoms," says Dr. Ahmed.

Or, instead, you can take a daily antihistamine to pre-treat your allergy symptoms. But be sure to choose one that's non-drowsy.

"Additionally, know that, when used for symptom prevention, these medications need to be taken every day," says Dr. Ahmed.

If you prefer a natural remedy for allergies, try frequent saline rinses instead.

"Pollen gets deposited in the nasal cavity, and manually flushing your nose with a saline wash can help remove some of that pollen — reducing the chance for your allergies to get triggered," Dr. Ahmed explains.

You can purchase saline rinse kits at grocery stores and pharmacies. Just be sure to mix the saline packets with sterile water, such as distilled water, bottled water or water that's been boiled and allowed to cool to a safe temperature.

4. Know the allergy symptoms to be on the lookout for

If you can feel your allergies coming on, you'll want to act fast to begin treatment.

But that hinges on knowing both the obvious and subtle symptoms of seasonal allergies.

"It's not uncommon for people to confuse allergy symptoms for an upper respiratory viral infection, like the flu or a cold," says Dr. Ahmed.

Seasonal allergy symptoms include:

  • Runny nose
  • Nasal congestion
  • Itchy eyes
  • Sneezing
  • Scratchy throat
  • General fatigue
  • Headaches

As soon as you notice these symptoms, it's time to start treating them.

5. Take an antihistamine

Even if you're doing everything right, allergies may still strike. (Related: Experts Say the Spring 2022 Allergy Season Will Be a Bad One — Here's What You Need to Know)

"My go-to for treating allergies are non-drowsy oral antihistamines," says Dr. Ahmed. "These medications target the histamine response itself — the root cause of allergies — and they begin to work in just a few hours, making them a great first step for getting relief."

An antihistamine can help relieve the following seasonal allergy symptoms:

  • Nasal congestion
  • Sneezing
  • Scratchy throat
  • Itchy eyes

"You can also use a nasal steroid spray to treat allergies, but just know that these sprays take a few days to take effect," adds Dr. Ahmed. "I recommend also taking an oral antihistamine in the meantime."

And exercise caution regarding nasal decongestant sprays, another type of nasal spray you may find in the medication aisle.

"It's possible to get hooked on nasal decongestant sprays, so I would not recommend using this particular nasal spray to treat allergies unless your nasal congestion is very bad," warns Dr. Ahmed.

Taken longer than three days, these sprays can cause rebound congestion — when your congestion actually gets worse as your system becomes dependent on the spray. If you do decide to use a nasal decongestant spray to treat congestion caused by allergies, be sure to limit your usage.

Should you see a doctor for seasonal allergies?

If your seasonal allergy symptoms are bad and persist despite over-the-counter medications, Dr. Ahmed says it may be time to see a doctor.

"There are prescription nasal sprays that are more effective than the over-the-counter options," says Dr. Ahmed. "These are especially useful if your allergies are interfering with your quality of life."

And if your symptoms aren't improving after a week or so, it could also be a sign it's something else. Dr. Ahmed notes that allergies can mimic other health issues.

In particular, the congestion, drainage and facial pressure that can accompany a bad bout of allergies may have you wondering if it's led to a full-blown sinus infection.

"The chance of allergies developing into a sinus infection is pretty low," says Dr. Ahmed. "But if you're not getting better by 7 or 10 days, I would recommend seeing a doctor. The symptoms of allergies and sinus infections overlap, and your doctor can help confirm or rule out an infection and recommend the best way for you to get relief."

Need care now?

Houston Methodist Virtual Urgent Care offers on-demand video visits from wherever you are, no appointment needed. Our board-certified providers are available 24/7 to address many common health issues.

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Categories: Tips to Live By