Spring is just around the corner and for many, its arrival signifies an end to hibernation-like habits formed in winter. From physical exercise such as walks, runs or bike rides to social occasions like picnics and cookouts, the warm weather presents a renewed opportunity to enjoy the outdoors. However, the season’s change also brings about the return of something far from enjoyable: spring allergies. While a mere inconvenience for some, spring allergies present a serious deterrent to enjoying the outdoors for many others. For those with strong seasonal allergies, much of springtime’s joy is overshadowed by persistent, uncomfortable symptoms such as runny nose, itchy eyes, itchy throat, sneezing and congestion. With smart habits and the right resources, spring need not be spent in a haze of allergic misery.
Some may be surprised to learn that trees are the primary culprit for spring allergies. In the Baltimore area, common trees such as maple, oak, ash and birch begin to cause problems for those with allergies as early as late-February, and continue to shed pollen into April and May. Another primary contributor to spring allergies is grass. While grass releases less pollen than trees, the pollen it produces tends to be more allergenic. Grass pollens typically spread beginning in late April, continuing through early-to-mid June and sometimes later if there is a cooler, wetter start to the summer.
Spring allergies can feel insurmountable, but the first line of defense is controlling the circumstances when and where you can. Taking account of how you sleep, for example, can be the first step in finding relief. As the season transitions from winter to spring and spring to summer, many people like to sleep with the window open, as it is no longer cold enough to turn on the heat, but not yet hot enough to use air conditioning. While cracking the window before bed can be tempting, it allows pollen to enter your room, exposing your bedding, clothes and body to allergens.
“The best treatment for allergy is avoidance,” says Jonathan Matz, M.D., an allergist with the Sinai Division of Allergy and Immunology. Dr. Matz recommends closing the windows and instead using your air conditioner’s fan function, which will cycle fresh air in from the outside while filtering out the pollen it carries.
There’s evidence that some supplements help nasal allergies. Butterbur is one of the most promising and well-researched. Studies show that butterbur — specifically a butterbur extract called Ze 339 — works as well as some allergy drugs. Still, butterbur has been linked to liver damage. Those interested in using it should also be aware of this potential hazard and be advised about early symptoms. Fermented red ginseng resulted in significant improvement in nasal congestion and rhinitis quality of life. An Indian herbal product containing extract from the stem of Tinospora cordifolia has been shown in studies to give significant improvement in sneezing, nasal discharge, nasal obstruction, and itchy nose, but it can raise your white blood cell count. There’s evidence that other supplements, such as quercetin and bromelain, may help, too. Check with your doctor before you start using any supplements regularly, especially if you take daily medication or have any health conditions.
Natural allergy remedies can make a difference. Just remember that they shouldn’t replace medications and other treatments. If your symptoms aren’t improving and they’re affecting your life, see a doctor. Medications, allergy shots, or other treatments could make things better.
If your allergy symptoms aren’t well-managed with over the counter medication, make an appointment with an allergist today so that you don’t miss out on springtime fun.