Spring is here (more or less) and with it comes hay fever allergies, aka seasonal allergic rhinitis. Hay fever’s sneezing, congestion and runny nose are similar to those of a cold. But where a cold can last a few days to a couple of weeks, hay fever can go on for months. In fact, for many sufferers, once it starts in the spring, it doesn’t end until the first hard frost of winter.
Pollen is the culprit here, from trees, weeds and various grasses. Unfortunately, short of staying indoors with the windows closed tight and a constantly running air conditioner and air purifier, there’s not much sufferers can do to avoid pollen. Even if you don’t have trees or plants in or near your home, pollen grains will hitch a ride on the wind and find their way to you.
Mind the Pollen Count
The pollen count measures the concentration of all the pollen the air in a certain area at a specific time. The actual measure is grains of pollen per cubic meter of air collected over a 24-hour period. Local weather reports and any number of Web sites and apps can give you the number. While pollen counts will change throughout the day, they still can help decide when it may be better to stay inside.
Regardless of the count, as a general rule of thumb pollen counts are higher during the early morning hours. It’s best to avoid the outdoors between 5-10 a.m., saving your outdoor activities for late afternoon. Warm, breezy days also increase pollen counts, but rain washes the grains out of the air, so going out after a heavy rain can be a good choice.
Treating Pollen Allergies
If you’re going to treat your symptoms yourself, you probably shouldn’t without first seeing a physician. Especially if you’re just beginning to feel the effects of allergies or if those affects are severe, it’s a good idea to find out exactly what is causing the allergy before trying to treat it.
While it could be just pollen, you also could have developed allergies to mold or dust or even animals. These may not by themselves be very serious, but you also could be starting to develop asthma. Allergies can be really annoying, but asthma can be deadly if not treated properly. It’s not something you want to take chances with.
If you decide to forego the trip to the doctor, you can treat hay fever yourself with any number of over-the-counter medications. Most popular have been antihistamines, but those can cause drowsiness. The ones that don’t work fine for many people, but have been said to be less effective for those with serious allergies. Nasal decongestants help with stuffiness, but they can have the opposite side effect, causing restlessness or nervousness .
Nasal corticosteroid sprays are considered more effective than antihistamines and decongestants, and don’t have their drowsiness/restlessness side effects. They don’t start working immediately, though, and have their own set of side effects to consider and watch out for before committing to long-term use. The choice also is limited if you want something without a prescription. Only one brand currently is available over the counter.