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Surviving Allergy Season

By Louis Neipris, MD, Staff Writer
4/1/2013 2:29:45 PM

Seasonal rhinitis - or "hay fever" - is the most common allergic condition in the U.S. About 35 million Americans suffer from it. At best, hay fever is an inconvenience. At worst, the sneezing, runny nose, itchy eyes and scratchy throat can cause you to miss time at work or school. It can also lead to other illnesses like sinus infections. But if you suffer from hay fever, you don't have to stay indoors in spring or fall, while everyone else is enjoying the new blossoms or colorful foliage. A few simple tips can lower your exposure to allergens and help you to avoid symptoms.

What causes seasonal allergic rhinitis?

Hay fever is caused when your immune system overreacts to pollen and mold. These are harmless substances (allergens) that are in abundance during the spring and fall. Symptoms occur when there is a massive release of histamine, a chemical that causes swelling of mucous membranes in the nose, sinuses and eyes. Hay fever tends to run in families, and sometimes improves in adulthood. Seasonal allergies often go hand-in-hand with asthma and eczema.

Symptoms

-Runny nose, stuffy nose, sneezing
-Itchy, watery or red eyes
-Itchy or sore throat, enlarged tonsils
-Dry cough
-One in five people with allergic rhinitis also have asthma. Many others have eczema. Allergic rhinitis can make wheezing and skin rashes worse.

Related:
When Allergies Move In
Allergy Shots: Allergy Symptom Relief

Tips for avoiding allergies
Since pollen is so widespread, it's hard to avoid. Still, there are some simple things you can do to reduce your exposure to pollen.

-Keep your home pollen-free. Leave your shoes outside and change your clothes when you come home.
-Listen to the pollen reports for your area. Try to stay indoors when pollen counts are high. Dust and pollen are more likely to be airborne on humid, windy days.
-Don't hang your clothes outside to dry.
-Try to avoid mowing the lawn or raking leaves. If you must do yard work, wear a face mask.
-Wash your hair every night.
-Wash bedding often.
-Use air conditioning in your home and car. Change air conditioner filters regularly. Use a HEPA (high efficiency particle arresting) filter that removes pollen and other common allergens from the air.

See your doctor if:

-Over-the-counter medications aren't helping
-You have year-round allergies
-You feel stuffed up or blocked on only one side of the nose
-You have any of the following symptoms:
*Wheezing (Call 9-1-1 for sudden or severe wheezing or for tightness in chest)
*Productive cough
*Shortness of breath (Call 9-1-1 if severe shortness of breath or trouble breathing)
*Achy sinuses
*Headache
*Fever

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