Allergy season is about to get worse. Here’s how to prepare.

Spring arrives with an increase in nasal congestion and a scratchy throat, and for many it has nothing to do with covid-19. There are 19.2 million adults and 5.2 million children in the United States who suffer from seasonal allergies, also called hay fever, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Some of the symptoms of allergies, such as congestion, cough and runny nose, overlap with the warning signs of Covid-19, but if your nose turns into a dripping faucet every spring, allergies are likely. be the culprits.

Unfortunately, that’s where the good news ends. Several studies show that pollen seasons are getting longer and more intense across the country. Climate change and increased carbon dioxide emissions are expected to drive the growth of trees and grasses in many areas, which will mean higher concentrations of pollen.

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“For people who have been managing seasonal allergies for a long time, you may have already noticed that allergy symptoms start earlier, last longer and are more intense than they were a few years ago,” said Kenneth Mendez, president and CEO of Asthma. and Allergy Foundation of America.

In the Southeast, pollen counts begin to rise as early as January for some trees, including cedar and juniper. Elm, maple, and oak trees have pollen seasons that can run from March to May. And in the northern United States, several types of grasses also start shedding pollen in late spring or early summer, according to the AAFA (although flowers are often blamed, they usually don’t trigger seasonal allergies because their pollen is large and sticky, designed to attract insects instead of floating in the air).

You can’t avoid pollen completely, but there are ways to prevent or reduce symptoms. And you may have to take these steps a little earlier each year, Mendez said.

FIND MEDICINES THAT WORK FOR YOU.

Various over-the-counter and prescription medications can help with allergy symptoms. Many doctors recommend steroid nasal sprays like Nasonex (by prescription) or Flonase as the first line of treatment, said Dr. Sandra Hong, an allergist at the Cleveland Clinic.

But they can take a few days or weeks to relieve congestion and sneezing, so it’s best to start using them early in the season, before symptoms become severe. Antihistamines, either sprays such as Astelin; pills such as Allegra, Claritin, or Zyrtec; or eye drops like Optivar are other alternatives to take as needed because they have a more immediate effect, he said.

Decongestants like Afrin or Sinex can also come to the rescue in a pinch. But Dr. Hong recommended these drugs last because they can have a rebound effect. After a few days of using decongestants, the blood vessels in your nose are less responsive to the medicine, and severe congestion may return. So limit these medications to no more than three days in a row.

Some trial and error is needed to find the best medication regimen. “If patients have tried one drug and it doesn’t seem to be working for them, they should definitely try other types to see if they are more effective,” Dr. Hong said.

You should also talk to your doctor about prescription options if you’ve already tried several over-the-counter allergy medications. An allergist can help you formulate a plan for your specific allergies in advance.

GIVE YOUR BREASTS A BATH.

For a drug-free option, consider nasal irrigation. The practice dates back thousands of years in the Ayurvedic medical traditions of India and its effectiveness is backed by research. To try it for yourself, use a neti pot, bulb syringe, or squeeze bottle and pour a saline solution into one nostril, letting it drain out the other.

“It seems like a simple concept, but it helps remove mucus, pollen and other allergens in the nasal cavity,” said Dr. Laura Chong, an allergist at the Oklahoma Allergy and Asthma Clinic in Oklahoma City.

The result is that you feel less congested and may need less allergy medication, Dr. Chong said.

PLAN YOUR TIME OUTDOORS WISELY.

Many popular weather apps and websites offer “allergy forecasts” or pollen counts. On the National Allergy Office website there is a list of more than 80 stations in the United States that provide more detailed daily updates on pollen based on different plant species. You can select the station closest to you and receive notifications for the particular pollen allergy you have.

Pollen counts tend to be highest between morning and mid-morning, as well as on hot, dry and windy days, Dr. Chong said. If you can exercise indoors during those times or run errands later in the evening, you’ll reduce the amount of pollen you breathe in, he added.

If you’re prone to allergy symptoms and have to go out in the morning or do yard work, wear a high-quality N95 mask — the kind you already have — to protect against coronavirus. This will help filter out pollen.

REDUCE POLLEN AT HOME.

Avoid bringing pollen indoors after you’ve been outdoors. Take off your shoes and change your clothes when you get home. Take a shower before bed to remove pollen from your body. And don’t let your furry pets sleep with you, Dr. Hong said. “Even if you’re not allergic to your pets, there’s pollen on their coats.”

To sleep better, you can try enclosing your mattress and pillows with hypoallergenic covers, washing your bedding in hot, soapy water once a week, and using a dryer instead of a clothesline.

Dr. Hong also recommended cleaning and replacing your air conditioner’s filter with one that has a Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value (MERV) of 11 or higher. These filters are capable of capturing tiny pollen particles. If you have severe allergies, you may want to splurge on a professional-style HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filter in your bedroom. HEPA filters typically have a MERV rating of 17 or higher and remove 99 percent of pollen, as well as animal dander, dust, and other particles.

CONSIDER IMMUNOTHERAPY FOR ALLERGIES.

If allergies are affecting your daily life, you may want to talk to your doctor about immunotherapy for long-term relief.

After confirming exactly which types of pollen you are allergic to with a skin prick exam or blood test, your doctor may recommend subcutaneous allergy immunotherapy or allergy shots. This involves a series of injections given every week or month that contain tiny amounts of the pollen you are allergic to. The dose is gradually increased, which helps your immune system become less sensitive to the allergen over time.

In the last decade, the Food and Drug Administration has begun approving another form of immunotherapy, known as sublingual immunotherapy. Here, small amounts of pollen come in the form of tablets, placed under the tongue for a minute or two, then swallowed as they dissolve. Currently, the only approved tablets are for allergies to dust mites, ragweed, and northern grasses such as timothy, although more tablets are being tested in clinical trials.

Both types of immunotherapy require patience. It may take six months to a year to see a reduction in symptoms, Dr. Hong said. Still, you may need to continue treatment for three to five years before your body can reliably ignore your triggers.

When it works, immunotherapy can be amazing, Dr. Hong said. People who once suffered from annual nasal congestion and itchy eyes can, after successful treatment, enjoy spring again.

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