Advice: Take Steps to Avoid Seasonal Allergies

Seasonal allergies affect one in every four Americans, according to the Centers for Disease Control. And the results can be exhausting and debilitating—constant sneezing, hacking coughs, watery, itchy eyes and interrupted sleep.
As the associate medical director of Northwell Health-GoHealth Urgent Care, I see patients worn down by allergies, but there are plenty of ways to help—even before symptoms show up.

The benefits of pretreatment
First, learn how allergies work and consider pretreatment. Allergies are caused when your body mistakes pollen for a threat. A mass of immune cells come to the rescue, causing an inflammatory response. You can keep inflammation at bay by starting some medicines before allergy season.

Corticosteroid nasal sprays and antihistamines can be found over the counter or may be prescribed by your healthcare provider. Some medications can take several weeks or a month to reach their full effectiveness, so someone who often suffers from allergies to tree pollen in mid-March might start taking preventative allergy medicine in February.

Decongestants can offer some relief, but some decongestant pills can be a bad choice for people with high blood pressure or heart problems. Likewise, decongestant sprays such as oxymetazoline may help for a few days but could make congestion worse with longer use.

Talk to your healthcare provider about the most effective medicines and pretreatment strategies for your specific situation.

Controlling the environment
Once pollen season gets going, there are other ways to help minimize allergic reactions. Keep an eye on an air quality indicator to check on daily pollen loads in our area. Minimize outdoor time early in the morning and on windy days when pollen counts tend to peak. If you’re doing yard work, wear a face
mask. Avoid drying your laundry outdoors, as windblown pollen can settle on your clothes.If you go outside, take off your shoes at the door to avoid tracking pollen inside, and wipe down your pets’ paws and coats. Consider taking a shower before bed to wash away pollen and avoid contaminating your pillow. And if pollen does get in your nose? A saline rinse with a nasal irrigation device such as a neti pot can help rinse it back out again.

In the car, keep windows up and air conditioning set to recirculate filtered air, rather than bringing in pollen from the outdoors. At home, keep windows shut and use your air conditioner, making sure the filters and vents are clean. Indoor air filters and vacuum cleaners with HEPA (High-Efficiency Particulate
Air) filters can remove pollen particles that sneak inside.

Check with your healthcare provider
If allergies are affecting your quality of life, a healthcare provider can advise you on pretreatment strategies and medication, as well as initiate testing to help you pinpoint your allergy triggers. A diagnosis can help patients pursue long-term strategies such as allergy shots or sublingual (under the
tongue) allergy tablets, which desensitize the immune system by exposing it to very small amounts of the allergen. Typically, patients receive weekly shots for several months, followed by a maintenance phase of monthly shots that can last for three to five years. About 85% of patients experience relief.

Dr. Michael Green is associate medical director at Northwell Health-GoHealth Urgent Care


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