April showers bring May flowers and vexing seasonal allergies.
Oklahomans have it harder when it comes to allergies. Dr. Claire Atkinson, a board-certified allergy and immunology provider at the Oklahoma Allergy & Asthma Clinic, credits this to our environment.
“Texas and Oklahoma are known for what they call ‘cedar fever’, a term used to describe the abundance of allergy symptoms during the wintertime due to cedar pollen,” she said. “During the other times of the year, I think we just have pretty good weather overall, and because of that, I think those environmental allergies really thrive during our different seasons.”
Although we associate seasonal allergies with the spring season, it’s really a year-round issue. During the springtime, we typically see flowering trees pollinate; during the summertime, the grasses pollinate. In the fall, a combination of trees such as elm, as well as weeds, like ragweed, start pollinating, while in the winter, it’s the cedar trees. All of these can affect the body and cause inflammation and itchiness in the nose, as well as sneezing and congestion. Eye symptoms such as redness, itching and wateriness can also be irritating.
You can find relief with over-the-counter oral antihistamines, like Zyrtec and Allegra. However, more than 10% of people who take antihistamines get slightly drowsy, so try with caution. Nose sprays such as Flonase can sometimes be more helpful than oral medications, because they are directly in contact with where the problem is. “They’re attacking the inflammation from the nose standpoint, which is where a lot of people have their issues,” Atkinson said.
What if you have no luck with over-the-counter medication? It’s probably best to get an evaluation from a clinic. An allergy scratch test will determine if you are affected by environmental allergens such as grasses, trees, weeds, molds and dust mites, as well as dogs and cats. If a patient ends up testing positive to any of these allergens, the doctor will discuss ways to help with overall allergy symptoms and even induce long-term tolerance with allergy shots.
The best way to avoid allergies is to stay away from whatever makes you allergic. If dust mites are the problem, get dust mite covers for mattresses and pillows, wash bedding and water vacuum once a week. If it’s pollen, keep the windows up when you’re driving. When you get home after a long day of being outside, shower and change right away to reduce pollen exposure. Allergens may stick around all year, but your relief can, too.
Simply staying away from allergens are easier said than done, so here are some more tips to help you get through any season:
- If you can, stay indoors on dry, windy days. Moderate rain helps clear pollen from the air, so the best time to go outside is after a decent drizzle.
- Don’t hang clothes outside to dry — pollen tends to stick to them.
- Avoid chores like mowing the lawn or gardening (if you have to, wear a mask).
- Wear glasses or sunglasses to minimize pollen getting in your eyes.
- Take allergy medication as a precaution if you know the pollen levels are high (check online for pollen forecasts).
- Close doors and windows when you are at home to avoid airborne pollen.
- Make sure you have high-efficiency filters for your heating and air conditioning.
- Keep the air inside dry with a dehumidifier, and avoid using humidifiers.
- Make sure the vacuum cleaner and air filters in your room have HEPA filters.
- Rinse nasal passages with saline solution as an effective way to relieve nasal congestion.