Spring has arrived, though many people in the United States who are still digging out from record-breaking amounts of snow may find it hard to believe. Nevertheless, it's been a mild winter in many parts of the country, and residents are already enjoying spring-like weather. Along with mild temperatures and sunny days, however, pollen counts are already on the rise in the South and Midwest.
Dr. Joseph Leija of the Loyola University Health System says pollen counts are already high for this time of year: "So far, what I am seeing in 2013 is equal to what I saw in 2012, which was a very early and especially bad allergy season."
That's bad news for allergy sufferers. According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI), early springs bring intense allergy symptoms that last longer than average to the more than 40 million Americans who suffer from seasonal allergies.
"Relief might seem impossible as pollen counts soar, but by knowing what triggers symptoms and how to avoid these allergens, sufferers can lead healthy, active lifestyles with minimal side effects," says allergist Richard Weber, M.D., president of the ACAAI. "Although symptoms may not always be severe, seasonal allergies are a serious condition that should be properly diagnosed and treated."
Seasonal allergies can cause more problems than simple sniffles. They make victims more prone to sinus infections, eye infections, sleep apnea, bad breath, and sore throats. In addition, they make asthma more difficult to control, and inflammation associated with allergies opens the body to attack by viruses.
Use these suggestions to help you battle pollen and have a sniffle- and wheeze-free spring:
• Use over-the-counter non-sedative antihistamines, such as Allegra, Claritin or Zyrtec, to combat symptoms. Take them 30 minutes before going outside.
• Stay indoors during peak pollen times — usually between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., according to the AAAAI. Up-to-date pollen information can be found at the AAAAI Web site. Go here.
• Keep windows and doors closed in your home, and don't use fans that bring pollen indoors. Also, keep car windows closed and the top up on convertibles.
• Wear a pollen mask if you garden, mow the lawn, or have to be outdoors during a high-pollen time.
• Monitor pets. If your indoor pets go outside, keep them off furniture and bathe them frequently to reduce the pollen they bring inside.
• Don't dry laundry outdoors. Even if you love the smell of clothes that have been dried on an outdoor line, use your clothes dryer instead. Clothes dried outdoors collect pollen.
• Wear sunglasses. Sunglasses help shield your eyes from pollen.
• Run the air conditioning or air cleaning systems to remove allergens from indoor air. Use high-efficiency filters (HEPA) filters for best results, but replace them regularly or they become a breeding ground for bacteria.
• Try salt lamps. Salt lamps are made from a chunk of salt that has been hollowed out to make room for a small light bulb or candle. Heating the salt produces negative ions which help purify the air of dust, smoke, pollen, bacteria, and other pollutants.
• Shower at night. Bathe and shampoo your hair at night instead of in the morning to wash away the day's collection of pollen.
See your doctor if symptoms worsen. Physicians can prescribe cortisone nasal sprays, and immunotherapy in the form of shots or drops under the tongue may be prescribed for those with the most severe symptoms.
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