Doc Talk: Enjoy spring more by limiting exposure to allergens

03/19/2013 7:05 AM

08/08/2014 10:15 AM

As Old Man Winter decides to rest his bones, many Wichitans eagerly await the arrival of warmer weather. For some, however, the arrival of spring is marked by an onset of allergy symptoms. These allergy sufferers often find that the itching, sniffling, sneezing and stuffiness associated with springtime tend to overshadow the beauty of the season.

Wichita currently ranks as one of the worst cities in the nation for allergies, which is not surprising when you consider a few factors.

The recent trend of mild winters has resulted in a more prolonged allergy season. Why? When cold winter temperatures are interrupted by warmer weather, pollens are released into the air earlier. Often, these warmer temperatures are later halted by a cold spell that may stop further release of pollen. Despite this, the early pollen release can result in a priming effect that makes allergy symptoms more severe when the spring season arrives. In addition to the mild winters, the relatively flat topography coupled with windy conditions common to this area cause pollens to travel longer distances. This, in turn, can result in more widespread allergy symptoms.

One of the most important ways to prevent allergy symptoms is to find out what things you are allergic to. Many people assume that they have seasonal allergies but actually may have year-round triggers that simply worsen during certain seasons. When your allergy triggers are identified, prevention and treatment of your symptoms will be much more effective. An allergist or immunologist can perform simple tests to determine the specific triggers for your spring allergy symptoms.

For those who have spring allergies, there is good news: You can begin to enjoy the season more by limiting your exposure to allergens. Here are a few tips that might help:

• Keep windows, both at home and in the car, closed. Fight the temptation to open windows and doors to let fresh spring air into your home. This fresh air is full of pollens that will enter the home and cause allergy symptoms.
• Take a shower before going to bed. Pollens will stick to you, your clothes, your hair and ultimately your bedding if you have not showered prior to getting in bed. Inhaling these pollens throughout the night can leave you feeling miserable the next morning.
• Monitor the pollen counts. The National Allergy Bureau tracks local pollen counts and mold levels and can be accessed through the American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology website, www.aaaai.org/global/nab-pollen-counts.aspx.
• Limit the amount of time you spend outdoors in the mid-day, especially on days when pollen counts are high. The pollen counts are highest roughly between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.

For many people with spring allergies, avoidance is simply not enough to keep the symptoms under control. Over-the-counter allergy medications can help and are safe when used as directed. As with any medication, if you have other medical conditions, you should speak with your primary doctor before starting any new allergy treatment. There are several over-the-counter antihistamines, such as cetirizine or fexofenadine, which can be taken by mouth daily to alleviate allergy symptoms. Antihistamine eye drops also are now sold over the counter and can be very helpful in treating red, itchy, watery eyes. Nasal decongestant sprays are effective in treating stuffiness but should not be used more than three to five days at a time. If your allergy symptoms continue despite over-the-counter remedies, you should contact your doctor to discuss other treatment options. You may be given prescription medications and/or referred for an evaluation by an allergy specialist.

Hopefully, with these suggestions, local allergy sufferers will soon be able to join the group of Kansans who welcome the beauty of the season with open arms.

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