Understanding and Managing Spring Allergies

Ah, signs of spring: birds chirping, flowers blooming, and days getting longer. If your list also includes sneezing, wheezing, and general itchy misery, you might suffer from spring allergies. Read on to learn more about this all-too-common condition, why it happens, and how to manage it.

Pollen 101

Pollen, the most common outdoor allergy trigger, is a very fine powdery substance produced by trees and plants. It actually does serve an important purpose other than causing despair for allergy sufferers: once produced and released, pollen is transported (by wind, water, insects, animals, etc.) to fertilize other trees and plants.

So why are some humans so affected by this annual process? The answer: histamines. When someone is allergic to a substance like dust or pollen, their immune system reacts to the irritant as though it’s a harmful substance and releases a chemical called histamine to fight it off. The reaction to these histamines is what causes common allergy symptoms like itchy eyes, runny nose, tickly throat, sneezing, even skin and stomach issues.

Outdoor allergies are often referred to as “seasonal allergies” because common irritants are more prevalent at certain times of the year: tree and grass pollen in the spring and weed pollen in the fall. A person might be sensitive to only one of these substances; though some people react to all of them (and some lucky people, to none!) – with commonly reported symptoms more or less the same across all seasons.

Living With Spring Allergies

If you have a pollen allergy, you’re familiar with springtime symptoms like wheezing, sneezing, itchy eyes and throat, watery eyes, a runny nose, and sinus congestion, which typically worsen as the pollen count increases. In the mid-Atlantic region, tree and grass pollen season usually kicks off around mid-March, peaks in mid-April, and finishes by mid-May.

Tree pollen is more finely textured than other types, which makes it extremely adept at spreading. In peak season, you’ll find the fine yellow powder covering literally everything outdoors, and possibly even drifting into your house each time the door opens. So with the “enemy” all around, how is an allergy sufferer to manage?

  • Limit exposure. You can’t be expected to spend your entire spring hiding indoors, but keeping an eye on the daily pollen count and adjusting your plans accordingly can go a long way toward helping you manage your allergy symptoms. Most weather apps and websites include pollen info as part of their daily forecast. Interestingly, pollen tends to fall more actively in the morning hours, so go ahead and lounge in with that extra cup of coffee if you can.
  • Protect your environment. Don’t let your outdoor allergies become indoor ones – keep your house a pollen-free zone by keeping doors and windows closed, removing shoes by the front door, and brushing off your pets before they come back inside after a romp in the yard.
  • Consider a mask. With mask-wearing having been normalized over the course of the pandemic, it’s a good option for allergy sufferers who still need to perform outdoor activities like lawn and garden chores. Choose a surgical mask or construction-type dust mask, and dispose of it after use.
  • Consult with a doctor about whether an over-the-counter or prescription medication might help with your symptoms. An antihistamine can help prevent an allergic reaction, while decongestants, nasal sprays and eye drops can help alleviate symptoms. BetterMed offers allergy consultation and treatment in all of our urgent care clinics, either walk-in or by appointment.

A spring pollen allergy doesn’t have to be a sentence to a season of misery. Manage your environment and care for your symptoms, and you can still enjoy all that spring has to offer.