Spring is synonymous with budding flowers, blooming trees — and for many, allergies. According to the CDC, seasonal allergies (also called hay fever and allergic rhinitis) can affect as many as 60 million people per year in the United States.
Below, Neil Parikh, MD, an allergy and immunology specialist with Dignity Health Mercy Medical Group, discusses causes of allergies, management tips and seasonal allergy trends.
“When we think about a person’s environment impacting their tolerance to developing allergies, it’s more than air pollutants and tobacco smoke exposure,” says Dr. Parikh.
Behaviors that can contribute to allergy development include:
- Spending more time indoors
- Increased reliance on antibiotics
- Consuming processed foods
These behaviors limit exposure to environmental allergens and microbes. As a result, allergy tolerance development to certain allergens can be inhibited at a young age, increasing the likelihood of becoming allergic.
In the springtime, many people struggle with outdoor allergy triggers — specifically pollen. Though pollen counts are typically higher during the warmer seasons, some plants pollinate year-round. Depending on the region people live in, a variety of pollen production can trigger allergies.
“We’ve seen an increase in people who suffer from seasonal allergies over the years,'' says Dr. Parikh. “In general, our global temperatures are increasing, which has led to a longer spring season — meaning a longer period of time when there are higher pollen counts, resulting in more opportunity for people to suffer from allergies."
Allergies vs COVID-19 Symptoms
Some allergy symptoms are similar to COVID-19 symptoms, but there are differences to note. Fever and body aches are specific to viral infections, like COVID-19 or the flu, rather than allergies.
A viral infection generally presents symptoms for 10-14 days and can occur at any time of year. It is important to note that if one is experiencing any symptoms of COVID-19, including those similar to allergy symptoms, they should take a COVID-19 test as soon as possible and follow CDC guidelines, avoiding exposure to others if they test positive.
Allergy Treatments and Management
Allergies can be unique to each person, but there are a number of ways to approach the management of allergy triggers and symptoms to ensure daily life isn’t impacted.
“The best approach to managing allergies is to understand what you’re allergic to, and an allergist can help you do that through testing,” says Dr. Parikh. “Creating a management plan together with your doctor can help allergy sufferers limit their exposure to triggers and identify treatments.”
To address symptoms of general seasonal allergies, Dr. Parikh suggests:
- Reducing exposure by staying indoors on dry, windy days
- Removing clothes worn outside and showering to rinse pollen from the body
- Keeping track of the local pollen count; when it is high, close doors and windows at night and early in the morning
- Avoiding outdoor activity during times when pollen counts are the highest, typically in the early morning
- Keeping indoor environments free of pollen by vacuuming floors, and using a high efficiency particulate air filter (HEPA) filter in bedrooms
Additionally, there are over-the-counter allergy medications that can help reduce symptoms. Oral antihistamine pills can help relieve sneezing, itching, runny nose and watery/itchy eyes. There are also oral antihistamine eye drops that can specifically help patients who struggle with watery or itchy eyes. For those experiencing nasal congestion, nasal corticosteroid sprays can be used to relieve congestion, itchy nose and other sneezing symptoms.
Symptoms of seasonal allergies can be significant and negatively impact quality of life, but they are not something you have to suffer through.
If you need support in managing your allergies, it is best to see your doctor sooner rather than later.
If you are experiencing any symptoms of COVID-19, including symptoms that are common for allergies, be sure to test for COVID-19.
“Some people self-treat for what they believe are allergy symptoms and their symptoms are a result of something else,” says Dr. Parikh. “Make an appointment to see your physician for allergy testing to ensure you’re on the right treatment plan.”
Visit our “Find a Doctor” page to learn more about Dignity Health Medical Group physicians near you.