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The trees and grasses start shedding pollen in the air with the advent of spring. When you breathe in this otherwise harmless substance, the body perceives it as a foreign threat and mounts an immune response to get rid of it.
Pollen is one of the most common respiratory allergens there is, but it is especially prevalent during the spring season. This is why a pollen allergy is often termed as spring allergy.
What are spring allergies?
Spring allergies are seasonal allergies that affect millions of Americans every year. (1) It occurs after contact with tree pollen during spring, causing some uncomfortable respiratory symptoms.
2020 is proving to be a hard season for patients with seasonal allergies due to the simultaneous outbreak of COVID-19 in many regions of the United States. Both these conditions share many common respiratory symptoms, which has led to a lot of confusion. (2)
What causes spring allergies?
After your body contracts plant pollen, your immune system sees it as a foreign threat and induces an allergic response to fight the invader.
Your mast cells release certain inflammatory substances such as histamine in your blood that trigger various respiratory symptoms such as sneezing.
This is an immune response from your body to an allergen; in this case, it is the pollen. Only people with allergy antibodies (IgE) specific to that pollen are likely to suffer such an allergic reaction.
What are the symptoms of spring allergies?
People who have spring allergies usually manifest upper respiratory symptoms, such as:
What is the most frequently occurring spring allergy?
The most common spring allergy is allergic rhinitis, also known as hay fever, which is triggered by the inhalation of plant pollen.
This allergy is characterized by the inflammation of the airways caused by the release of inflammatory mediators from degranulated mast cells to ward off the foreign irritant (pollen) that the immune system perceives as a threat to your body.
What is the medical treatment for spring allergies?
First and foremost, you must adhere to the self-care guidelines and preventive tips mentioned earlier to minimize your exposure to pollen. In addition to those, the following interventions may be recommended by your doctor:
1. Use a saline nasal solution
Use a saline nasal solution to wash your nose at least two times a day and whenever you come back from outside. (3)
2. Over-the-counter medications
Certain over-the-counter medications can help relieve your symptoms, namely, oral antihistamines (fexofenadine, loratadine, cetirizine, levocetirizine), nasal corticosteroids sprays (triamcinolone, fluticasone), and mast cell stabilizer eye drops.
These drugs are fairly safe, provided they are taken in the appropriate dosage. However, excessive drowsiness has been reported in children and the elderly as a side effect of some of these medications, which warrants special precaution.
If you don’t register any relief even after using these interventions or have other concerns regarding your condition, you should see a doctor.
The doctor will address your queries and prescribe other drugs and preventive treatments, such as allergy immunotherapy if needed.
How are spring allergies diagnosed?
Reviewing the symptoms and the history of exposure to pollen is the best way to get a diagnosis of spring allergies.
If you stay outside and present some of these uncomfortable symptoms in the spring season, you can be diagnosed with spring allergy.
The doctor will mostly look for the following symptoms to identify a spring allergy:
- Runny nose
- Nasal congestion
- Postnasal drip
- Itchy and red eyes
- Itchy nose
Additional tests that can help arrive at a differential diagnosis include:
- Radio allegro sorbent test (RAST)
- ImmunoCAP test for IgE (immunoglobulin E)
- Skin-prick method test for antigens
How long do spring allergies last?
The duration of the allergy season depends on the pollen period and the level of pollen in the air, which tends to vary from region to region during spring. There are certain species of plants (e.g., elm) that pollinate in the fall.
It may also differ from person to person. Many people manifest symptoms during the entire spring season, while others present intermittent symptoms.
Are there any home remedies that can help relieve spring allergies?
Yes, some home remedies have delivered positive results in managing spring allergies. Here are some of the most popular ones:
1. Saline nasal solution
It helps to hydrate your nostrils and rinse out dust, pollen, or any other irritant in the nasal passages.
2. Local honey
You can buy it from a reputed store to ensure the best quality, and start taking it from 1 month before the advent of spring. (4)
This is a natural substance that helps to reduce the release of histamine. Take it some weeks before the spring season. Many foods also contain quercetin, such as apples, berries, broccoli, cauliflower, grapes, onions, and tomatoes. (5)
Many studies show that certain beneficial gut bacteria (probiotics) can help reduce the incidence of allergies. You can derive a healthy dose of probiotics from various food sources, such as yogurt, kefir, and sauerkraut, or via supplements, but consult your doctor about the proper dosage. (6)
How do you get rid of spring allergies?
The foundation in managing any type of allergy is to avoid the substances that trigger it. Here are a few tips to reduce your exposure to allergens:
- If you need to go outside, wear a mask and sunglasses.
- Always prefer to go out after a good rain as the downpour settles the airborne pollen into the earth.
- Change your clothes when you come back from outside.
- Close your windows and doors when the pollen level is on the rise.
- Keep your indoor space clean.
- Clean air filters frequently, especially in your bedroom.
- Use anti-allergy covers for your mattress and pillows to avoid dust mites, which are another common source of allergic reactions.
- Blinds are better than tissue curtains.
- Prefer hardwoods to carpets on the floor. Use a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter to clean the floor. (7)
Can one develop pollen allergies later in life?
Yes, your immune system can mount an allergic response to pollen at any moment in life, even if you never had an allergy before. The onset of the allergy depends on many factors, including:
- Genetic inheritance
- Family history
- Living in urban areas
- Your overall immunity
Can spring allergies be cured?
Most allergies cannot be cured. Spring allergies, in particular, are brought on by environmental irritants such as pollen, which cannot be controlled, only avoided.
But there’s a limit to which you can prevent exposure since the pollen is present in the very air you breathe.
However, if you follow a healthy lifestyle and take preventive precautions as recommended by your doctor, you can have fewer symptoms each season.
There is nothing you can do to reduce the level of pollen in the air, but what you can do is avoid going outside too much and keeping your windows closed to keep your home pollen-free.
Avoiding the allergen is your best bet against allergies since they cannot be cured. Thus, you have to learn to live with them, which can be made easy through the precautions and management tips mentioned in this article.
This is the only way to reduce the severity and frequency of your attacks. Be especially careful during the spring season when the pollen count is at an all-time high.