After the record snowfalls and bitter, teeth-chattering cold we experienced this past winter, the arrival of warmer spring weather is more than a welcome relief. But for springtime allergy sufferers, any “relief” is short-lived. For them, the advent of spring means but one thing: the return of incessant sniffling, sneezing, itchy eyes and nose, coughing, wheezing, and other miserable allergy symptoms.
What triggers this constellation of unpleasant symptoms? The answer: airborne pollen. And contrary to popular misconception, the pollen that causes spring allergies is not from all those colorful flowers that are just starting to emerge. Those typically have heavy, sticky pollen that’s carried from flower to flower by bees and other pollinating insects. In early spring, the real culprit is pollen from trees such as maple, alder, birch, and oak. Examples of other offenders in our area include ash, beech, box elder, cottonwood, mulberry, sycamore, and willow.
Of course, as spring turns to summer and summer transitions to autumn, other allergy-triggering plant pollens kick in to wreak further havoc on allergy sufferers. Early spring tree pollen is followed by grass pollen in late spring and summer, and grass pollen gives way to weed pollen (e.g., the ubiquitous ragweed) in late summer. For individuals allergic to multiple pollen types, this can mean a continuous progression of misery from early spring until the first hard frost in autumn.
According to Dr. Christopher Perry and Dr. Oliver Jenkins of The Toledo Clinic ENT Sinus Center of Excellence, the key to effectively managing spring allergy symptoms is to take a proactive approach to treatment. “Don’t wait to take action until you’re in the middle of the allergy season and already feeling miserable. If spring allergies have plagued you in the past, now is the time to work with your doctor to develop an appropriate treatment plan to get ahead of those symptoms,” Dr. Perry explains.
Spring allergy sufferers’ first line of defense is to avoid exposure to airborne pollen to the extent possible. For example, they should try to:
- Stay indoors on hot, dry, or windy days, when pollen tends to be at its worst.
- Limit outdoor activities to mid-day versus the early morning and evening when the pollen count is usually higher.
- Wear a dust mask when doing outdoor chores.
- Change clothes and shower after spending time outdoors.
- Keep windows closed and use air conditioning for cooling (both at home and in the car).
- Frequently (at least weekly) vacuum rugs and carpeting, preferably using a vacuum cleaner equipped with a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter.
- Frequently damp mop floors and wipe down other hard surfaces with a damp cloth or sponge.
- Run a dehumidifier to keep your home’s air dry.
- Use a HEPA filter in your bedroom.
- Wash bedding in hot water (at least 130 degrees F).
- If practical, replace carpeting with hardwood or laminate flooring.
- Bathe furry pets often, and banish them from the bedroom.
In addition to pollen avoidance, doctors may recommend over-the-counter or prescription-strength antihistamines, decongestants, nasal sprays, eye drops or other remedies to ease symptoms. But again, allergy control with medications is most effective when treatment is initiated before symptoms start to flare up, not after you’re suffering with them.
Dr. Perry points out that, while pollen avoidance and medication use can be effective in managing allergy symptoms in the short term, the best treatment from the standpoint of long-term control is allergy immunotherapy, which involves administering gradually increasing doses of a known allergen (verified through testing) until the body becomes tolerant of it.
In the past, the only available form of allergy immunotherapy was subcutaneous injection—better known as “allergy shots.” While subcutaneous immunotherapy is very effective, some people are so anxious about needles that they’d rather tolerate the misery of allergy symptoms than subject themselves to regular injections. However, Drs. Perry and Jenkins have a solution to that problem. The Toledo Clinic ENT Sinus Center of Excellence now offers a needle-free alternative to traditional allergy immunotherapy called No-Shotz sublingual allergy drops, which are administered by simply placing a few drops of medicine under the allergy sufferer’s tongue.
“The drops contain minute levels of the offending allergen, for example a particular tree pollen that we’ve determined is triggering the patient’s symptoms. In time and with continued exposure, the patient develops a tolerance so that allergy symptoms, like stuffy, runny nose, itchy, watery eyes, and sneezing, are relieved,” Dr. Perry explains.
Dr. Jenkins adds, “The No-Shotz oral allergy treatment is not only needle-free, but it’s also more convenient than traditional allergy shots because it’s administered at home by the patient or the patient’s parents. We want to make it easy and painless for our many patients experiencing allergies to get the relief they deserve.”