ACHOO! The 411 on Spring Allergies
It's that time of year again. Spring is here, as evidenced by the last signs of snow and cold weather, the birds chirping, the sun staying out longer, the warm days filled with cool air, the naked trees blossoming into their beautiful, complete selves once again . . . and the runny noses, puffy red eyes, itchy throats, and constant sneezing that comes with it.
In the middle of one of your sneeze attacks you might angrily blame it on the pollen all over the air and ground - and you're right to do so. Pollen, which is a collection of tiny grains released by trees and grasses, is the single biggest allergy trigger during the spring season. In fact, over 35 million Americans suffer from this seasonal allergic rhinitis, which you may know as hay fever.
Pollen is so light that it can remain suspended in the air and travel for miles, solely on the propulsion of the wind stream around it. When you breathe in some of this pollen, your body recognizes these grains as foreign and launches a full-scale attack in an attempt to kill them. If you have allergies, you know how well this battle goes. Once the body's immune system releases antibodies, it causes the release of chemicals called histamines into the blood. With the release of these histamines also comes the onslaught of allergy symptoms, like the ones mentioned earlier.
So if pollen is so widespread and hard to avoid, how can you beat it? As always (with most any condition) there are several varieties of over-the-counter medications you can take. If your allergy symptoms are mild, nasal sprays and oral antihistamines will get the job done. If the symptoms are stronger, or if you are having trouble keeping them under control, try switching the medication brands you use in order to keep that tolerance low.
But if you’re averse to using traditional medication, there are two main alternative solutions to spring allergies. Use of a neti pot to flush out your nasal cavities will help clear your nose and throat of mucus, but it won't remove the pollen. The neti pot is a great solution if you are experiencing mild symptoms and don't want to buy OTC medication. The second natural remedy comes in the form of acupuncture. Widely used in “eastern” medicine, it is finally starting to gain some momentum here in the States. Again, more research is needed to determine any concrete results, but some swear by its abilities to heal many of the body's problems - seasonal allergies included.
If all else fails, schedule an appointment with a local allergist. He or she will help you figure out what you are most allergic to by performing skin tests. In these tests, the allergist will expose you to several different allergens and record the results. If small red bumps or hives appear, it means that you are allergic to that specific allergen. Depending on how the appointment goes and your results, your allergist may be able to prescribe stronger allergy medications that would otherwise be unavailable to you through an over-the-counter pharmacy.