If it seems like you get a “cold that won’t quit” at the same time every year, chances are it’s a seasonal allergy. Seasonal allergies, commonly referred to as “hay or rose fever”, can seem like a stubborn cold. The symptoms — including stuffy, runny nose, sneezing and wheezing — certainly match the misery of a cold. But hay or rose fever carries some telltale signs, the seasonal nature of symptoms being the major one.
About 20% of the US population or 35 million people suffer from allergic rhinitis. In the spring, tree pollen is the primary culprit in triggering allergic rhinitis, although in more humid areas outdoor mold can also spawn similar symptoms. Tree pollen can start to be a problem as early as February.
Even though symptoms and their timing can indicate a springtime allergy, allergy testing is the only way to confirm it and weed out which substances are causing the misery. It’s true that tree pollen is the main culprit behind allergies that take their leave once spring has passed. But many people with allergies are sensitive to a number of other substances; hanging out with the neighbor’s cat could also be contributing to those springtime sniffles.
In addition, people tend to seek treatment only when symptoms get severe. So even though you might be bothered enough to see a doctor only in the spring, it’s possible that other allergens — perhaps the grass pollen predominant in summer or the weed pollen that abounds in autumn — are producing milder reactions.
Treatment approach for seasonal allergies include:
1. Environmental control or Allergen avoidance:
Pollens are difficult to avoid. Individuals who suffer from allergies should avoid outdoor activity during peak pollen times. Trees and grasses pollinate mainly during early morning hours (5-10 AM). You should keep windows closed in the house and car and operate your air conditioner.
2. Medication treatment
Several types of oral and nasal medications are known to control hay fever. Devising the right combination depends on the severity of patients’ symptoms and whether they suffer any medication side effects. Antihistamines, which block the action of symptom-spurring histamine, are a mainstay of hay fever therapy. One of the drugs’ drawbacks is drowsiness, but newer prescription and over-the-counter antihistamines are made to be non-sedating. Other potential side effects include dry mouth, constipation and, in some children, irritability and restlessness.
Antihistamines are also available as nose sprays and eye drops, which act directly on the nose and/ or eyes affected.
Oral antihistamines can quash sneezing, itching and eye symptoms, but offer little relief from congestion, so some products have an added decongestant. Decongestants work by acting on blood vessels, but side effects include increased blood pressure and sleeplessness and are problematic for people with glaucoma, hypertension, and large prostates.
Prescription nasal corticosteroids, which include medications, are another cornerstone of treatment. Corticosteroid drugs are similar to a hormone, cortisol, that the body produces naturally. Nasal corticosteroids ease a range of hay fever woes by blocking the release of inflammatory chemicals in the nasal passages. They are intended to be taken daily to prevent symptoms, starting shortly before the onset of pollen season.
Inhaled steroids can cause nasal irritation, including nose bleeds, and there have been concerns over their possible effects on children’s growth. But studies show the drugs are safe when used appropriately for allergies and asthma.
Nasal-spray decongestants offer a temporary reprieve from a stuffy nose, but should not be used for more than a few days because they can actually make congestion worse if used longer.
An “often overlooked” part of hay fever treatment is the nasal wash, a salt-water solution that can help remove mucus and pollen from the nose — and clear a path for inhaled medications to do their job.
3. Allergen vaccination/ Immunotherapy or “Allergy shots”:
For hay fever that is particularly severe or that persists beyond spring due to sensitivity to several allergens, allergy shots may be an option. This treatment, also called immunotherapy, involves injecting small amounts of the offending substance, over time, in order to normalize the immune response.Immunotherapy can quell hay fever, and may even prevent seasonal allergies from progressing to asthma.
Allergy shots are used for those with moderate to severe allergies who are not easily controlled on medications or who cannot tolerate medications. Shots can also be offered for those who desire permanent relief after 3-5 years of treatment. Allergy shots reduce the need for medications and provide the possibility of long-term benefit after 3-5 years of treatment. Related research has also shown that allergy shots prevent the development of persistent asthma and also reduce the development of new allergies. Research has also shown that allergy shots prevent the development of persistent asthma in individuals with hay fever and reduce the development of new allergies.