For millions of Americans suffering from seasonal allergies, the early months of a year can be particularly difficult.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, allergies are the sixth leading cause of chronic illness in the United States, with between 50-60 million Americans suffering from allergies every year.
The majority of seasonal allergy sufferers are reacting to the amount of pollen in the air released by trees, grass and weeds.
“In Virginia, the tree pollen season starts in early to mid-February and ends in early May, and grass pollen season starts in May and lasts throughout the summer,” said Dr. Stephen Shield, a certified allergist at Allergy Partners of Hampton Roads.
Pollen is a fine, yellowish powder that helps fertilize plants and is often transported from plant to plant by the wind, birds, insects or other animals.
Exposure to pollen can cause symptoms such as sneezing, nasal congestion, runny nose, watery or itchy eyes, itchy throat, as well as wheezing. It can also aggravate asthma symptoms.
“Last year’s allergy season was one of the worst we’ve had,” said Shield. “So far this year has been about average, but warmer weather, reduced rainfall and windy days can increase the severity. Cold winters are also often followed by severe pollen seasons.”
Shield offered several solutions to mitigate the effects for allergy sufferers:
- Pollen counts are highest between 5 and 10 a.m., so limit time outside during those hours.
- Avoid allergen exposure by keeping home and car windows closed, and wear masks and goggles when outside.
- Shower right after getting home to remove pollen from skin, clothes and hair.
- Bathe outdoor pets more often.
- Take over-the-counter antihistamines as needed.
Allergy shots are another option for patients with severe allergies who are looking for a more permanent solution.
“The allergy shot is the only treatment that addresses the underlying cause of allergic reactions,” Shield said. “The shot is between 85 and 95 percent effective at desensitizing the body.”
According to Shield, the key to surviving seasonal allergies is preparation and consistency.
“I usually recommend patients start taking antihistamines or steroid nasal sprays before the season starts,” Shield said. “Even after the season starts, sufferers can benefit from the extended use of long-acting, non-sedating over-the-counter medicines.”