In fact, Justine Ade, MD, who specializes in allergies at Carle Urbana on Windsor, says she generally recommends patients start their allergy medication at the end of February to the beginning of June to prepare for various trees pollinating between March and May. With the warmer weather this winter, those with fall allergies had symptoms lasting longer and those with spring allergies may notice symptoms earlier than usual, she said.
“If allergy symptoms run into the summer, it could also mean they have an overlapping grass allergy,” Ade said.
For those who are unsure if they have seasonal allergies, they may think it is a cold or viral infection and Dr. Ade said it can be difficult to tell the difference. Patient self-referrals are often taken for allergy concerns.
“What I typically look for is a presence of itching. If there is significant itching, it is likely allergies. Timing is very important. For example, a toddler who attends daycare may be having episodes of nasal congestion and a runny nose, but several weeks of normalcy in between. That suggests a recurring viral infection rather than an allergy,” she said. She said the history is often not quite clear cut and in these cases allergy testing can be helpful.
The best way to manage allergies is through avoidance. Keeping windows closed in the home and staying indoors help when pollen counts are high, she said. When you come in from being outdoors for periods of time, it also helps to change clothes and shower because those actions help reduce exposure to pollen, Ade said.
“Depending on the allergy, these behavior modifications can be specific depending on what you are allergic to. For example, if you are allergic to dust mites, washing bed sheets in hot water and using encasements for your mattress and pillow should help decrease exposure to the dust mite allergen,” she said.
Those with asthma need to be particularly cautious as seasonal allergies can trigger an asthma flare, she said. Understanding what those environmental triggers are and avoiding them is key to getting through the seasons and it may call for consideration of allergy testing as well as increasing asthma medication to maintain control of asthma, Ade said. Not all patients with asthma have allergies and vice versa.
Generally, the most effective treatment for seasonal allergies is intranasal corticosteroid sprays but allergy testing could pinpoint allergens if symptoms are resistant to over-the-counter medications, she said. These are what various treatments do:
- Corticosteroid nasal sprays: Nasal corticosteroids work to decrease inflammation.
- Oral antihistamines: Blocks the histamine receptor that causes allergy symptoms.
- Ketotifen eye drops: Stabilizes allergic cells and blocks histamine receptors
- Oxymetazoline nasal spray: Causes constriction of blood vessels which may improve nasal congestion. Overuse, however, may worsen congestion.
Direct your concerns about allergies to your primary care provider or appointments with an allergist are available through https://carle.org/home/get-care/Make-an-Appointment.