What to do When Seasonal Allergies Affect You All Year - Virtua Health, NJ

What to do When Seasonal Allergies Affect You All Year

By Ellen Boxer Goldfarb, MSN, FNP-C, Primary Care Nurse Practitioner
Virtua Primary Care - Lindenwold

While seasonal allergy symptoms often start to wane by the end of November, unusually warm fall weather is leaving many suffering with lingering sniffles and sneezes.

Here’s everything you need to know to tame your seasonal allergies and find relief from your symptoms.

What’s a seasonal allergy?

Seasonal allergies are similar to other allergies and develop when the body’s immune system overreacts to something in the environment. While most seasonal allergies start in the spring and last through late fall, the weather where you live can affect the length of time that you experience symptoms. Some studies suggest that rising temperatures and higher carbon dioxide levels contribute to longer growth time of allergen-producing plants.

The most common trigger in the fall is ragweed, which grows all over the United States. Ragweed blooms and releases pollen from August to November, but levels often are highest in early to mid-September. Grasses and trees are common spring allergy triggers, and about 75 percent of people allergic to spring triggers also have reactions to ragweed in the fall. Mold is another common trigger, and it thrives in warm, moist environments.

Other seasonal triggers include:

  • Smoke from a fire pit or fireplace
  • Real Christmas trees, wreaths, and swags
  • Dusty holiday decorations coming out of the attic, garage, or basement

To prevent a seasonal allergy “attack,” take steps to minimize your exposure:

  • Keep your windows closed at home and in your car during allergy season.
  • Monitor pollen and mold levels in your area, and avoid exercise outdoors when levels are high.
  • Wear a facemask when you’re cutting grass, raking leaves, or doing other outdoor chores.
  • Change your clothes, take a shower, and wash your face and hair when you come in from working or exercising outdoors.

Seasonal allergy symptoms

It can be easy to confuse allergy symptoms with those you experience with a common cold or virus. However, if you have seasonal allergies, your congestion likely is accompanied by the following:

  • An itchy nose or throat
  • Itchy eyes
  • Post-nasal drip

Some even experience itchy skin or redness with seasonal allergies.

Left untreated, the inflammation that occurs from exposure to allergens can cause mucous to build up in the sinuses, creating a warm, moist environment that’s perfect for viruses and bacteria to thrive. That’s often how your allergy symptoms turn into a case of sinusitis—complete with more severe congestion symptoms, including thick, discolored mucous, sinus pressure/pain and, possibly, fever.

Good at-home treatments to relieve seasonal allergy symptoms

If you experience seasonal allergies every year, talk to your primary care provider about what over-the-counter allergy medicine may work best for you. There are oral medications like loratadine (Claritin), fexofenadine (Allegra), or cetrazine (Zyrtec) that offer fast relief for allergy symptoms. In addition, a steroid nasal spray such as fluticasone (Flonase) or mometasone (Nasonex), when instilled correctly, can help reduce post-nasal drip and sinus congestion and possibly help prevent your symptoms from worsening into a sinus infection. Other prescriptions medicines can help people who experience chest tightness or difficulty breathing with seasonal allergies.

It’s best to start using these medicines a few weeks before seasonal allergies kick in and continue using them through the fall. You can monitor pollen and mold levels in your area through most weather apps, and ease off these medicines when the levels drop – usually around first frost. Some people need to use them year-round.

If your symptoms worsen, try this at-home treatment to relieve your symptoms:

  • Drink lots of water to stay hydrated.
  • Use an over-the-counter medication like Mucinex to relieve severe congestion.
  • If you’re using a nasal steroid spray, hold your chin to your chest, put the bottle in your right hand and the bottle tip in your left nostril to spray; repeat using your left hand to spray into your right nostril. This method helps get the spray deeper into your sinuses where it works best and helps prevent nasal bleeding.
  • Heat a bowl of water in the microwave until it’s steaming. Put a towel over your head and lean over the bowl of water, inhaling the steam for five to 10 minutes. Repeat a few times a day.
  • Use a saline nasal spray to hydrate your nasal passages and to help loosen mucous so you can get rid of it by blowing your nose.
  • Run a humidifier at night to help you breathe and to prevent your nasal passages from drying out.

If you follow this at-home treatment regimen for seven to 10 days without improvement, call your primary care provider for evaluation.

Signs that you’re fighting a bacterial infection and may need an antibiotic include:

  • Fever
  • One-sided sinus pain
  • Ear pain
  • Severe sore throat

If these symptoms develop at any time, you should call your primary care provider for an appointment.

Virtua Health’s primary care practices offer in-office and telehealth appointments to help you stay healthy through any season. Call 888-847-8823 for an appointment.

Updated November 30, 2020

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