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Don’t wait for the sneezing to start

As the temperature outside starts to climb above 50 degrees, people start peeking their heads outside. But once it hits 60, people throw open their windows to start spring cleaning with a rush of fresh air. 

If you’re a spring allergy sufferer, think before you open that window. People aren’t the only ones reacting to the warm weather—pollen is, too.

“As the weather warms up, trees start producing pollen that can end up in our nose and eyes and cause allergic symptoms,” explained Dr. Yoon Kim, a Geisinger allergist and immunologist. “If you get spring allergies, it’s better to be proactive than reactive—prepare for spring allergies long before it’s warm enough to open those windows.”

The best way to prepare for spring allergies is to understand your personal triggers, start medications, monitor pollen levels and consider alternative treatments.

Stock up your medicine cabinet
There are various medications that will help you through allergy season: antihistamines, decongestants, steroidal nasal sprays and eye drops. All of these medications can be used together or separately to reduce symptoms. 

“Antihistamines reduce your body’s allergic response,” said Dr. Kim. “Antihistamines are available over the counter. A word of caution, though—some antihistamines can cause drowsiness, so be sure you know how the medication effects you before operating any heavy machinery, including driving your car.” 

Decongestants break up mucus and congestion. You can buy normal-strength decongestants over the counter, but more effective decongestants like pseudoephedrine are only available at a pharmacy. Don’t use decongestants for more than three days at a time without talking to your doctor or pharmacist

Steroidal nasal sprays can reduce nasal inflammation and allergy symptoms. Most allergy nasal sprays are available over the counter and are usually used for one to two sprays per day, per nostril. Steroid nasal sprays are not the same as decongestant nasal sprays as they can be used longer than decongestants. There are also antihistamine nasal sprays available, but these require a prescription from your physician.

Eye drops can help with reducing itchy and watery eye sensations. Make sure you remove your contacts lenses before using them. Some eyes drops are available over the counter, and some require a prescription from your doctor. 

Keep an eye on pollen counts
Many weather and air quality news organizations report on allergen levels. Check these sites to keep track of the allergens that irritate you. If you notice that pollen counts are high, consider making adjustments to your schedule. 

To avoid pollen, be careful about opening windows in your house and in your car. It can let a lot of pollen in that you may not even see with your eyes. When you come home at the end of the day, change into different clothes. This can help you avoid tracking pollen into your house. And before you go to bed, make sure to take a shower to wash off the pollen from the day. Thoroughly vacuum and clean your house to lower indoor pollen levels. Clean or change your air filters to make sure they aren’t full of pollen.

When you spend time outside, consider wearing sunglasses to stop pollen from getting into your eyes. If you’re doing something that would make you come in contact with a lot of pollen—like gardening or mowing the grass—wearing a special filter mask can help keep pollen out of your lungs. Wear gloves when handling things that may have pollen on them. 

Consider alternative treatments
When your hands are dirty, you wash them. This allergy season, consider doing the same for your nose. Tools like neti pots and sinus rinses can flush out the pollens that are stuck in your nose, irritating your sinuses. Be sure to carefully follow the instructions on a neti pot or sinus rinse to avoid discomfort and potentially dangerous side effects.

“Neti pots are a great way to flush out pollen and get rid of mucus,” said Dr. Kim. “If you use a neti pot, make sure that you’re using purified or distilled water. Using tap water increases the risk of life-threatening infections.” 

See an allergist
“When they’re sick, people go see a doctor. But for allergies, some people choose to suffer and wait it out,” noted Dr. Kim. “Ultimately, this doesn’t get to the root of the problem, so allergies affect you each and every year. An allergist can give you insights into what’s causing your allergies and even help cure them.” 

When you go to an allergist, they will test you for common indoor and outdoor allergens. Based on your reactions, your doctor can tell what you’re allergic to. 

Next, your allergist will create personalized immunotherapy injections to help decrease your allergy symptoms. These shots contain small doses of the allergens to help you build up immunity.

If your allergies are particularly uncomfortable or making breathing difficult, talk to your doctor about other ways you can lessen your symptoms.

Yoon Kim, DO, is an allergist and immunologist who sees adult and pediatric patients at Geisinger’s specialty clinic in Dunmore. To schedule an appointment with Dr. Kim or another Geisinger allergy specialist, call 800-275-6401 or visit Geisinger.org.