Mild weather, blossoming flowers and budding trees are things we look forward to as we thaw out from yet another long Midwest winter. But if you’re one of the thousands of Greater Cincinnatians who suffer from seasonal allergies, you might find your "ah, spring" moment interrupted by an "ah-choo."
The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America lists Cincinnati as 74 out of 100 of the worst cities for spring seasonal allergies. Before you reach for another box of tissues, it’s time to get to the source of the sneezing, itchy eyes and sinus pressure.
"Finding out if your symptoms are caused by allergies can help you rule out other conditions and prevent some respiratory complications," says Gerry Tolbert, MD, family medicine physician with The Christ Hospital Physicians.
What are allergies?
Seasonal allergies are an abnormal response of the body’s immune system to airborne substances in the environment. In Greater Cincinnati, the most common outdoor allergens are tree pollen, grasses and weeds/ragweed.
Although most people find allergy symptoms simply irritating, the condition has the potential to harm the respiratory system.
"Allergies can actually cause or aggravate sleeping problems, a deviated septum, nasal polyps, eczema, asthma attacks and ear and upper respiratory infections," says Dr. Tolbert.
Allergy symptoms and risk factors
When allergens are inhaled or ingested, antibodies attack the particles and release histamines, which cause common allergy symptoms such as:
- watery and itchy eyes
- postnasal drip
- sinus pressure and frequent sneezing
- dark circles and swelling under eyes
Certain risk factors make some people prone to allergy season, including family history of allergies, exposure to high amounts of allergens or cigarette smoke, and inflammatory conditions such as eczema.
Control your allergies and breathe easier
Your primary care physician can diagnose allergies and identify your triggers with a history of your symptoms, a brief physical exam and, possibly, a few additional tests
If you’re diagnosed with allergies, Dr. Tolbert recommends a variety of strategies that can help you control your symptoms during allergy season.
- Check the air quality index.
- Many TV stations and Web sites report the air quality index. When the air quality is poor, try to avoid being outdoors for long periods of time, close the windows and run an air purifier.
- Adapt your living space.
- To help reduce indoor allergens such as pet dander, dust mites and mold, change your furnace filter regularly and use a dehumidifier in damp locations. Where possible, install hardwood, tile or linoleum instead of carpet.
- Start antihistamines early.
- Dr. Tolbert says the best way to avoid allergy symptoms is to start a daily antihistamine or over-the-counter nasal steroid before allergy season starts. Once symptoms start, they become much harder to treat.
When to take allergy medicine
For Cincinnatians who suffer from environmental allergies, Dr. Tolbert shares this schedule:
- Spring: Start using medication around Easter to decrease reaction to tree pollen
- Summer: Use medication before Memorial Day to avoid allergens from grasses
- Fall: Begin medications before Labor Day to protect against weed and ragweed allergies
- Since allergens can trigger asthma attacks, those diagnosed with asthma should use their controller medications regularly. Once an allergy begins, over-the-counter and prescription nasal sprays and eye drops can also help clear allergens and decrease irritation.
Get to a physician when things get serious
Don’t assume you know what’s causing your allergies. The only way to know for certain is talking to your doctor.
When allergies become so intense that they induce vomiting, abdominal pain, dizziness and difficulty breathing, allergy shots may be necessary. These shots desensitize the body to allergens but are only effective when administered consistently.