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Prepare yourself: Spring allergy season is here

As flowers bloom, trees bud and warmer breezes begin to blow, millions of people who suffer from hay fever are bracing themselves for a season of sneezing, congestion and red, itchy eyes.

Spring allergens are in the air, and this season is shaping up to be a rough one. 


What are the most common spring allergy triggers?

The main cause of springtime allergies is pollen. As trees, grasses and flowers release pollen for reproduction, loads of the tiny grains end up in the air – and on your car, deck, clothes, pets and…well, you get the picture.

In the Pacific Northwest, the peak tree-pollen season is typically early spring. In a region bursting with trees, that’s a problem for allergy sufferers. Grasses and weeds get in on the pollen-releasing action later in the season.

We can’t blame pollen for all the mayhem. Warm, wet springs can also produce significant levels of mold, which can also trigger allergy symptoms.


What are the most common seasonal allergy symptoms?

Seasonal allergy symptoms can range from mild to severe. The most common symptoms include:

  • Sneezing.
  • Head congestion, including a stuffy or runny nose, sinus pain and headache.
  • Itchy sinuses, throat or ear canals.
  • Watery, red, swollen or itchy eyes.
  • Ear congestion.
  • A dry, scratchy or sore throat with postnasal drainage.
  • Fatigue and brain fog.
  • Itchy skin (if you come in direct contact with an allergen).

Asthma sufferers take heed. The same allergens that cause hay fever symptoms may also trigger asthma symptoms, including asthma attacks.


Should I get an allergy test for my spring allergies?

If your cold-like symptoms won’t go away and you suspect an allergy is to blame, it’s important to identify the cause. The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (AAAAI) recommends that you ask a health care clinician for a referral to an allergist to get to the root of your symptoms.

One of the most common and reliable ways to diagnose allergies is skin testing, also known as scratch or prick testing. A trace amount of a potential allergen is dropped onto the skin and the outer layer of the skin is scratched to let the allergen in. If you’re allergic to a substance, the skin will become red or a small bump will appear on the site. Skin testing is safe, effective and pain-free. Additional testing may be needed if a skin test isn’t conclusive.


How can I minimize my exposure to allergens?

If you know what’s causing your seasonal sniffles, sneezes and congestion, the most effective way to control your symptoms is to avoid allergy triggers. Here are some ways to keep symptoms at bay:

  • Keep windows and doors closed to keep pollen out.
  • Clean or replace HVAC filters in your furnace every two to three months or consider upgrading to a more efficient HEPA filter.
  • Consider using an air purifier. Even one in your bedroom can make a big difference.
  • Vacuum floors once or twice a week.
  • Wash bed linens at least once a week.
  • Change and wash clothes after being outdoors.
  • Use a clothes dryer vs. hanging clothes and linens outdoors.
  • Bathe and wash hair daily to remove pollen.
  • Remove shoes before entering your home.
  • Groom pets regularly to remove pollen from their fur or paws.
  • Set your car’s AC to recirculate air rather than drawing it from outside.
  • Wear a facemask, hat and sunglasses while outdoors.
  • Use a weather app to check pollen levels in your neck of the woods and plan your day accordingly. The Northwest Asthma & Allergy Center also posts daily tree, weed and grass pollen counts.


What’s the best treatment for my allergy symptoms?

While the first line of defense is to avoid substances that trigger your allergies, over-the-counter (OTC) medications can help ease your symptoms.

Treatment options for adults include:

  • Corticosteroid nasal sprays. Nasal sprays, such as Nasacort, Flonase and Rhinocort, are considered the most effective medication for nasal allergy symptoms. (Multiple studies back that up.) Unlike oral remedies, nasal sprays go right to the source to reduce nasal passage inflammation and ease congestion.

Additional nasal sprays can be used to sooth dry nasal passages or thick mucus, reduce post-nasal drip symptom and prevent allergic reactions.

  • Oral antihistamines, such as Zyrtec Allergy, Allegra Allergy, Claritin and Alavert, can help with sneezing, runny noses and itchiness.

  • Oral decongestants can reduce stuffiness. Long-term use of decongestants, however, can cause side effects, such as increased blood pressure and blood sugar and may worsen your allergy symptoms.
  • Nasal irrigation devices, such as neti pots, are an inexpensive and effective option for relieving congestion – if you follow instructions and use them safely. Check out S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) guidelines to learn more.
  • Eye drops offer short-term relief from redness, itchiness and swelling.

If you have other health conditions, such as heart disease, thyroid disease or high blood pressure, make sure you speak with a doctor before reaching for relief. Some allergy medications may not be safe for you.


How should I treat my child’s allergies?

For most children, allergy symptoms are best controlled by avoiding known allergens. Over-the-counter remedies can also be used, if needed. Always talk with a health care provider before giving your child any OTC medications. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) advises against some medications for babies and young children.

The most common OTC allergy treatments for children include:

  • Oral antihistamines. Long-acting, non-drowsy options like Claritin, Zyrtec, Allergra and Zxyzal (or their generic equivalents) are available in children’s form and are generally safe for children ages 2 years and older.

While Benadryl is often a mainstay in parents’ medicine cabinets, health experts generally agree that it’s not a good option for treating allergy symptoms, particularly in young children. The antihistamine offers short-term relief and requires more frequent dosing. Its sedation side-effects are also not optimal.

  • Steroid nasal sprays to help stuffiness and sneezing. Not all nasal spray formulations are appropriate for children. A health care provider can advise you on which one is best (and safest) for your kiddo.

  • Nonprescription eye drops, such as Zaditor, can help prevent and treat itchy, watery or red eyes caused by allergies.

The American Academy of Pediatrics  does not recommend oral decongestants for children. They can cause a faster heart rate, hyperactivity, anxiousness and sleep problems. 

In some cases when your child’s allergy symptoms can’t be effectively controlled with avoidance techniques or OTC medications, an allergist may recommend allergy shots or oral allergy drops or tablets.


How can I tell the difference between an allergy, cold or COVID?

This time of year, it’s not always easy to tell the difference between a seasonal allergy and a viral infection. We made the mystery a little easier to unravel with this symptom chart.

Learn more about what you should do if you think you have COVID, allergies, flu or the common cold.


When should I see a doctor for my allergies?

If you have mild or moderate allergy symptoms, Indigo makes it exceptionally easy to get the care you need, when you need it. Simply walk in to one of our convenient neighborhood locations or book an appointment online. When a trip to a clinic isn’t convenient or you just don’t feel up to it, you can also schedule a face-to-face Indigo online care appointment. In-person or online, we’re here every day from 8 am to 8 pm.

It’s a good idea to visit Indigo for your allergy symptoms if:

  • OTC and home remedies aren’t helping.
  • Your symptoms are interfering with work, school, sleep and social activities.
  • You have a lot of sinus infections, headaches, congestion or ear infections.
  • Your symptoms are more severe this season.
  • You’re experiencing allergy symptoms for the first time.
  • You have other health conditions, such as heart disease, thyroid disease or high blood pressure.

During your appointment, one of our friendly clinicians will discuss your allergy symptoms and treatment options and rule out any other conditions that may be causing your symptoms. And if you need additional treatment or testing, we’ll coordinate a referral to an allergist.

If you have any of the following symptoms, it’s best if you visit your nearest emergency department:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Coughing, wheezing, itchy throat or mouth
  • Severe hives, itchiness, red bumps on skin, skin redness
  • Lowered blood pressure, rapid pulse, heart palpitations or dilated blood vessels
  • Nausea, vomiting, chest discomfort or tightness, abdominal pain and diarrhea
  • Dizziness, lightheadedness, mental confusion, loss of consciousness, weakness or fainting

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