April showers bring May flowers and, for an estimated 40 million Americans, months of suffering from the symptoms of seasonal allergies. If you’re one of the unlucky victims of allergies, there is no need to dread the arrival of allergy season, though; long before your annual period of misery starts, your allergist can help you develop a plan that could reduce—or even prevent—your allergy symptoms each year.
When does allergy season start?
Unlike traditional seasons, scientists can’t pinpoint a specific start and end date for allergy season. Instead, its length correlates with increased levels of common allergens, like pollen and mold. Although weather patterns that influence environmental allergens fluctuate, allergy season typically follows a somewhat predictable schedule. Southern California, for example, generally sees an increase in pollen counts starting each February. Tree pollen levels usually stay elevated through May or June, and the warm California climate means grass and weed pollen counts remain high through the fall.
Many allergy sufferers don’t realize that the best time to treat symptoms isn’t after high pollen counts start to make them miserable, but before symptoms even begin. Treating allergy symptoms is similar to repairing a hole in the bottom of a boat. A small hole is relatively easy to patch. If the hole grows larger, though, water rushes into the boat at an overwhelming rate, and it’s much harder to get a handle on the flooding and fix the problem. The same goes for allergy symptoms: it’s more effective to keep symptoms manageable by treating them early, rather than waiting until the inflammation caused by an allergic reaction becomes out of control.
Begin allergy protocol before allergy season starts
It is particularly important to begin your treatment protocol before allergy season starts if you usually suffer from moderate or severe symptoms, especially if you cannot avoid your allergens. Not only can allergy symptoms interfere with your quality of life, making you feel awful and forcing you to take days off work or miss important family activities, but allergies have the potential to lead to other health issues, including ear and sinus infections and asthma. Starting treatment early can help prevent suffering during allergy season.
People whose allergy symptoms fall on the mild side of the spectrum may find all the relief they need from over-the-counter remedies. If taken starting about a week before allergy season begins, OTC oral antihistamines can help keep symptoms at bay. (Because of the potential for side effects, the decongestant versions of these medications should only be used on a short-term basis.) Nasal sprays containing corticosteroids that reduce symptoms caused by inflammation are available over the counter, too, and several different manufacturers make OTC antihistamine eye drops that relieve itchy, watery eyes. These medications should be taken regularly to prevent symptoms, and some can take several days to begin working.
Visit an Allergist
If your allergy symptoms are severe, or if OTC medications don’t do the trick, a visit to an allergist may offer you relief. Prescription medications, including certain asthma drugs and oral, eye drop or nasal spray antihistamines often work for patients who don’t respond well to OTC treatments. But for those who aren’t helped enough by a prescription—or who don’t want to take so many medications—immunotherapy can be a good option. Immunotherapy, perhaps better known as “allergy shots,” is actually administered either by injection or sublingual (under the tongue) drops.
If you’re a good candidate for this treatment, your allergist will confirm your allergy triggers through skin or blood testing and then expose you to very small amounts of the allergens, via a shot or sublingual drops, in order to decrease your sensitivity to them over time. In most cases, treatment should begin several months before the start of allergy symptoms and usually continues for several years. For many patients, immunotherapy offers long-term relief that effectively prevents symptoms during allergy season.
You don’t have to suffer through another allergy season with symptoms that diminish your quality of life. Make an appointment with your allergist to find out how you can prevent your allergy symptoms before they start.