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Spring Is in the Air: How You Can Battle Pollen Allergies

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By Dr. Keith Holmes

    Spring is here and if the warm weather has brought about sneezing, sniffling, and watery eyes, you may have developed allergic rhinitis.  Affecting between 20 and 40 million Americans, this warm weather allergy – also known as hay fever – usually begins as pollen grains are released into the air as trees, grass and weeds begin to grow again.  For those suffering from allergic rhinitis, the body’s natural defense is for the mucous membranes to release a chemical called histamine to “fight off” the pollen, in turn causing all of the miserable symptoms many know too well – runny nose, congestion, scratchy throat, watery eyes and so on.

    Being aware of when pollen is in the air is the first step in keeping your allergies in check.  Pollen counts found in the newspaper or on local weather reports are based on the number of grains of pollen in a square meter of air. The grains are collected at a particular site during a 24-hour period.  It is also important to know that pollen levels tend to be highest early in the morning on warm, dry, breezy days and lowest during chilly, wet times.

    Once you know that pollen is out there avoiding it as much as possible is your best bet at steering clear of an allergy flare up.  Some of the things you can do are:

•           Use the air conditioner at home and in your car rather than opening doors and windows.

•           Avoid scheduling outdoor activities between 5 am and 10 am, when pollen counts are usually highest.

•           Change your clothes and wash your hands after coming home on a high-pollen day.

•           Take a shower and wash your hair before going to bed.

    If none of the above proves helpful, the best strategy may be to talk to your doctor about medication.  Over-the-counter antihistamines aim to lessen the symptoms. The older antihistamines have undesirable side effects such as drowsiness, fatigue and dehydration.  However, several non-sedating antihistamines, such as Claritin, Zyrtec, and Allegra, which are all over the counter, provide fast, long-working relief.  Some people find that starting antihistamine medication a week or two before annual symptoms begin can help avoid severe allergy flare-ups. Should your condition persist or worsen, it is important to see your doctor as there are other prescription medications that are available to help relieve your symptoms. 

    Dr. Keith Holmes is a longtime Central resident and Internal Medicine physician at Ochsner Health Center – Central.  He can be reached at 261-9790.

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