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Are you ready for the sneezing season?

With fall around the corner, many people are preparing for itchy eyes, runny nose and sneezing. But you can find relief. 

If you’re one of the 50 million Americans who suffers from allergies, your symptoms may bloom when the seasons shift. Seasonal allergic rhinitis (commonly known as hay fever) is usually triggered by outdoor allergens such as pollen and mold spores. When you have hay fever, your immune system responds to specific pollens as a threat. The body’s defense system kicks in, leading to symptoms such as nasal congestion, itchy, watery eyes, runny nose, tickly throat, hoarse voice, coughing and sneezing.

Weed pollen season typically begins in the late summer and fall, although timing depends on weather.

How can I get relief? 

If you suffer from hay fever symptoms, start taking medications before your eyes itch and your nose begins to run. “You don’t want to wait until you’re miserable to address your symptoms, because then you’re behind and trying to catch up,” said Florence Ida Hsu, MD, an allergist and immunologist with Yale New Haven Health and assistant professor of clinical medicine at Yale School of Medicine. 

Dr. Hsu recommends non-drowsy antihistamines (such as Allegra, Claritin, Xyzal, Zyrtec or their generic counterparts) during the day for itching, sneezing and runny nose. A steroid nasal spray (such as Flonase, Rhinocort, Nasacort and their equivalents) is a first-line treatment for nasal congestion. Antihistamine eye drops (including Pataday, Zaditor and Alaway) can relieve dry, scratchy eyes. 

Other ways to reduce allergy symptoms 

Dr. Hsu also recommends these steps to minimize exposure to seasonal allergies:

  • Stay in the house if you can, particularly on windy days. Close house and car windows. 
  • If you need to spend time outdoors, use the American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology’s allergen tracker (AAAAI) to plan your day. 
  • Wearing a face mask outside prevents you from inhaling larger particles of pollen. Wash the mask after each use to remove any pollen.
  • When outside, wear a hat to avoid getting pollen in your hair, and sunglasses to protect your eyes.
  • If grass or moldy leaves are your triggers, avoid mowing the lawn and raking leaves, or wear a mask during yard work.
  • If you spend time outdoors, brush off any pollen before you go back inside. “If you are pollen-sensitive, it’s a good idea to take a bath, wash your hair and change your clothes, especially before going to bed,” Dr. Hsu said. 

If over-the-counter medications aren’t helping or your symptoms are severe, you may want to contact an allergist for more specialized care, Dr. Hsu said. “Your doctor may recommend allergy testing, prescription medication or even allergen immunotherapy, which helps your immune system build up a tolerance to allergens by exposing you to them in small and then gradually increasing doses,” she said. 

Is it allergies or COVID-19?

For those who have battled allergy symptoms in the past, the COVID-19 pandemic has tossed an added worry into the mix: Are your symptoms due to allergies or COVID-19? Dr. Hsu suggests looking at your symptoms one at a time. If you can rule out fever, muscle aches, a loss of smell or taste, sore throat or shortness of breath – and you generally tend to experience seasonal allergies – your allergies are likely to blame. 

“If you have a runny nose, sneezing and itching, and you’re someone who often has allergy symptoms in the spring, then allergies are the likely culprit,” she said. “However, it is still wise to get tested for COVID-19 with any new symptoms, if you’ve never had allergies before, if you’re getting sicker, or if you’ve had a potential exposure to COVID.”
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