Seasonal allergies are annoying, no doubt. Watery, itchy eyes and a nose that runs like a faucet – not too delightful when you want to get outside and enjoy the warm weather. So we asked David Lemak MD, Emergency Physician and Section Chief of Renown Urgent Care, to explain allergies, the role of masks in helping them, and tips to make you more comfortable.
What causes seasonal allergies?
Allergies happen when the body’s immune system overreacts to something, such as pollen. Pollen (a fine, powder-like substance) is created during the reproductive cycle of plants, trees and grass. Additionally, pollen particles are so tiny they can travel deep into your lungs causing irritation. With warmer weather, flowers bloom, grass grows and weeds sprout causing seasonal allergies.
According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, pollen is the main reason for seasonal allergies. In fact, grass and weed pollens are strongest during the summer months.
Other causes include:
- pet dander and saliva
- air quality
Symptoms of seasonal allergies:
- itchy skin, nose
- a stuffy/runny nose
- itchy, watery or bloodshot eyes
- postnasal drip
Differences between a seasonal allergy, cold or coronavirus (COVID-19)
Because some of the signs of seasonal allergies can be the same as the common cold or coronavirus, how can you tell?
“Allergy without asthma doesn’t usually produce shortness of breath, but COVID-19 often does,” states Lemak.
Cold or allergy? Allergies produce thin, clear mucus, while colds have thicker, yellow mucus. Coughing and fever are also signs of a cold, but not allergies. You will feel better after about a week with a cold. Unfortunately, seasonal allergies often last longer.
Congestion, loss of smell and a runny nose are all signs seasonal allergies, however they are also symptoms of coronavirus. This American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology (AAAAI) chart compares COVID-19, allergy, flu and common cold symptoms.
Masks Protect You
It’s no secret that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends everyone wear a mask to reduce the spread of both COVID-19 and the flu. Masks are not only a barrier reducing respiratory droplet spread, but also helpful for those with allergies. Specifically a mask reduces breathing in dust, pollen or mold, for those suffering from seasonal allergies. For those choosing to do yardwork it can be especially helpful with chores such as: mowing the lawn, pulling weeds or gardening.
And it’s not your imagination if you think the allergy season has gotten longer. Research shows that pollen counts are increasing worldwide.
Overall pollen counts are higher in the morning (before noon), so plan your outdoor activities accordingly.
5 Daily Tips to Reduce Allergies
- Adopt a “shoes off” policy before entering your home. This is the first step in pollen proofing your home. Shoes bring dust and pollen into your home daily. By taking your shoes off before you enter, you will not only have less pollen, but less dirt too.
- Take a nightly shower. This allows you to wash off dust and pollen from your body. Don’t forget to wash your hair as styling products such as mousse, gel, serum and hairspray can attract and trap pollen.
- Wash clothing and bedding in hot water. A water temperature of 140 degrees kills dust mites. “Dust mite pillow and mattress covers may also be useful,” suggests Lemak.
- Invest in HEPA filters. Seek out HEPA filters for your vacuum, home heating/cooling system and vehicle. In particular, after vacuuming in can take up to two hours for dust particles to settle.
- Ban pets from your bedroom. If you are sensitive to pet dander. Also make sure to have them groomed regularly.
The World Allergy Organization (WAO) is educating the public about the difference between COVID-19 symptoms and common allergies.
Follow ABCD’s to Avoid Coronavirus
A – Avoid crowds, large gatherings and those who are sick
B – Be aware of COVID-19 signs and symptoms
C – Clean your hands thoroughly and often
D – Do not touch your nose, eyes or mouth with unwashed hands.
Surviving seasonal allergies however, is often a balance between lifestyle choices and over-the-counter medications to ease symptoms. With this in mind, talk to your doctor if you have any specific concerns or allergy struggles.
Dr. Lemak strongly recommends daily use of an over-the-counter steroid nose spray for those with allergies whose symptoms negatively affect their quality of life. “Over 1/3 of people with allergies also have some type of asthma-type symptoms, and managing allergy symptoms improves asthma symptoms,” Lemak adds.
Most important, for those with asthma, lung issues or air quality sensitivity – stay inside if it is hazy, smoky or when air quality is poor.
Are seasonal allergies getting the best of you? Primary and specialty care appointments for adults (or children) are available via a virtual appointment. Virtual visits are open 8:30 a.m. through 10:30 p.m. Monday-Friday and 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday for Nevada residents.
If you have a Renown Medical Group provider, call 775-982-5000 to schedule an appointment or login to your MyChart account.