About 50 million Americans have allergies, most of which begin in childhood. In fact, allergic disorders (allergies, asthma, eczema, and more) are the most common chronic diseases in children, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (ACAAI).
Allergy seasons are getting worse, too: Pollen counts in the U.S. have been climbing annually and are expected to double by 2040. “As temperatures across the country increase slowly and the climate is slowly changing, we are seeing spring pollen seasons that are starting earlier, lasting longer, and the highest levels of pollen are increasing,” says Richard Weber, M.D., President of the ACAAI, and professor of medicine at National Jewish Health in Denver. “It’s a triple whammy for spring allergy sufferers.”
So if you have an allergy sufferer in your family, now’s the time to prepare. Some kids and adults get allergies in the Spring, others in the Fall, and some lucky ones in both seasons. In the Spring, the culprit is usually tree pollens. Don’t blame the pretty flowers. “Flowers and other plants that rely on insects for pollination don’t cause many allergy problems,” says Dr. Weber. In late spring and early summer, allergies to molds and grasses may pop up. A snowy winter and rainy spring can boost pollen. If those wet seasons are followed by a windy, dry spring – perfect for pollen dispersal into the air – then you’re likely to have a severe allergy season. Here’s how to get ready:
Despite the nickname “hay fever,” allergic rhinitis, the most common allergy in children, can occur year-round, caused by many different allergens. Symptoms in both adults and kids can include a runny or congested, itchy nose; sneezing; and itchy, watery, red eyes. Allergies may also lead to ear infections and decreased hearing, especially in children, and in young children who are just learning to talk, speech problems.
If over-the-counter allergy medicines don’t seem to help, or if you are missing work or your child is missing school, it’s time to find out what’s causing those allergies. “Once the doctor pinpoints what you or your child are allergic to, together you can come up with a plan for minimizing symptoms that includes more targeted prescription medicine,” says Dr. Weber. “For many people with spring allergies, prescription nasal steroids are the most effective medicines for minimizing allergy symptoms. For other people, allergy shots may be recommended.” Ask your primary care physician for a referral to an allergist, or see if you can receive a free screening in your area by logging onto the ACAAI website.
Start medicine early
Talk to the allergist about the best time to begin allergy medicines. Often beginning medication just before pollen season strikes can prevent symptoms from occurring.
Check your pollen count
It’s easy to find out the daily pollen account, so you know when minimize outdoor activity, or conversely, when it’s safe to fly a kite. You can get a pollen count for your area by logging onto the National Allergy Bureau website.
Invest in air conditioning
Air conditioning filters can screen out most or all spring allergens and will allow you to keep your windows shut during prime pollen times, preventing pollen from coming into your home and settling on furniture, rugs, and other surfaces. “Unlike ragweed, which tends to be especially bad in the morning, tree pollens are in the air all day and all night long,” says Dr. Weber. “There is no way to avoid them by not going outside at certain times of the day.” Clean and/or replace your air conditioner filters according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
Get a Dehumidifier
This will help prevent mold in your basement and other damp, dark areas of your house. “Exposure to other allergens, such as mold, dust mites and animal dander, can stimulate your immune system so that you react even more to spring allergens,” says Dr. Weber. Consider hiring a professional cleaner, for one time before allergy season kicks in, to get rid of the other allergens in your home without exposing yourself to them.
Use an Electric Clothes Dryer
It’s lovely and ecological to dry your clothes outside in the Spring. Unfortunately, airborne pollen and other allergens can attach easily to wet clothes.
For the one in five people who experience allergies, symptoms can affect the whole body. “One of the most common symptoms of allergies is fatigue,” says Dr. Weber. “People don’t realize that when your nose is stuffy, you don’t sleep well at night, and you may not get enough deep restorative sleep.” Getting spring allergies under control may help you and your kids to sleep better. What more incentive do you need?
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