Springtime comes with an uptick in stuffy noses and scratchy throats, and for many it has nothing to do with Covid-19. There are 19.2 million adults and 5.2 million children in the United States who suffer from seasonal allergies, also called hay fever, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Some of the symptoms of allergies, like congestion, coughing and a runny nose, overlap with warning signs of Covid-19, but if your nose turns into a leaky faucet every spring, then allergies are the likely culprit.
Unfortunately, that’s where the good news ends. Several studies show that pollen seasons are getting longer and more intense across the country. Climate change and rising carbon dioxide emissions are expected to boost the growth of trees and grasses in many areas, which will mean higher pollen concentrations.
“For people who have been managing seasonal allergies for a long time, they may have already noticed allergy symptoms starting earlier, lasting longer and being more intense than even a few years ago,” said Kenneth Mendez, the president and chief executive of the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.
In the Southeast, pollen counts start rising as early as January for some trees, including cedar and juniper. Elm, maple and oak trees have pollen seasons that can run from March to May. And in the northern United States, several types of grasses also start releasing pollen in late spring or early summer, according to the A.A.F.A. (Though flowers are often blamed, they don’t usually trigger seasonal allergies because their pollen is large and sticky, designed to attract insects rather than float through the air.)
You cannot avoid pollen entirely, but there are ways to prevent or reduce symptoms. And you may just have to take these steps a little earlier every year, Mr. Mendez said.
Find medication that works for you.
Several over-the-counter and prescription medications can help with allergy symptoms. Many doctors recommend nasal steroid sprays like Nasonex (with a prescription) or Flonase as the first line of treatment, said Dr. Sandra Hong, an allergist at the Cleveland Clinic.
But they may take a few days or weeks to provide relief from stuffiness and sneezing, so it is best to begin using them early in the season, before your symptoms become severe. Antihistamines — whether sprays like Astelin; pills like Allegra, Claritin or Zyrtec; or eye drops like Optivar — are other alternatives to take when needed, because they have a more immediate effect, she said.
Decongestants like Afrin or Sinex can also come to the rescue in a pinch. But Dr. Hong recommended these drugs last because they can have a rebound effect. After a few days of using decongestants, the blood vessels in your nose become less responsive to the medication and you may feel severe congestion again. So limit these medicines to no more than three days in a row.
It takes some trial and error to find the best medication regimen. “If patients have tried one medication and it doesn’t seem to be working for them, they should absolutely try other types to see if they’re more effective,” Dr. Hong said.
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