Spring is finally upon us, bringing longer days and warmer temperatures. For many of us, this is cause for celebration! (Especially the estimated 10 million Americans who experience seasonal affective disorder, a form of depression associated with changes in seasons.) But for those who suffer from annoying allergy symptoms — itchy eyes, skin rashes and headaches galore — a field of blooming daffodils might be more cause for panic rather than joy
Data from the CDC indicates that up to 60 million people in the U.S. experience “allergic rhinitis” — also known as hay fever — each year. This can lead to symptoms like sneezing, a runny nose and congestion, according to the CDC. These symptoms are no fun, and we understand why even the thought of abundant pollen and grassy picnics would keep you firmly planted to your couch.
But the changing season doesn’t have to doom you to staying cooped up at home! Particularly after two years of the pandemic, you deserve to live your life. The good news is that there are steps you can take to help manage your symptoms. The team at Solv has compiled some tips and tricks of the trade so you can enjoy spring to the fullest.
What’s happening in your body when you have an allergic reaction?
To start, an allergen is a miniscule airborne particle such as pollen or dust. You experience allergy symptoms when your body mistakenly identifies an allergen as a threat — and then kicks into protection mode by launching an immune response, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Antibodies, or immune system proteins, bind to the allergen in order to fight it. The chemicals released by your immune system can cause symptoms that you might think of as “allergies” — like nasal congestion, a runny nose, rashes or itchy eyes, explains the Mayo Clinic.
What makes allergies “seasonal?”
When people reference “seasonal allergies,” they typically mean allergies that are prompted by outdoor allergens such as grass, weeds and tree pollen. These substances are typically more abundant in specific months of the year, as well as in particular locations according to the Mayo Clinic. This means that you might experience allergies differently if you live in North Carolina, for example, versus California.
Is asthma the same thing?
The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America notes that in some people, the chemicals that your immune system releases (called immunoglobulin) can cause symptoms affecting your airways and lungs. When the body releases too much immunoglobulin, you may experience swelling of the airways in your lungs. This can lead to an asthma attack.
Among the reported 25 million Americans who have asthma, “allergic asthma” is the most common type (other kinds of asthma with different triggers include exercise, infections, stress, gastroesophageal reflux, cold air and more). Some people may have more than one trigger for asthma.
How can you tell if you have allergic asthma? Your provider can perform skin or blood tests to confirm and may add in-office pulmonary function tests to diagnose asthma more accurately. Common triggers for allergic asthma include cockroaches, dust mites, mold, pets and pollen, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.
How can you tell the difference between seasonal allergies and Covid?
Gauging your symptoms may feel a bit tricky, as there could be overlap between Covid symptoms and allergy symptoms. Symptoms of the latest variant Omicron include a sore or scratchy throat, runny nose, sneezing and headache, among others.
NBC News notes that one way to distinguish between Covid and allergies is the length of your symptoms. Symptoms of Omicron often last between three and five days for many patients, according to NBC News. On the other hand, allergy symptoms will persist so long as the allergen is in the air, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.
The best way to tell is by playing it safe and testing frequently for Covid, whether with at-home tests or by booking an appointment for a PCR test, according to the CDC’s recommendations. If you don’t know where to turn, Solv can help you find convenient, accessible Covid testing near you.
What can you do to ease your symptoms at home?
There are plenty of things you can do to reduce the negative impact of allergy symptoms on your day-to-day activities. Here are a few tips, sourced from the Mayo Clinic:
- Monitor pollen counts near you. Plan when you’ll stay inside during peak pollen hours or high-pollen days, and keep windows closed during these times (Pro tip: Check out trackers like this one from The Weather Channel to search allergens in your specific zip code).
- Use a dehumidifier or install a HEPA filter to keep the air dry and clean in your home.
- Shake off your clothing when you come inside and shower when you get home so that miniscule pollen particles don’t get stuck to your hair, skin and clothing.
What about medication?
Over-the-counter allergy medications are available, as well as other treatments for those with severe allergies.
Many find relief with steroid nasal sprays, and you can begin this regiment before pollen season launches into full swing. You can also buy allergy medications such as oral antihistamines, decongestants or a combination, according to the Mayo Clinic. You might have to sample a few to figure out which works best for you.
If over-the-counter steroid sprays or allergy pills aren’t working, consider talking to your provider about more intensive treatment options, such as:
- Immunotherapy, which involves exposing your body to small amounts of the allergen that will trigger symptoms. The goal is to reduce your immune system response over time as you build a tolerance, according to the Mayo Clinic. While immunotherapy is typically thought of in the form of “allergy shots,” it can also be available in a liquid form called sublingual immunotherapy, or SLIT. For this treatment, you place liquid drops or a tablet under your tongue (“allergy drops”), according to Verywell Health.
- Leukotriene modifier, which consists of pills that can help control the chemicals that your immune system releases during an allergic reaction, according to the Mayo Clinic.
- Anti-immunoglobulin E (IgE) therapy. This involves medication that will interfere with your body’s production of histamines and other chemicals that lead to allergic reactions, according to the Mayo Clinic.
How telemed can help you during allergy season
If you’ve experienced seasonal allergies in the past, it might be helpful to connect with your provider before you start having symptoms as some medications can take a few days to start working. Your provider can help you develop a game plan and explore which testing and treatment options work best for you.
Can I do a video visit for allergies? Telehealth can be beneficial if you have questions about your allergy medication or a non-emergency side effect, want to discuss new symptoms that are not severe, need prescription refills or for routine follow-ups to monitor chronic allergies, according to Verywell Health. Video visits can be a great option to help differentiate other causes of allergy symptoms.
On the other hand, you should see a provider in person if you have severe or life-threatening symptoms, are experiencing anaphylaxis, require testing or need a biopsy of a skin rash, notes Verywell Health
To get a jumpstart on your seasonal allergy plan, Solv can help you find and book same-day doctor visits. With Solv Now, you can get connected to exceptional virtual providers in as little as 15 minutes, 24/7, for only $79 per visit