There are plenty of things to love about spring. It’s warmer and daylight lasts longer, so you can spend more time outdoors. It’s the end of cold and flu season, so you may be feeling better than you did over the winter. And it seems that everything is in bloom. However, those beautiful spring flowers and trees can cause their own problems in the form of seasonal allergies.
Pollen is the cause of most seasonal allergies. Pollen counts increase in the spring as trees and plants wake from winter dormancy. Trees and other plants release pollen into the air as a method of fertilization (pollination) to produce seeds and fruit. Pollen travels as tiny particles (particulates) similar to dust. Every time you inhale, you breathe in a lot of particulates. Most of them are not harmful, but if you have seasonal allergies, your immune system reacts to pollen and makes an immune response against it. This immune response happens because your body—rightly so—thinks of pollen particulates as invaders. To fight these invaders, your body makes an inflammatory substance called histamine, which causes the itchy and watering eyes, sneezing and runny nose that are the hallmark symptoms of seasonal allergies. Your body is trying to keep you safe, but ends up making you miserable.
Many anti-allergy medications can help reduce allergy symptoms. Most of them do this by limiting the release of histamine from the immune cells inside your body. You can also reduce your symptoms by:
- steering clear of outdoor activities as much as possible when pollen counts are high,
- wearing sunglasses outdoors to help keep pollen out of your eyes,
- changing your clothes after being outdoors, and
- keeping the windows and doors closed in your home to limit the amount of pollen coming in and spreading around inside.
The best thing about seasonal allergies is that they are time-limited. Most plants have limited blooming seasons. As soon as the pollen counts drop, you can breathe easy and enjoy spring outdoors again.
Rebekah Morrow, PhD, is an assistant professor of immunology and microbiology at the Alabama College of Osteopathic Medicine