Spring Allergies and Asthma

Dealing With Seasonal Asthma & Allergies in the Springtime

Maple Tree Leaves
Raimund Linke/Photodisc/Getty
People who have spring allergies and asthma often enjoy a short respite during the cold months when symptoms abate and they can breathe easy, or easier, at least. As the weather begins to warm and trees begin to bloom and sprout leaves, though, things change. Before you know it, you're sneezing, wheezing and coughing once again. Spring allergies have just begun.

Some allergies and asthma produce problems year round, because they are triggered by substances found in the everyday living environment.

You may find that your symptoms get worse every spring. Some people, though, are lucky enough to have more seasonal allergies and asthma. Spring allergies are sometimes called "hayfever," although they aren't caused by hay and don't result in a fever. They are, however, usually the outdoor type of allergies, meaning that the triggers are commonly found outdoors, rather than indoors.

Common symptoms of spring allergies can include:

Kids with asthma and allergies may also have what are known as the allergic salute, where they rub their noses upward because of itching and have allergic shiners, which are dark circles under the eyes caused by nasal congestion. These are all just the typical symptoms of allergies and asthma. Nothing is different in the spring, except that if you are allergic to spring allergens, your symptoms may increase.

Common Spring Allergens or Triggers

Spring begins at different times in different parts of the United States and other countries, depending on climate and location. When deciduous trees start to wake up from their "winter's sleep," though, spring allergies begin. The most common spring allergens, or triggers, are tree pollens.

Pollen are tiny, egg-shaped male cells found in flowering plants. You may know pollen better as the tiny, powdery granules that plants use during the fertilization process. The size of a typical pollen spore is smaller in diameter than a human hair.

Many different kinds of trees can produce pollen that triggers allergies and asthma symptoms. The most common trees that do so are:

  • Ash
  • Birch
  • Cypress
  • Elm
  • Hickory
  • Maple
  • Oak
  • Poplar
  • Sycamore
  • Walnut
  • Western Red Cedar

In the later spring, grass pollens may also become a factor. Common grass allergens include:

  • Bermuda grass
  • Bluegrass
  • Orchard grass
  • Red top grass
  • Sweet vernal grass
  • Timothy grass

The trees and grasses mentioned above may or may not all exist in your local area. If any of them do, though, and you are sensitive to their pollens, then you will have spring allergies and asthma symptoms.

Influencing Factors

The type of pollen that triggers allergies is a lightweight airborne powder. So it is easily spread far and wide on windy days. When it is rainy, however, the rain washes the pollen spores away and pollen counts tend to be lower, which brings relief from symptoms.

How Spring Allergies and Asthma Are Diagnosed

If you notice that your asthma and allergy symptoms crop up — or worsen — during the spring when the world begins to get greener, there's a good chance that you have spring allergies. To find out for sure, make an appointment to see your doctor. Your doctor may decide to refer you to an allergist, who can do formal allergy testing to find out exactly what you may be allergic to. Flowering, blooming trees in the springtime produce billions of pollen spores to bring misery to spring alleries and asthma sufferers Photo courtesy of Stock Xchange Dealing With Seasonal Asthma & Allergies in the Springtime People who have spring allergies and asthma often enjoy a short respite during the cold months when symptoms abate and they can breathe easy, or easier, at least. As the weather begins to warm and trees begin to bloom and sprout leaves, though, things change. Before you know it, you're sneezing, wheezing and coughing once again. Spring allergies have just begun.

Some allergies and asthma produce problems year round, because they are triggered by substances found in the everyday living environment. You may find that your symptoms get worse every spring. Some people, though, are lucky enough to have more seasonal allergies and asthma. Spring allergies are sometimes called "hayfever," although they aren't caused by hay and don't result in a fever. They are, however, usually the outdoor type of allergies, meaning that the triggers are commonly found outdoors, rather than indoors.

Common symptoms of spring allergies can include:

Kids with asthma and allergies may also have what are known as the allergic salute, where they rub their noses upward because of itching and have allergic shiners, which are dark circles under the eyes caused by nasal congestion. These are all just the typical symptoms of allergies and asthma. Nothing is different in the spring, except that if you are allergic to spring allergens, your symptoms may increase.

Common Spring Allergens or Triggers

Spring begins at different times in different parts of the United States and other countries, depending on climate and location. When deciduous trees start to wake up from their "winter's sleep," though, spring allergies begin. The most common spring allergens, or triggers, are tree pollens. Pollen are tiny, egg-shaped male cells found in flowering plants. You may know pollen better as the tiny, powdery granules that plants use during the fertilization process. The size of a typical pollen spore is smaller in diameter than a human hair.

Many different kinds of trees can produce pollen that triggers allergies and asthma symptoms. The most common trees that do so are:

  • Ash
  • Birch
  • Cypress
  • Elm
  • Hickory
  • Maple
  • Oak
  • Poplar
  • Sycamore
  • Walnut
  • Western Red Cedar

In the later spring, grass pollens may also become a factor. Common grass allergens include:

  • Bermuda grass
  • Bluegrass
  • Orchard grass
  • Red top grass
  • Sweet vernal grass
  • Timothy grass

The trees and grasses mentioned above may or may not all exist in your local area. If any of them do, though, and you are sensitive to their pollens, then you will have spring allergies and asthma symptoms.

Influencing Factors

The type of pollen that triggers allergies is a lightweight airborne powder. So it is easily spread far and wide on windy days. When it is rainy, however, the rain washes the pollen spores away and pollen counts tend to be lower, which brings relief from symptoms.

How Spring Allergies and Asthma Are Diagnosed

If you notice that your asthma and allergy symptoms crop up — or worsen — during the spring when the world begins to get greener, there's a good chance that you have spring allergies. To find out for sure, make an appointment to see your doctor. Your doctor may decide to refer you to an allergist, who can do formal allergy testing to find out exactly what you may be allergic to.

The good news is there is no reason why you just have to "grin and bear it" with spring allergies and asthma symptoms. There are definitely things you can do to become more comfortable. A combination of preventive actions and medication are usually all it will take.

Preventive Actions You Can Take

Here are some of the prevention actions you should work on:

  • When pollen counts are high, stay indoors as much as you can. Pollen counts tend to be highest on warm, windy days and lowest on rainy days. If you must go outdoors during times when pollen counts are high, try to do it later in the day, as counts are usually highest in the early morning hours.
  • When you're indoors or in the car, keep the windows closed and air-conditioning on. If it hasn't gotten hot out yet, you may be reluctant to turn on the A/C but doing so will keep pollen from blowing in to your home or car through the window, especially if the air-conditioning unit is equipped with a HEPA filter.
  • Vaccum and dust your house's flat surfaces frequently. Dust collects on flat surfaces, and pollen often collects in dust, so cleaning will keep the levels down indoors too. It may help to wear a mask while you clean.
  • Don't hang drying clothes outdoors. Clothes hanging outside to dry can collect pollen. Use a clothes dryer when pollen levels are high.
  • If you must go outside during high pollen counts, wash the pollen off when you get back inside. Wash your hair to get rid of pollen and change your clothes. This may seem like overkill, but it can make a big difference in your symptoms.

Medications You Can Take

There are a number of medications that can be used to treat spring allergies.

For seasonal asthma, you should be taking your inhaled steroid every day as prescribed to prevent symptoms and using your rescue inhaler if symptoms do arise. (If you need to use it twice a week or more, though, it's time to call the doctor for a more effective preventive medicine.) Medications used to treat spring allergy symptoms can include:

  • Oral Antihistamines. Antihistamines are the most tried and true medications for treating most allergy symptoms. They work directly on the underlying allergic response. They can include first-generation medicines, such as Benadryl (diphenhydramine) and Chlortrimeton (chlorpheniramine). These are cheap, available over the counter and generally effective but can make you feel drowsy. The newer antihistamines, such as Claritin, Zyrtec and Allegra, are effective and nonsedating but may be more expensive. Claritin and Zyrtec are both available over the counter, but Allegra is not. Some antihistamines are also combined with a decongestant to combat nasal congestion.
  • Nasal decongestant sprays. These can work well for relieving nasal symptoms on a short-term basis, but they cannot be safely used throughout the spring allergy season. If used too much, though, they can actually make nasal symptoms worse.
  • Nasal steroid sprays or nasal chromolyn sodium. These prescription nasal sprays, such as Flonase, are some of the most effective medicines, and because they act only where needed, they are also some of the safest.
  • Eye drops. There is a wide variety of eye drops that can be used for eye allergies. Use caution in using drops, such as Visine Allergy, though, as they can make symptoms worse if overused. Natural tears type eye drops are the gentlest and may work for mild symptoms. More severe symptoms may respond well to an antihistamine eye drop, such as Alaway or Zaditor, both of which are available over the counter. There are also prescription eye drops available that may be helpful.

For those who want a more "natural" approach, a saline nasal rinse/irrigation is both gentle and effective. The idea is to wash out pollens, other allergens and mucus from the nasal passages by flushing them with salt water (saline). These preparations are available over the counter in most drug stores.

In Summary

If your allergies and asthma get worse in the spring, don't feel as though you just have to suffer. Take action! You can feel better and continue to live a full and active life, even in the face of spring allergies. Talk to your doctor before spring to make sure you have a plan in place before symptoms begin. If you plan to take an oral antihistamine, it can take up to two weeks for it to reach full effectiveness, so be sure to start taking it before you expect spring allergies to start.

If you have asthma year round, but your nasal allergies and eye allergies are more seasonal in nature, it's important to stay on top of the allergy symptoms, so that you can nip them in the bud quickly. When nasal allergies spiral out of control, asthma often follows, even if it has been stable before.

Sources:

American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology. "Allergic Rhinitis." . AAAAI. 13 Apr 2008

AAAAI, "Tips to remember: outdoor allergens." American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology. 01 January 2006. AAAAI. 18 Oct 2007 http://www.aaaai.org/patients/publicedmat/tips/outdoorallergens.stm

"Expert Panel Report 3: Guidelines for the Diagnosis and Management of Asthma." NHLBI Guidelines for the Diagnosis and Treatment of Asthma. 28 Aug 2007. National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. 18 Dec. 2007 <http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/guidelines/asthma/asthgdln.pdf>

"Tips to remember: outdoor allergens." 2007. American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology. 31 May 2008

Maple pollen is one common kind of tree pollen Source: American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology Time to Take Control The good news is there is no reason why you just have to "grin and bear it" with spring allergies and asthma symptoms. There are definitely things you can do to become more comfortable. A combination of preventive actions and medication are usually all it will take.

Preventive Actions You Can Take

Here are some of the prevention actions you should work on:

  • Pay attention to pollen counts for your area. You can watch your local weather forecasts, check Pollen.com or the National Allergy Bureau to get your daily pollen counts.
  • When pollen counts are high, stay indoors as much as you can. Pollen counts tend to be highest on warm, windy days and lowest on rainy days. If you must go outdoors during times when pollen counts are high, try to do it later in the day, as counts are usually highest in the early morning hours.
  • When you're indoors or in the car, keep the windows closed and air-conditioning on. If it hasn't gotten hot out yet, you may be reluctant to turn on the A/C but doing so will keep pollen from blowing in to your home or car through the window, especially if the air-conditioning unit is equipped with a HEPA filter.
  • Vaccum and dust your house's flat surfaces frequently. Dust collects on flat surfaces, and pollen often collects in dust, so cleaning will keep the levels down indoors too. It may help to wear a mask while you clean.
  • Don't hang drying clothes outdoors. Clothes hanging outside to dry can collect pollen. Use a clothes dryer when pollen levels are high.
  • If you must go outside during high pollen counts, wash the pollen off when you get back inside. Wash your hair to get rid of pollen and change your clothes. This may seem like overkill, but it can make a big difference in your symptoms.

Medications You Can Take

There are a number of medications that can be used to treat spring allergies. For seasonal asthma, you should be taking your inhaled steroid every day as prescribed to prevent symptoms and using your rescue inhaler if symptoms do arise. (If you need to use it twice a week or more, though, it's time to call the doctor for a more effective preventive medicine.) Medications used to treat spring allergy symptoms can include:

  • Oral Antihistamines. Antihistamines are the most tried and true medications for treating most allergy symptoms. They work directly on the underlying allergic response. They can include first-generation medicines, such as Benadryl (diphenhydramine) and Chlortrimeton (chlorpheniramine). These are cheap, available over the counter and generally effective but can make you feel drowsy. The newer antihistamines, such as Claritin, Zyrtec and Allegra, are effective and nonsedating but may be more expensive. Claritin and Zyrtec are both available over the counter, but Allegra is not. Some antihistamines are also combined with a decongestant to combat nasal congestion.
  • Nasal decongestant sprays. These can work well for relieving nasal symptoms on a short-term basis, but they cannot be safely used throughout the spring allergy season. If used too much, though, they can actually make nasal symptoms worse.
  • Nasal steroid sprays or nasal chromolyn sodium. These prescription nasal sprays, such as Flonase, are some of the most effective medicines, and because they act only where needed, they are also some of the safest.
  • Eye drops. There is a wide variety of eye drops that can be used for eye allergies. Use caution in using drops, such as Visine Allergy, though, as they can make symptoms worse if overused. Natural tears type eye drops are the gentlest and may work for mild symptoms. More severe symptoms may respond well to an antihistamine eye drop, such as Alaway or Zaditor, both of which are available over the counter. There are also prescription eye drops available that may be helpful.

For those who want a more "natural" approach, a saline nasal rinse/irrigation is both gentle and effective. The idea is to wash out pollens, other allergens and mucus from the nasal passages by flushing them with salt water (saline). These preparations are available over the counter in most drug stores.

In Summary

If your allergies and asthma get worse in the spring, don't feel as though you just have to suffer. Take action! You can feel better and continue to live a full and active life, even in the face of spring allergies. Talk to your doctor before spring to make sure you have a plan in place before symptoms begin. If you plan to take an oral antihistamine, it can take up to two weeks for it to reach full effectiveness, so be sure to start taking it before you expect spring allergies to start.

If you have asthma year round, but your nasal allergies and eye allergies are more seasonal in nature, it's important to stay on top of the allergy symptoms, so that you can nip them in the bud quickly. When nasal allergies spiral out of control, asthma often follows, even if it has been stable before.

Sources:

American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology. "Allergic Rhinitis." . AAAAI. 13 Apr 2008

AAAAI, "Tips to remember: outdoor allergens." American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology. 01 January 2006. AAAAI. 18 Oct 2007 http://www.aaaai.org/patients/publicedmat/tips/outdoorallergens.stm

"Expert Panel Report 3: Guidelines for the Diagnosis and Management of Asthma." NHLBI Guidelines for the Diagnosis and Treatment of Asthma. 28 Aug 2007. National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. 18 Dec. 2007 <http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/guidelines/asthma/asthgdln.pdf>

"Tips to remember: outdoor allergens." 2007. American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology. 31 May 2008

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