Couple after pollen allergy treatment

Finding the right treatment is critical for helping seasonal allergy sufferers.

There are at least two special interest groups in the Northeast who have good reason to frown at the balmy weather we’ve been having early this year – skiers and seasonal allergy sufferers.

If you’re among the seasonal allergy (hay fever) group, you’re probably aware that the spring allergy season arrived and intensified quite early this year, ironically, well before winter was finished. The culprit – unusually warm winter weather that caused trees to bloom well ahead of schedule.

With such a surprising start to the allergy season, we’ve seen a slew of stories filled with strategies on how to avoid springtime allergens. These include:

  • Stay indoors between 5am and 10am, when pollen counts are typically highest.
  • Wash your clothes and clean your hair often to get rid of pollen.
  • Dry your clothes and bedding indoors instead of outside where it can collect pollen.
  • Keep your car and house windows closed, particularly on hot, dry, and windy days. (An air conditioner can help to filter out pollen.)

These strategies are helpful, but according to Dr. Rebecca Breslow, an allergy specialist at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) Division of Rheumatology, Immunology and Allergy, most patients with seasonal allergies will also need some sort of medical treatment to get adequate relief.

She says that, in most cases, using a prescription nasal steroid spray is the most effective course of treatment for seasonal allergies. “If you’re on a nasal steroid for a week or two, you’re going to feel like a million bucks,” says Dr. Breslow.

She adds, however, that compliance is critical if patients want to consistently feel well. They should begin using the spray before the allergy season starts and continue to use it on a daily basis, even if they feel great. “I tell patients to get started a couple weeks before the pollen season because it takes a week or two for the therapy to reach its full anti-inflammatory effect,” says Dr. Breslow. “So when the pollen hits, they’re already protected.

Dr. Breslow adds that oral antihistamines are much less effective than nasal steroids, but may be sufficient for patients with mild allergies and sometimes can be used in combination with the spray if a patient is looking for a little extra relief.

There are cases, however, when nasal sprays, antihistamines, and other medications don’t provide significant relief. Allergy shots are an option for these patients, but this regimen involves a significant time commitment of three to five years. However, a slightly pleasanter alternative to the shots may soon be available, as researchers are now studying the effectiveness of user-friendly treatments such as sublingual immunotherapy (drops or tablets underneath the tongue).

Regardless of the nature of your pollen allergy, it’s likely that there’s a treatment that can provide you with relief. Staying inside all day isn’t a reasonable option, so consult your physician today to find a course of therapy that works for you.

– Chris P

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