Pollen allergies are largely responsible for the classic hay fever symptoms of sneezing, itchy, watery eyes, and runny nose. Allergists generally divide pollens into three types: tree pollen, grass pollen, and weed pollen. Each type has a discrete season during which it is the primary pollen. The rule of thumb for temperate climates, like we have here in Nashville, is tree pollen in the spring, grass pollen in the summer and weed pollen in the fall. Of course, this may vary based on your local climate. So, if you’re mowing your lawn in April and you have a bad flare, it’s not the grass, but the tree pollen that’s responsible.
So what can you do about pollen allergies? Like most inhalant allergies, the three options are avoidance, medications, and immunotherapy. Avoidance can be tough for outdoor allergies, since it can take very little time to get a massive exposure and no one wants to be locked indoors for months on end. Pollen counts tend to be the highest in the early morning, so avoiding prolonged exposure during those hours may help. Also, rinsing off after being outdoors will help remove pollen grains that may be lingering in the hair or on the skin. If you must mow during your peak pollen season, a mask can be helpful.
Medication-wise, the starting point for most people is a simple antihistamine. Over-the-counter options have improved significantly with the addition of loratadine and cetirizine to the market. Antihistamines work best for symptoms of sneezing, itchy, watery eyes and runny nose. They are not very helpful for nasal congestion or drainage.
If these simple options don’t work, then its probably time to go visit the doctor. A trial of a good nasal steroid spray is usually warranted at this point, and if that doesn’t work well, causes side effects, or you experience complications from allergies like sinus infections, ear problems or asthma, then it’s time to get allergy tested.