Spring brings itchy eyes, sneezing and congestion

Allergy sufferers turn to over-the-counter medications and natural remedies for relief

By Marissa Harshman, Columbian health reporter

Published:

 

How do you manage seasonal allergies?

  • With over-the-counter medicines. 72%
  • Stay indoors during allergy season. 6%
  • With allergy shots or prescription medication. 14%
  • With natural remedies, such as nettles. 8%

50 total votes.

Spring has arrived. And so has the allergy season.

While it's difficult to say exactly how severe this allergy season will be, it's safe to say that people in the area who suffer from allergies will experience symptoms.

"We're always in for it around here," said Jennifer Bane, a physician assistant at the Allergy & Asthma Center of S.W. Washington in Vancouver. "We just have so much foliage."

Those who are sensitive to pollinating trees are likely already feeling the effects of seasonal allergies — itchy, red eyes, sneezing and congestion.

"Trees are starting to bloom," Bane said. "It's here. It's here, for sure."

Seasonal allergy symptoms come in phases, depending on what's pollinating. Depending on the weather, the pollinating seasons may overlap.

Trees are first to pollinate. During the spring months, pollen from trees such as ash, birch, cedar and cottonwood cause allergy symptoms.

Then comes grass season, which typically begins in June and can stretch into August. Near the end of summer, weeds begin to pollinate. Generally, though, weeds aren't much of an issue in Southwest Washington, Bane said.

"The grass here is generally the biggie," she said.

Over-the-counter allergy medicines, especially some of the antihistamines, tend to work quickly to alleviate symptoms. If they're not helping, however, and allergy symptoms have become difficult to manage, Bane recommends consulting with a board-certified allergist. Allergists can determine whether the person is actually dealing with seasonal allergies and help develop an effective treatment plan.

"People have become accustomed to feeling less than perfect," Bane said. "Walking around with allergies makes you feel like you're walking around with a cold all the time."

"Spring and summer are the best times of year here," she added. "We need to be able to be outside and enjoying the nice weather as much as we can."

In addition to over-the-counter medicines, some natural remedies may also provide relief for allergy sufferers.

Dr. Melinda Nickels, a naturopathic physician at Nickels Natural Health in Vancouver, said one of the first things she recommends patients try is nettles.

Nettles capsules — or combinations of nettles and quercetin — are available in the natural food section of most grocery stores. Nettles help to stabilize the white blood cells that release histamine, which is responsible for the allergy symptoms, Nickels said.

One study on the effectiveness of nettles found more than 50 percent of people who used the capsules — taking a couple of capsules, two to three times per day — saw a significant decrease of symptoms, Nickels said. The rest of the study population experienced no change in symptoms, she said.

While nettles don't work for everyone, they're safe to try and may end up working well, Nickels said.

"It's a really easy way to help yourself," she said.

Nettles are also available in other forms. You can purchase them as greens at farmers markets, sauté them and eat them during meals, or drink nettles tea throughout the day, Nickels said.

Nickels also recommends allergy sufferers try neti pots. While it's an awkward process that requires pouring saline water though the nasal cavity, it can have a big payoff, Nickels said.

"Basically, you're just rinsing out your nose and removing the allergen particles, and that can significantly reduce symptoms," she said.

Nickels also recommends people who have food sensitivities or allergies eliminate those items from their diets. Those food allergies and sensitivities can put added strain on the immune system, which is already responding inappropriately to environmental allergens.

"I've definitely seen all of these things work really well," Nickels said. "Pursuing an alternative route, if that's what they're interested in, can absolutely help with their allergies."

Simple changes at home may also help to alleviate symptoms, Bane said.

For example, taking a shower in the evening, after spending the day outside in the pollen, will remove the irritating particles from the skin. Using an air conditioner, rather than opening the windows, will limit the amount of pollen inside the house. Dogs and cats that go outside can bring pollen into the house on their fur, so keeping them out of the bed and off the couch will also help, Bane said.

"It doesn't have to have such a big impact on people's lives," she said. "Little things can make some real big differences."