My sneezing, itchy eyes and nose, runny or congested nose, and watery eyes are always worse in the spring. Although antihistamines bring considerable relief, are there things that I can do to prevent the symptoms from occurring in the first place?
You have described the typical allergy symptoms of hay fever; the underlying cause is a reaction of your immune system to substances (allergens) that enter the body. Antibodies formed in response to the allergens lead to the release of histamine, which is what produces allergic symptoms.
Obviously, avoiding exposure to allergens is the best way to prevent allergic reactions. The most troublesome outdoor allergens are pollens from trees, grasses and weeds and molds. (Flowers are mild offenders.) Allergy problems indoors most frequently result from exposure to pet dander and dust mites. Listed below are some practical measures to help avoid common outdoor allergens.
If you are allergic to pollens, avoid outdoor activities between 5 a.m. and 10 a.m., when pollen counts are highest. By contrast, mold allergens peak in the afternoon. Exposure to airborne allergens is likely to be greatest on windy days and least after rain has washed them from the air.
Wear gloves when gardening and a dust mask when cutting grass, raking leaves or doing other yard work.
Avoid transferring allergens to your eyes by touching them with your fingers or gloves.
Shower and wash clothing after completing outdoor activities in order to remove pollens and molds from your skin and hair, as well as those stuck to your clothes. Dry clothes on an inside line or in dryer so that pollens do not stick to wet clothes on an outdoor line.
Keep windows closed in your car and home. Run air conditioners and don't forget to clear the air filters at least once a month.
Beach vacationing is best for those allergic to pollens, but sufferers from mold allergies may not do well at the beach, where damp housing accommodations favor mold growth.
Because molds grow best in damp places, keep gutters and drains clean and locate a compost heap far from the house.
Why not just move to a pollen-free spot like the Southwest? Many years ago, states like Arizona and New Mexico were safe havens for people with allergies. But it is now difficult to find any place free of pollen, and even if you can escape from the particular pollen troubling you now, it is likely that you will develop allergies to other pollens in your new environment.
Dr. Margolis is professor of medicine and biological chemistry at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.
Pub Date: 5/27/97