Spring Bling Brings the Sneezing Thing

Red itchy eyes, sinuses blocked, throat tender and nose running like a faucet? Yup, sounds like allergy season is back! Along with the much-heralded return of daffodils, crocuses, budding trees and the reappearance of robins and cardinals, springtime also afflicts millions of Americans with the sneezing, wheezing and sniffles that mark the perennial onslaught of typical allergy culprits, pollen and mold. And it starts weeks before the air seems filled with fluffy snow-like flakes that cover our cars in a whiteish-green film and drive us to refuge indoors.

Seasonal allergic rhinitis is usually caused by mold spores in the air or by trees, grasses, and weeds releasing billions of tiny pollen grains. The severity of allergy season can vary according to where you live, the weather, indoor contaminants, and many other elements. Here in Connecticut, outdoor molds are very common, especially after the spring thaw. They are found in soil, some mulches, fallen leaves, and rotting wood.

Everybody is exposed to mold and pollen, but only some develop or suffer from allergies. In these people, the immune system, which protects us from invaders like viruses and bacteria, reacts to a normally harmless substance called an allergen (allergy-causing compound). Specialized immune cells called mast cells and basophils then release chemicals like histamine that lead to the symptoms of allergy: sneezing, coughing, a runny or clogged nose, postnasal drip, and itchy eyes and throat.

Additionally, asthma and allergic diseases, such as allergic rhinitis (hay fever), food allergy, and atopic dermatitis (eczema), are common for all age groups in the United States. For example, asthma affects more than 17 million adults and more than 7 million children. It’s also estimated that one-fifth of all Americans are allergic to something, whether seasonal, airborne, or food related.

Nasal allergy triggers can be found both indoors and outdoors, and can be seasonal or year-round. It’s important to be aware of the times of day, seasons, places, and situations where your nasal allergy symptoms begin or worsen. If you can identify your triggers, and create a plan for avoiding them when possible, you may be able to minimize symptoms.

Here are a few points to remember:

  • You may be reacting to more than one type of allergen. For example, having nasal allergies to both trees and grass can make your symptoms worse during the spring and summer, when both of these pollens are high.
  • Molds grow in dark, wet places and can disperse spores into the air if you rake or disturb the area where they’ve settled.
  • People with indoor nasal allergies can be bothered by outdoor nasal allergies as well. You may need ongoing treatment to help relieve indoor nasal allergy symptoms.

If avoidance doesn’t work, allergies can often be controlled with medications. The first choice is an antihistamine, which counters the effects of histamine. Steroid nasal sprays can reduce mucus secretion and nasal swelling. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) says that the combination of antihistamines and nasal steroids is very effective in those with moderate or severe symptoms of allergic rhinitis. However, always consult with your physician before taking even over-the-counter medicines for allergies, as they may conflict with other medications or aggravate symptoms of other illnesses or chronic conditions.

Another potential solution is cromolyn sodium, a nasal spray that inhibits the release of chemicals like histamine from mast cells. But you must start taking it several days before an allergic reaction begins, which is not always practical, and its use can be habit forming.

Immunotherapy, or allergy shots, is an option if the exact cause of your allergies can be pinpointed. Immunotherapy involves a long series of injections, but it can significantly reduce symptoms and medication needs. Your physician can help pinpoint what you are allergic to, and tell you the best way to treat your nasal allergy symptoms. Providing detailed information about your lifestyle and habits will help your physician design an appropriate treatment plan for relieving your symptoms.

The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology has some useful tips for those who suffer from seasonal allergies:

  • Wash bed sheets weekly in hot water.
  • Always bathe and wash hair before bedtime (pollen can collect on skin and hair throughout the day).
  • Do not hang clothes outside to dry where they can trap pollens.
  • Wear a filter mask when mowing or working outdoors. Also, if you can, avoid peak times for pollen exposure (hot, dry, windy days, usually between 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m.).
  • Be aware of local pollen counts in your area (visit the National Allergy Bureau Website).
  • Keep house, office, and car windows closed; use air conditioning if possible rather than opening windows.
  • Perform a thorough spring cleaning of your home, including replacing heating and A/C filters and cleaning ducts and vents.
  • Check bathrooms and other damp areas in your home frequently for mold and mildew, and remove visible mold with nontoxic cleaners.
  • Keep pets out of the bedroom and off of furniture, since they may carry pollen if they have been outdoors, or exacerbate your allergies if, for example, you’re allergic to cat dander.

Pass the Honey, Honey

There are many over-the-counter treatments available for seasonal allergies, but some people prefer natural treatments instead. One example rumored to help with seasonal allergies is raw, unprocessed honey made close to where you live. This local honey is rumored to help allergies, but scientists and doctors are skeptical.

 The idea behind honey treating allergies is similar to that of a person getting allergy shots. But while allergy shots have been proven to be effective, honey hasn’t. When a person eats local honey, they are thought to be ingesting local pollen. Over time, a person may become less sensitive to this pollen. As a result, they may experience fewer seasonal allergy symptoms.

It’s true that bees pollinate flowers and make honey. But the amounts of pollen from the environment and plants are thought to be very small and varied. When a person eats local honey, they have no guarantee how much (if any) pollen they’re being exposed to. This differs from allergy shots that purposefully desensitize a person to pollen at standard measurements.

You should not give honey to a child under the age of one. Raw, unprocessed honey has a risk for botulism in infants. Also, some people who have a severe allergy to pollen can experience a serious allergic reaction known as anaphylaxis after eating honey. This can cause extreme difficulty breathing. Others may experience allergic reactions such as itching or swelling of the mouth, throat, or skin.

We can’t always avoid the pollens, mold, and other triggers that aggravate our allergies, but we can try to limit or control exposure and pursue medical interventions to help mitigate our suffering. Spring is a wonderful time of year – enjoy it to its fullest, and pass the tissues!


Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!