Avoiding Hay Fever

It’s springtime, and from coast to coast, millions of Americans’ allergies are blooming along with trees, grass and weeds.

About 38.9 million people in the United States alone suffer from seasonal allergic rhinitis, what is commonly called hay fever, and for most, May is to be dreaded because of all the airborne pollen.

When you come in from the outdoors, take a shower and change your clothes so you don’t take pollen to bed with you.

Avoiding seasonal allergies is difficult, “unless you live in the frozen North or the middle of the desert,” says Dr. Michael R. Borts, an allergist who has a private practice in St. Louis. Everywhere there is vegetation there is pollen.

St. Louis recently topped a ranking of the 25 worst cities for pollen. FIND/SVP, a New York consulting firm, ranked the cities after analyzing data from the National Allergy Bureau on pollen levels from February through mid-June. Right behind St. Louis were College Station, Texas, and Cherry Hill, N.J.

Would moving help your allergy?

Say “achoo” and groan. Because there is no “cure” for allergies, doctors say control and avoidance are your best defense. But how do you avoid that villainous pollen when it’s in the air you breathe? Move?

“That was the treatment of choice for the wealthy – to leave the area for a month or so,” says Dr. Warren V. Filley, an allergist in Oklahoma City (another “sneezy city”) and clinical professor of medicine at the University of Oklahoma. “But most of us can’t afford to do that.”

Filley, who is also a member of the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology’s committee on aerobiology, says there actually have been studies of people who have moved to escape their seasonal allergies, but the result is rarely happy.

For starters, pollen from ragweed (which affects 75 percent of allergic rhinitis sufferers), grasses and trees is so small and buoyant that the wind may carry it miles from its source. Mold spores, which grow outdoors in fields and on dead leaves, also are everywhere and may outnumber pollen grains in the air even when the pollen season is nastiest.

Sometimes when people move they either develop an allergic sensitivity to something else in their new environment, or they unwittingly import their enemy, according to Filley.

“They can’t stand to be without their Bermuda grass or elm trees, so they bring them in,” he says. “So they make what was an allergy haven into an allergy nightmare.”

Avoiding pollen

However, if you’re a seasonal allergy sufferer, take heart. There are steps you can take to minimize your exposure to pollens and molds, according to Borts and Filley.

First, they say, try and avoid the outdoors when pollen counts are going to be at the highest. The outdoor air is most heavily saturated with pollen and mold between 5 a.m. and 10 am, so early morning is a good time to limit outdoor activities. Furthermore, a warm windy day is going to result in a lot more pollen blowing around than after a spring rain, which generally washes the pollen out of the air.

“We also don’t recommend that you buy a convertible or drive around with your sunroof open,” Borts says.

Here are some other tips:

  1. When practical, keep windows closed and be in an air-conditioned environment. A HEPA (High Energy Particulate Air) filter or an electrostatic precipitator may help clean pollen and mold from the indoor air. Automobile air-conditioners also help.
  2. Don’t hang clothing outdoors to dry. Pollen may cling to towels and sheets.
  3. Wear a dust mask when mowing, raking leaves or gardening, and take appropriate medication beforehand. Better yet, “find an enterprising young man who doesn’t have allergies to mow your lawn for you,” Borts says.
  4. When you come in from the outdoors, take a shower and change your clothes so you don’t take the pollen to bed with you.

“People aren’t going to spend 24 hours a day inside, so that’s where medications come in,” Borts says.

Over-the-counter antihistamines or corticosteroids that your doctor may prescribe may be used separately or in combination and are sometimes enough to prevent or reduce the severity of allergy symptoms, Borts says. If you have uncontrolled symptoms, ask your doctor about immunotherapy (allergy shots).

Immunotherapy has a high success rate, curing 70 percent to 80 percent of people treated for respiratory allergies. Results of a study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that individuals with grass-pollen allergies who went through a complete course of immunotherapy treatment for those allergies, experienced “prolonged clinical benefits” for at least three years after their treatments had ended.

External Resources

The American Academy Of Allergy, Asthma And Immunology