Combating the itchy eyes and runny noses of spring
There are few places more beautiful in the spring than right here in Raleigh, NC. The sun has beaten away the cold, and gray clouds have dissipated to uncover that characteristic Carolina Blue. A whole multitude of colors reclaim their glory; the green of countless pines sway in gentle breeze, the pinks of azalea bushes burst through yards and parks, and yellow abounds in the daffodils, the wildfl owers and, unfortu-nately, the wind.
The famous yellow wind of Raleigh is right around the corner and those enjoying spring in the Triangle for the fi rst time may start wondering, are those ‘whispering pines’ really whispering? Or, like the rest of us, are they sneezing?
Holly Scott grew up with asthma, but until she moved to Raleigh, allergies were not a trigger. “It was always exercise induced, or because I was breathing cold air, but it was never allergies. It was just after I moved to Raleigh, when I was 28, that I started getting allergy symptoms. I had an itchy throat and a stuffy nose.”
For Scott, with those symptoms, she was confident allergies were the culprit. After conferring with her primary physician, she found relief in an over-the-counter (OTC) antihistamine, something she takes regularly through the spring and fall.
For Sarah Finnerty, allergy medicine was recommended to her nearly the moment she moved to Raleigh. “I remember vividly, someone at the church where I was working said, ‘If you take anantihistamine every day,’ you won’t have the symptoms. So I just did it.” A few years later, Finnerty attempted to face spring without the medicine. “My eyes were really itching, I realized, ‘Wow, this [medicine] really works,” Finnerty laughed.
Susan Catchings, FNP-C, at Avance Care of Cary, agrees that prevention is incredibly important. “I tell people, the moment they start seeing those first buds, or March 1… just pick a time, and start taking your medicine. Don’t wait until the symptoms start.”
Catchings notes that allergies are one of the most common reasons people miss work and school, especially in Raleigh. “Allergies are so prevalent here because we have such a warm spring season. We are the City of Oaks so we have beautiful trees and flowers, which just increases allergens in the air. The big allergy triggers in the spring are trees and grass, and they are pollinating for a long season. Many people who are moving from the North are used to bigger freezes and lon- ger winters. In the South, we have longer springs. And, really, anyone can develop allergies anytime. It is related to repeated exposure. With our warm spring, and longer pollinating season, there is greater exposure,” Catchings said.
Many, like Finnerty and Scott, are able to find relief with over-the-counter medications like Zyrtec, Claritin and Flonase; for others, a more aggressive approach is necessary. Scott’s husband, Brian, suffered with incapacitating allergies for years before deciding to look into immunotherapy. “It took him a while to pull the trigger on it; he saw an allergist to fi nd out what he was allergic to, twice,” Scott said. When the Scott family originally looked into immunotherapy, scheduling the shots would have been impossible, but the advancements to sublingual medicines made that therapy accessible. And, though expensive, Scott says they have never looked back. “He used to be miserable, he couldn’t function [at high allergy times]. It’s completely worth it.”
For Juliane Hatfi eld, allergies were just part of a wealth of health problems she was dealing with a few years ago. Allergies were accompanied by headaches, fatigue and other ailments. She saw several doctors and was put on several antibiotics and steroids. The medications not only failed to provide relief, but new, complicated health issues continued to present. She decided to visit a naturopathic health provider. The provider guided Hatfi eld through a dietary shift. “She told me that gluten and dairy naturally add inflammation. So, for some people, if inflammation is an issue, reducing every infl ammatory you can may help your body work more smoothly.”
After two years of a gluten- and dairy free diet, Hatfi eld’s overall health has completely changed. “Before, when seasonal allergies came, I expected to get a sinus infection. That just doesn’t happen the same way anymore. Before, I always had a runny nose, always felt run down, always felt like I had allergies.” Hatfi eld laments that for too long, she was treating symptoms without trying to discover root causes, “Now, I’m more in tune with my body.”
Catchings agrees that it is important to get to the root cause of the problem, especially encouraging people to see their Primary Care doctor if they suffer with chronic sinus issues or headaches. “Your life can be better, you can feel better if you seek proper treatment,” Catchings said.
Whether you have dealt with allergies for years, or are experiencing them for the fi rst time, there’s little question that this spring will test your patience, your health practices, and, perhaps, your gag reflex when you see the pollen on your car. “Some mornings I feel like I need to rake it off,” jokes Finnerty. She adds quickly that though allergies may be frustrating and cars glazed in yellow may be unpleasant, it all leads to the incredible beauty around us. “It’s worth it. Look around, of course it’s worth it! I’ve never lived anywhere that is so beautiful. Take any road, any simple road you drive down, and it will be lined with gorgeous flowering trees. It’s just beautiful.”
Allergy Life Hacks…
Bedtime showers: rinsing the allergens off you before you hop into bed will give you a better night’s sleep.
Kick off your shoesimmediately…don’t pollinate your hardwoods!
Keep the windows closed – that’s in the house and in the car!
Change clothes after working in the yard.
A couch nap may be tempting, but don’t give in (at least until you change.)
Wipe your pets! Supermarkets, Target and pet stores all sell convenient containers of pet wipes you can keep right by the door.
If you have not yet taken the sinus washing plunge, check out a Neti Pot and see if it’s for you.
Take care of yourself overall; allergies are directly connected to your immune system, so make sure you are exercising, eating well and drinking plenty of water!