Family Health: How to live with spring allergies

Spring allergies, aka hay fever, can be a lot like a cold. You often can tell them apart because allergies rarely cause a sore throat and never a fever. And there’s another crucial difference – while the sneezing and runny nose of a cold last about a week, allergy symptoms drag on as long you’re exposed to the allergen that causes them. For some people, that can be a very long time.

Allergens are substances that trigger allergic reactions, and this time of year one of the most common ones is blowing on the wind – pollen.

The allergic reaction goes like this: pollen, or another allergen, enters your airways as you breathe. Your immune system senses it, but instead of recognizing pollen as harmless it mistakes it for an invader. This starts a process that releases body chemicals such as histamine – the cause of your runny nose and itchy eyes.

This type of reaction is called allergic rhinitis, or nasal allergies, and if you’re having symptoms now, it’s probably from tree pollen. But for some people allergy symptoms can continue as grasses and other plants release pollen during the summer and weeds such as ragweed take over in the fall. Substances such as molds, dust and animal dander can also trigger allergies, making symptoms for some people last year-round.

Nasal allergy symptoms can make you miserable. But there are steps you can take to feel better, or to avoid problems in the first place. The No. 1 strategy is to stay away from the allergen that is causing your symptoms. Try these steps:

• Check pollen counts and stay inside when they are high. Go to pollen.com.

• Have someone else mow the lawn and rake leaves, since this stirs up pollens and molds.

• Keep windows closed at home and in the car.

• Try using an air conditioner in the summer to filter the air.

• Take a shower after a day outside to wash away pollen, especially from your hair.

If you can’t avoid your allergy triggers, try treating your symptoms. Over-the-counter antihistamine pills and nasal sprays can help, or ask your doctor about a prescription medicine. In some cases long-term immunotherapy, also called allergy shots, lets people reduce the amount of allergy medicine they take or stop it altogether.

For more information on how to live with allergies, visit the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.