Heather C. James, M.D.
Rebecca B. Raby, M.D.

Controlling Outdoor Allergies

The Sountheast United States has long pollen seasons with mild winters. Seasonal allergic rhinitis, often referred to as “hay fever,” affects more than 35 million people in the United States. These seasonal allergies are caused by substances called allergens. Airborne pollens and mold spores are outdoor allergens that commonly trigger symptoms during the spring and fall. During these times, seasonal allergic rhinitis sufferers experience increased symptoms — sneezing, congestion, a runny nose, and itchiness in the nose, roof of the mouth, throat, eyes and ears — depending on where they live in the country and the exact allergen to which they are allergic. The plants most often responsible for “hay fever, ” or inhalant allergy are those that rely on the wind to spread the pollen. Plants with pretty fragrant flowers use bees and other insects to disseminate pollen; and therefore, do not typically cause symptoms.

Your allergist may recommend several different medications for treatment, including oral allergy medications, nasal sprays, and eye drops. Additionally, environmental control measures are important, and allergy shots (immunotherapy) may be recommended. Immunotherapy is the only way to change your response to the allergens. Allergy injections are the only form of immunotherapy approved by the FDA. Oral drops are not FDA approved, and, therefore, are not typically covered by insurance.

Environmental Control Measures to Reduce Allergen Exposure

DO keep windows closed at night to prevent pollens or molds from drifting into your home. Instead, if needed, use air conditioning, which cleans, cools, and dries the air. Expensive air purifiers, filters or cleaners are not required. Just change the filters in your air conditioner on a regular basis.

DO minimize early morning activity when pollen is usually emitted-between 5-10 a.m. Pollen counts remain at their highest until around 4 pm. It is better to play, work, or exercise outside later in the day. Take a shower and wash your hair when you come back inside especially after prolonged outdoor activity.

DO keep your car windows closed when traveling.

DO try to stay indoors when the pollen count or humidity is reported to be high, and on windy days when dust and pollen are blown about.

DO take a vacation during the height of the pollen season to a more pollen-free area, such as the beach or sea. Moving to another region of the country does not guarantee you won’t develop allergies to regional pollens in a year or two.

DO take medications prescribed by your Allergist/Immunologist regularly, at the recommended dosage. Take medications at least 30 minutes prior to outdoor activity.

DON’T take more medication than recommended in an attempt to lessen your symptoms.

DON’T mow lawns or be around freshly cut grass without a mask; mowing stirs up pollens and molds. Raking leaves also stirs up molds.

DON’T hang sheets or clothing out to dry. Pollens and molds may collect in them.

DON’T grow too many, or overwater, indoor plants if you are allergic to mold. Wet soil encourages mold growth.