Glen Lightner loves yard work, but the price he pays—itchy skin, watery eyes, congestion—is almost enough to make him hang up his hoe for good.
Lightner is among 35 million Americans who suffer spring and summer allergy symptoms because their bodies are hypersensitive to foreign substances normally considered harmless. Each time they are exposed to “enemy” substances such as tree and grass pollen their immune system’s antibodies release histamine, the chemical responsible for itchy eyes and nose.
Spring’s worst allergy offenders are trees, particularly heavy pollen producers such as hickory, oak, elm, maple, alder, birch, juniper, and olive. Grasses – Bermuda, timothy, orchard and sweet vernal — are the culprits in late spring and early summer, while weeds such as thistle, ragweed, and plantain cause most of the misery in late summer. Some flowers and patio plants, particularly amaranthus, chrysanthemum, ceanothus, and juniper also aggravate symptoms for unsuspecting allergy sufferers.
The best defense, if you are plagued by allergy-related problems, is to simply avoid what makes you sneeze. Here’s how:
- Stay indoors when pollen counts are highest, especially between 5 and 10 a.m., and on dry, windy days when windborne pollens are blown around.
- If you long for a flower garden, choose poppies, azaleas, begonias, tulips and irises, whose sticky pollen, which is carried by insects rather than the wind, is least aggravating to allergies.
- Wear a pollen mask, available at most pharmacies, to do yard work or gardening.
- Keep home and car windows closed to keep pollen outside.
- Use the air conditioner to filter pollens carried inside and change the filter monthly.
- Shower and shampoo before going to sleep so you don’t take pollen to bed with you.
- Wear sunglasses to protect your eyes from pollen.
- Keep hands away from your face when you are outside.
- Never lie in the grass and avoid being present when grass is cut.
- Don’t smoke, and avoid second-hand smoke. Lungs compromised by tar and nicotine are more sensitive to allergies.
Over-the-counter medication can provide relief from most allergy symptoms. Antihistamines block histamine release to halt sneezing and itchy eyes, though they don’t clear nasal congestion. Use regularly rather than sporadically, and never operate machinery while the antihistamines are in your bloodstream because they cause drowsiness.
Decongestants shrink blood vessels in nasal passages, relieving congestion. Decongestant nasal sprays are effective for short-term use, but congestion “rebounds” worse than before with prolonged use. Use with caution if you have high blood pressure. If allergy symptoms persist, see your doctor.