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The first days of March are officially crossed off the calendar and many of us are starting to think of longer, warmer days and the first blooms of spring. After mornings of frosted windshields and seeing our breath, these welcome changes come with some not-so-welcome changes in the air for anyone who suffers from seasonal allergies. Weeds, pollen, spores and grass, once dormant, are now cropping up with each new young bud. Now is the time to prepare for spring allergies to build up your body’s defenses against these invaders.

Why are we allergic?

Our immune systems are pretty sophisticated when it comes to protecting us against a virus or bacterial infection. As long as we are healthy with a robust immune system, we are likely to miss the battle our immune system is taking on daily. However, when it comes to allergies, our immune system can act very differently. When an allergen enters through our nose or mouth, our immune system can overreact and inhale the allergen. Treating it like an invader, our immune system then triggers the release of chemical fighters like histamine. It is the release of the histamine that causes the classic symptoms of allergies – sneezing, watery eyes, runny and itchy nose, and congestion. These symptoms can be quite severe for some allergy sufferers.

Determining if you are really allergic

If you notice the reoccurrence of these classic allergy symptoms, especially at the beginning of spring, you should consult with your health care provider to determine if you have allergies. It may be recommended that a skin test is conducted, which brings a known allergen into contact with the cells under your skin where the reaction would occur. Your health care provider will be able to determine if you have that allergy if a swelling like a mosquito bite develops within 15 minutes.

Treating allergies

Medications such as antihistamines, corticosteroid nose sprays, along with a saline nasal rinse and eye drops, can help keep your symptoms under control. It is also important to monitor allergen levels in the air. For particularly high-pollen days, for example, keep your windows up while driving and avoid spending too much time outside. It is also a good idea to shower after being outside, especially before going to bed and transferring those allergens to your sheets and pillow.

Prescription-strength allergy medicine will help combat severe allergy sufferers’ symptoms, but it typically requires one to two weeks before it is fully effective. If you have prescription allergy medicine, the beginning of March is a perfect time to refill those prescriptions. You may also be a good candidate for allergy shots, which can help build up your resistance to allergies and minimize your reactions. A new therapy currently in FDA trials is called sublingual immunotherapy, where a small dose of the allergen given under your tongue to build up tolerance and reduce symptoms. This therapy is given weekly for up to five years to control allergies.

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