Wait! I thought my driveway was black asphalt. Well, it is for most of the year, but suddenly, it has a distinct green sheen. What’s going on? It’s springtime in Southeastern Virginia, and the trees are pollenating. Now, every car, every screened porch, every piece of patio furniture, pretty much anything that sits outside is covered with the same green sheen. Blame it on the pines. While most tree pollens are microscopic, pine pollen is significantly larger and is visible to the naked eye. When you see it on your car, rest assured you’re breathing it into your nose and lungs and getting it into your eyes. You can expect the sneezing, the runny nose and the itchy eyes to begin. Later in the day, you can expect the stuffy nose, the sinus and ear pressure, and the cough. If you’re prone to asthma, watch out. I’m writing this article in the peak of the season, but if it reaches the reader a bit later due to the publishing schedule, don’t worry. After the trees come the grasses and then the weeds. Pollen is in the air for most of the year, except for a few months in the dead of winter.
In recent articles, I’ve spent a lot of time discussing the things healthcare providers can do for you to treat your allergies. Today, I’m going to give you a few tips on how you can control your environment to diminish your allergen exposure. The only sure fire way to avoid allergies it to completely avoid the allergen. Unfortunately, in Southeastern Virginia, that approach is practically impossible. You can try to stay indoors on days when the pollen count is astronomically high, but then you won’t get to enjoy the warm weather and the outdoor activities which make our area famous. Numerous over the counter medications exist. Antihistamines are normally the first line of defense. Try choosing one that doesn’t make you sleepy, if you want to enjoy daytime activities. Decongestants help a lot, as long as you don’t have high blood pressure or heart problems. Nasal steroid sprays are the most effective way to control symptoms, if you need something every day.
Indoor allergens are somewhat easier to control, but it still takes some work. The dust mite is the world’s most common allergen. However, it is the one allergen you can do the most about. Mattress and pillow case covers diminish exposure. Replacing carpets with hard wood floors can be expensive, but quite effective. Frequent washing of bedding and running stuffed animals and pillows through a full dryer cycle on hot air helps to kill dust mites. Everyone loves their pets, but keeping the furry friends out of the bedroom is a helpful compromise. The single best purchase you can make to control indoor allergens is a HEPA filter. These high efficiency filters clear the indoor air of allergens, including dust mites, molds and pet dander. They can be built into housewide air conditioning systems, or they can be purchased as free standing units. HEPA filters come in different sizes to fit different rooms. I recommend covering the bedrooms and the major living areas of the house. Good luck and the enjoy the green!
Timothy A. Queen, MD is a board certified otolaryngologist and a fellowship trained otolaryngic allergist. He owns Advanced ENT & Allergy, in Oyster Point of Newport News. Please call 757-873-0338 for an appointment. You can also visit online at www.entallergy1.com.