Marsh column: 'Tis the season for pollen problems

Published 12:00 am Monday, March 26, 2012

By Ester Marsh
For the Salisbury Post
My body finally got used to the hour change and it went crazy with the high pollen count! Typically I suffer to some degree of hay fever each spring (pollen) and again in the fall (mold) but nothing I can’t handle with over the counter allergy medicines and sometimes decongestants. Well, this spring, it got me good. As most of you know, I love the outdoors and spend any time I have running outside or riding horses, working on our mini farm, etc. A couple of weeks ago at the St. Patricks Day 5K held by the SFD is when it started. The cold, windy morning set off an asthma attack and it got me down for a couple of days. I thought I was over it and kept doing my usual routine — work, run outside, mow the lawn, work with my horses, etc. This past week, it knocked me down. It felt like I had the flu! I had a horrible headache, sore throat, achy body, stuffy nose, you name it. Pure misery. I was so lucky not to get the flu this past winter or even a common cold, but the pollen this early spring got me in bed for a day and a half with hay fever!
What is hay fever?
No, it is not a fever and it does not happen around hay. Hay fever, also called Allergic Rhinitis is caused by pollen or molds found in the air. Symptoms are itchy, watery eyes, runny-stuffy nose, headache and sore throat. Symptoms are similar to the symptoms of the flu (tell me about it!) Hay fever is not contagious because it is not caused by a virus. So, what triggers it?
Pollen and mold are the main triggers for hay fever. That does not mean other things won’t affect you such as mildew, dust mites or pet dander. To find exactly what triggers your issues, get tested by an allergist. Your primary care physician can steer you in the right direction.
So, what can we do to minimize our symptoms?
Stay inside when pollen count is the highest, mostly in the morning. If you do need to go outside (Uh, yes!) wear a medical mask or dust mask. Especially when doing yard work.
Keep your windows closed to keep the pollen out of your house.
Run a dehumidifier — it takes the moisture out of the air and cuts the growth of mold.
Run a Hepa filter in the part of your house where you spend a lot of your time it filters the air of pollen and other irritants.
If you have pets that live in your home, give them a weekly bath. Pet dander will aggravate your hay fever and they will bring lots of pollen in the house on their coats.
Do not dry your laundry outside during this time. Pollen will attach to laundry hanging to dry.
If you smoke, try to quit. Your respiratory tract is already irritated from smoking, so hay fever season will only aggravate it more.
What if I do get it anyway, what can I do about it?
Over the counter allergy medicines and decongestants can work. Check with your primary care physician first to make sure you don’t have any other health issues disguised as hay fever. If you take other medications, you need to check what you can and cannot take.
Decrease your stress. Studies have shown that increased stress increases hay fever symptoms. Decreased stress decreased the hay fever symptoms.
Exercise, but not outside, If you do want to exercise outside (like myself), do it in the early evening or after a rain.
Eat well. A healthy diet has been shown to decrease the symptoms of hay fever, especially when vitamin C is increased. (When I felt so bad, my body was actually craving oranges)
Cut down on alcohol — it increases our sensitivity to pollen and dehydrates our body making, the symptoms worse.
Sleep well. People with 8 hours of sleep per night show fewer symptoms than people who sleep 5 to 6 hours or less per night.
Not taking care of your symptoms can lead to sinus headaches and sinus infection (that is what happened in my case). After talking to my doctor, I am taking an over the counter allergy medicine, Mucinex, and I am on the last of my Z pack and I finally feel human again.
Other home remedies can be:
Hot broth to speed up the flow of mucus especially, when it contains onion, garlic, cayenne, pepper or horse radish. (I bet wasabi will get the sinuses flowing!)
Vapors of eucalyptus leaves also help clear the head quickly. Place the leaves in a pot of boiling water for 5 minutes. Turn the heat off, place a towel over your head covering the pot and breathe in the vapors. Be careful not to be too close and scald your face! (This is one of my mom’s favorites).
A salt water rinse for the nose also works. (You can buy these over the counter or you can find the recipe online.) Salty water pulls fluid out of the swollen membranes of our nose which decongests the nose and makes breathing easier.
They are predicting that this will be the worst hay fever season ever due to the mild winter. I believe it but with some extra precautions mentioned above, I hope we all will manage to get through without too many issues.
Achoo! God Bless you!
Ester H Marsh