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Second Opinion: Keeping Spring Allergies at Bay

Blue Shield of California’s senior medical director, Dr. Malaika Stoll, shares tips on controlling seasonal allergies and when to seek more care.
Malaika Stoll
Dr. Malaika Stoll

Spring brings longer days and sunshine, but to some, it also brings seasonal allergies.

Large amounts of tree pollen swirl in spring and can cause allergic reactions to those who are susceptible. Symptoms such as runny noses, sore throats, headaches, itchy, watery eyes, and even asthma can take the joy out of sunny patio-lounging or walking in the park.

As these symptoms flare up, it can be difficult to distinguish between allergies and viral infections, such as the common cold or even COVID-19. If these symptoms occur regularly in the Spring, it’s a clue it could be allergies. When in doubt, consult your primary care physician and consider taking a COVID test.

Allergic reactions result from our bodies trying to protect themselves and in essence overdoing it. Our immune systems constantly fight exposures, such as viruses and bacteria, that can make us sick. People with allergies have immune systems that also guard against things that are not generally harmful, such as pollen.

In an immune response, the body works to flush out any allergens with mucus and other substances that can cause swelling. In the nose, this swelling causes a congested feeling. Histamine is also released in allergic reactions, and this causes itching and watery eyes.

Controlling Seasonal Allergies

  • Keep the pollen out - When possible, keep windows closed if allergies are bothering you. Air filters and purifiers help keep the air within homes and buildings clean, reducing pollen, dust, pet dander, tobacco smoke, and other irritating particles.
  • Consider over-the-counter medications – Many effective anti-allergy drugs are now available over the counter.
    • Antihistamines. Non-sedating antihistamines include cetirizine (brand-name Zyrtec), fexofenadine (Allegra), and loratadine (Claritin) which, when taken as directed, help with seasonal allergy symptoms. Though these medications are generally well-tolerated, their side effects vary. If one doesn’t work well for you or causes side effects, try another type.
    • Nasal Sprays. Also available over the counter these provide short-term relief from nasal allergy symptoms. Examples are triamcinolone acetonide (Nasocort); fluticasone (Flonase) and budesonide (Rhinocort).
    • Decongestants. Pseudoephedrine (Sudafed) can provide temporary relief from nasal stuffiness. Sometimes decongestants are combined with antihistamines. If you have other chronic medical conditions, like high blood pressure, you should check with your doctor before starting an over-the-counter medication.
  • Exercise. Exercise causes the blood to circulate, helping to clear nasal passages and reduce allergy symptoms. Exercising indoors during periods of high pollen counts can minimize your exposure to allergens. In the long term, being physically fit supports overall health and strengthens the heart and immune system, helping to reduce allergies.

When to Seek More Care

If you still feel badly after trying the remedies above, speak with your primary care physician, use Teledoc, or talk to a nurse. Speaking with a medical provider is especially important if you have asthma, which can worsen during allergy season. You and your doctor can develop a plan to control your asthma and allergy symptoms.

Consider seeing an allergist who can help identify specific allergies through testing so that you can reduce exposure to those elements. Molds and dust found indoors can cause reactions too, typically resulting in year-round symptoms. One treatment may include immunotherapy – or allergy shots – which trains your immune system not to overreact to specific allergens.

If allergies are getting in your way, take action so that you can enjoy the spring blooms, nice weather, and the opportunity to be active outdoors.

More resources:

  • Blue Shield of California’s Find A Doctor page, if you are in need of an allergist.
  • American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology. The site provides a virtual guide to help you learn more about your symptoms.
  • has a nationwide map and gives pollen-count forecasts and history by ZIP code.
  • AirNow: This site from the Environmental Protection Agency gives you readings on local air quality.