It’s that time of year again. The birds are singing; the air is warm …

… And allergies are alive and kicking.

Yes, that bane of existence known as allergy season is back. For many across the U.S., springtime signals the discomfort of watery eyes, a runny nose and sneezing fits that make you look as miserable as you feel. Hopefully, this season you won’t have to accept defeat in the battle against spring allergies. Instead, arm yourself with knowledge and fight the good fight with this blog:

What are allergies, exactly, and what causes them?

Allergies are your immune system’s response to a foreign substance (e.g., spores, pollen, mold, etc.). Allergic reactions occur when the antibodies your immune system produces to keep an eye out for these substances—known as allergens—mistakenly deems these harmless entities as potentially dangerous to your body. When the antibodies detect an allergen, they release chemicals to combat the invader, such as histamines. As a result, your airways, digestive system, sinuses or skin can become inflamed, causing symptoms.

Why are allergies worse during spring? 

What allergens flourish (and when) are dependent on the region in which you live. However, many people are allergic to the pollen and spores that trees and plants release. That release occurs at the beginning of the spring season as the weather warms and everything comes out of hibernation (ready to reproduce).

What can I do to combat spring allergies?

While you can’t stop Mother Nature, there are some medical interventions worth considering to keep symptoms at bay (depending on the allergy). They include:

  • Over-the-counter medications (e.g., antihistamine pills, nasal sprays, decongestants, etc.) or prescription medications that may help reduce the immune system’s reaction to allergens
  • Immunotherapy, a form of treatment in which a series of purified allergen injections are given over a period of a few years to desensitize the body’s reaction to allergens. Immunotherapy can also come in a tablet form that may be dissolved under the tongue in some cases

Other ways to avoid triggering allergic attacks include:

  • Keeping all windows closed (including car windows) to keep allergens out
  • Paying attention to pollen and mold counts and limiting outdoor activity if the levels are too high, especially if it’s windy
  • Taking off your shoes when you come home to keep allergens out
  • Washing off with cool water after being outdoors at the end of the day to rinse away any allergens trapped on the skin or in your hair

Are there home remedies I can try?

There are some suggested alternative and homeopathic treatments that may alleviate the effects of spring allergies, such as:

  • Drinking nettle-peppermint tea, which contains a flavonoid that can deter the production of histamines and other allergen-fighting chemicals
  • Drinking red onion or apple water that contains quercetin, a natural anti-inflammatory and a compound known to open up the airways
  • Eating walnuts, which are high in magnesium to combat coughing and wheezing, as well as vitamin E to boost immunity
  • Rinsing out the sinuses with a water and salt solution (saline) using a spray or neti pot