Health & Wellness

Tips for coping with allergy season

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Last year, Western Oregon saw extremely high counts of tree and grass pollen. In fact, 2019 was one of the worst years for allergies in Lane County. In June 2019, meters recorded a grass pollen level of 526, according to Oregon Allergy Associates (for perspective, ”high” is a count over 20 and ”very high” is a count over 200). High pollen counts are nothing new to Lane County, largely due to Oregon’s fifth largest agricultural crop, grass seed. With a total of 400,000 acres of grass seed growing in Oregon, 360,000 of those acres are in the Willamette Valley just north of Lane County.
However, there are a few steps we can take to reduce the misery of allergies such as itchy eyes, scratchy throat, stuffy nose, sneezing and even generalized irritability caused by these high pollen counts. Irritability is a result of high levels of histamine, which directly impacts lower levels of serotonin, the feel-good chemical.
Consider the tips below, head to your nearest drugstore and ease your allergy symptoms in just a few days.
I typically recommend one of the several over-the-counter (OTC) antihistamines. While Claritin was the first OTC non-sedating antihistamine and the most affordable, it is generally the weakest antihistamine. If you need a stronger medication, Allegra is also non-sedating and is safe enough to use twice a day in a pinch.
For those with intense allergies, Zyrtec is one of the strongest allergy medications, but can cause drowsiness, making it difficult for some to use regularly. While most allergy sufferers don’t feel the grogginess associated with Zyrtec, I always recommend taking it at bedtime in order to avoid unwanted tiredness.
If you find oral antihistamines are not working, keep taking them, but consider adding an OTC steroid nasal spray such as Flonase or Nasacort to your routine.
Interestingly, it takes up to five days to start feeling allergy relief from these nasal sprays. If you don’t get relief from them, check to ensure you’re using the spray correctly. The best way to use a steroid nasal spray is to squirt or spray without sniffing. By not sniffing, the solution will not bypass the nose and drain into the back of the throat. Instead, the medication will stay in the nose and shrink the blood vessels to reduce congestion over time. You may need to hold your nose after spraying to keep the solution from draining out.
In early March, before the spring allergy season takes hold of Lane County, get the steroid nasal spray in your system. Starting this routine a few weeks in advance will give the medication plenty of time to start working. Once the season begins, start taking the oral antihistamine that works best for you.
If you take these steps and are still experiencing intense allergies, it’s time to see your primary care provider to discuss other options to reduce your allergy symptoms. Your provider may recommend a steroid shot, which relieves allergies for about a month. The shot can be enough to stop the histamine cycle and allow the nasal spray or oral antihistamines to get a foothold to relieve allergy symptoms.
If you are not finding relief from OTC medications after the shot, your provider may also refer you to an allergist to identify your allergy triggers. Once your triggers are identified, you can start taking steps to avoid the things causing your allergies and even start taking a prescription medication.
While we cope with one of the worst allergy seasons across the country, there are plenty of resources available to help us live with our allergies during the spring and summer months. Prepare with a nasal spray, take the appropriate OTC antihistamine, and make an appointment with your primary care provider to beat this year’s allergies. To your health this allergy season!

Dr. Lyle Torguson works at Nova Health as the primary care medical director. Dr. Torguson specializes in family medicine psychiatry, bringing a holistic approach to treating the whole person and helping families navigate the health field. He earned his medical degree from the University of Minnesota School of Medicine and completed his residency at the University of Minnesota Family Practice Affiliated Program at Methodist Hospital in St. Louis Park, Minnesota. Dr. Torguson can be reached at his office in the Nova Health clinic in Pleasant Hill.



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