It’s finally spring. The chilly weather is over, and it’s the perfect time to get out and enjoy Central Florida’s natural resources—kayaking the rivers, hiking and biking the trails, and swimming in the springs. Great! Except for your annoying sniffles, itchy eyes and scratchy throat.
Is it seasonal allergies? A cold? How do you know? More important, how do you make it stop?
The drugstore aisle is full of over-the-counter medications. A Google search turns up hundreds of home remedies. Do you need to see a doctor? Physicians, chiropractors and acupuncturists all offer treatments for allergies.
Seasonal allergy symptoms can be sneaky—and vary from one person to another. Some people notice the classic stuffy or runny nose—with or without the scratchy throat—that comes from post-nasal drip. Some notice their eyes are red, itchy and watery. Others experience the pounding pressure of a sinus headache. If these symptoms sound just like the common cold, that’s because they are. Health care professionals say there’s very little difference in treatments for seasonal allergies or a cold.
John Somers, an APRN with Family Care Specialists, is often the first provider that people turn to with these symptoms.
“Seasonal allergies are a very common concern for patients,” he says, adding that itchy ears, excessive sneezing and even trouble sleeping can be signs that a person is experiencing seasonal allergies. He says that common medical therapies include saline nasal sprays, steroid nasal sprays, antihistamines and decongestants, all of which are available over the counter.
“I recommend usually doing a trial of Zyrtec or Claritin with saline nasal spray as a first line of therapy,” he says, adding that Zyrtec can make some people tired. If those remedies don’t provide relief, he recommends progressing to a steroid nasal spray like Flonase. “If you still don’t have relief, then reach out to your medical provider.” Somers says some patients will even be referred to an allergist for allergy injections.
If you want to avoid medications or try a more homeopathic approach, chiropractic and acupuncture both focus on improving the body’s own immune system to relieve symptoms.
“With both a cold and allergies, you want to get your immune system working,” says Louise Bullard, a doctor of chiropractic at Strive Integrated Physical Medicine. She says that seasonal allergies often signify that something in the immune system is not working properly and explains that a chiropractic adjustment can relieve pressure on nerves, which allows the whole body to function better. She adds that too much stress can affect the immune system and make a person more likely to experience allergies. For the most common symptom—runny nose—she says most patients experience quick relief after an adjustment as “everything starts to drain out.”
Dr. Bullard recommends that patients experiencing allergy symptoms avoid artificial scents, such as scented candles, which she says act as irritants to the already inflamed nasal passages.
Both Dr. Bullard and Erica Olstein, a doctor of acupuncture and Oriental medicine at A Better U Healthcare, agree that diet plays a significant role in the severity of allergy symptoms.
“Proper diet helps,” says Dr. Bullard, who recommends that patients experiencing allergy symptoms avoid dairy products.
“Staying away from dairy products is really critical,” Dr. Olstein says. “Dairy products tend to create more congestion and more mucus, and nobody wants that.” She says she understands how hard it is for people to give up their “yummy” milk and ice cream but says people who have more dairy products in their diet experience more phlegm and mucus buildup, which blocks the airways and creates more allergy problems in the long run.
Dr. Olstein says spring is a prime time for seasonal allergies, when seasons are changing and plants are blooming, and in addition to treating patients in her clinic, she offers free and low-cost treatments at community events, where the most common complaint is sinus or allergy symptoms. Interestingly, she says that in Chinese medicine, a “cold” does have a connection with the temperature, and that treatments for both colds and allergies are very similar.
“The lungs really like heat,” she explains. “They don’t like wet and cold, especially after the winter.” That’s why her acupuncture treatments for allergies often include infrared heat therapy, and she recommends that home care includes placing warm compresses on the chest along with drinking plenty of warm liquids like herbal tea or chicken soup.
Dr. Olstein focuses on reducing inflammation in the body and boosting the immune system.
“Within a couple seconds of the needles being put in, you can actually feel the inflammatory reaction going down in the nasal passages. Most people are like ‘Oh my gosh, I can breathe!’ It’s really incredible. Ultimately, it’s helping the source of the problem, which is the immune system.”