Nothing to Sneeze at

Hay fever can be a three-season problem, though dust mites and mold fungus can bother you year-around. The other common sources are:

SPRING. Tree pollen such as elder, elm, hazel and birch.
SUMMER. Grass pollen.
AUTUMN. Mugwort and hybrids such as chrysanthemum.

* On high-pollen days, set car and home air conditioners to circulate interior air.
* If you must go outside, wash your hair, face, arms and legs when you come in.
* Keep pets clean and inside as much as possible, because they bring pollen inside on their fur.
* Eat honey produced close to your hometown, especially if you can do so months before the pollen season. It acts as an immune booster.

While you’re driving, you may want to roll down your window and enjoy the warmer days of spring. But if you’re among the millions of Americans who suffer from hay fever, think twice.

You’ll be letting in pollen and other seasonal allergens that can produce sniffling, sneezing and watery eyes.

Hay fever is usually more of a nuisance than a harm to health, and the symptoms of many people improve over time. However, hay fever sufferers are more vulnerable to other allergic respiratory diseases, such as asthma, and sleeping difficulties that can lead to chronic fatigue because of blocked nasal passages and snoring.

You can’t get rid of the allergy itself, but the symptoms can be controlled through treatment, such as these medications:

ANTIHISTAMINES relieve many hay fever symptoms by inhibiting the action of histamine on nasal and eye tissues. They often cause drowsiness, so don’t drive while taking them until you know how they affect you.

NASAL DECONGESTANTS decrease the swelling of nasal tissue and the resulting stuffiness. Oral decongestants may cause sleeplessness and jitters. Topical nasal decongestants cause rebound congestion and irritation of the nasal passages if used more than two or three days.

NOSE SPRAY prevents or reduces the release of substances that cause the allergic symptoms. It does not cause drowsiness and is best started before exposure to known allergens, such as before the grass pollen season.

NASAL CORTICOSTEROIDS, such as Flonase, require a prescription and are best used in small amounts locally, such as in the nose, to minimize side effects. They often take days to become effective. A burning sensation may occur. Nose bleeding has been reported with nasal steroid use. Corticosteroids are not related to the androgenic steroids sometimes taken by athletes.

ORAL CORTICOSTEROIDS, such as the prescription drug prednisone, are taken internally, which means the risk of side effects is much greater than when used locally. Similarly, long-acting injections of steroids may have an increased incidence of side effects.

EYE DROPS act like oral preparations in quickly relieving allergic symptoms of red, itchy and watery eyes.

SALINE (SALT WATER) NOSE DROPS are often helpful in relieving nasal symptoms by keeping the nasal passages moist. You may purchase these already mixed or you may make your own by mixing 1/4 teaspoon salt in 1 cup of body-temperature water. Too much salt will dry nasal membranes. Place the solution in a clean bottle with a dropper, which is available at drug stores. Use as necessary. Make a fresh solution every three days. Insert the drops while lying on your back on a bed, with your head hanging over the side. This will help the drops get farther back. Try to keep the dropper from touching your nose.

For severe or long-lasting symptoms, get medical testing. It can help you pinpoint which allergens to avoid.

Local pollen counts:

Gardening in high-allergy locales: