10 tips to manage seasonal allergies in the Pacific Northwest
With the arrival of tree pollen in the air, seasonal allergies have brought runny noses and itchy eyes to Western Washington. To find relief, we sought tips from an expert.
"With pollen allergies, every microclimate can be different, so symptoms can vary depending on where you live in the Pacific Northwest," said Dr. Lawrence Larson, a board-certified allergy/immunology specialist at MultiCare Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital & Health Center, who sees patients in Tacoma, Olympia, Silverdale, Centralia and Chehalis, at both Mary Bridge and Pediatrics Northwest offices. "Within a city, like Tacoma or Olympia, pollen counts are generally lower because there’s less vegetation. In rural areas, pollen counts can be as much as 100 times higher than in the cities, due to the increased vegetation."
In the Pacific Northwest, tree pollen (especially alder) is most prevalent from February to April, grass pollen from May to July, then weed pollen in August and September.
Below are some ways to minimize exposure to pollen, and some treatment options if you experience symptoms.
- Allergies tend to be worse in middle of the day, so play outside during the morning or evening to provide less exposure to pollen.
- Wear glasses and a hat, to keep pollen off the face and eyes.
- If a child starts to experience a reaction while playing at a park, find a water fountain and wash their hands and face.
- It also helps to wash off after play time outdoors.
- Don’t dry their sheets outdoors in the pollen season, as they’ll accumulate pollen.
- When you sleep at night, keep your head away from any open windows.
Seasonal allergy treatments:
- Taking a simple antihistamine before outdoor activity can help. Generic, over-the-counter antihistamines are very good and can cost a penny or less per dose. Don’t be afraid to avoid the expensive name brands.
- A saltwater nasal wash or a neti pot can be effective at reducing nasal secretions and congestion, and saline doesn’t have any side effects.
- Eye symptoms are primarily related to congestion. Any decongestant for the nose can also reduce eye symptoms, without the need for eye drops, which can sting and be hard to put in your child’s eyes.
- If those steps don’t work, a whole host of other medications are available by prescription:
- Intranasal steroid sprays.
- Antihistamine, as a nasal spray or taken by mouth.
- Eye drops.
- Cromolyn, which is available by prescription or as over-the-counter nasal spray or drops.
How do I know whether I should try something more than simple medication?
Generally, allergies can be managed with simple medications and avoidance if:
- Symptoms are mild and don’t limit attendance at school or work.
- They don’t interfere with your ability to sleep at night.
- They don’t interfere with your daytime activities.
If your life is impaired by allergies, it may be time to consider allergy immunotherapy. Visit a board-certified allergy/immunology specialist for an evaluation and appropriate treatment.
For more information, call 253-792-6630 (Mary Bridge) or 253-383-5777 (Pediatrics Northwest), or visit multica.re/DrLarson.
This story was originally published in March 2013 and was updated in March 2014.
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