Orville Ziebarth walks past two willow trees along the path at Spring Lake Park in North Mankato. Blooming trees, grasses and other plants in the spring can take a toll on allergy sufferers. Photo by Jackson Forderer

MANKATO — If spring is in the air, so too are pollens and other allergens.

Itchy eyes and sneezing fits don’t factor into anyone’s plans for springtime fun, but plenty of options are available for people hoping to stay comfortable during peak allergy season.

The first step is to recognize whether your symptoms are actually caused by allergens.

“I have plenty of people who think they get a sinus infection in April and really it’s allergies,” said Dr. Richard Crockett, allergist at Mayo Clinic Health System in Mankato.

A good clue you have allergies would be if the symptoms are prolonged. If the itchiness and sneezes aren’t accompanied by body aches, fever or a sore throat, it’s another sign you’re not suffering from a cold or sinus infection.

For the milder symptoms, over-the-counter options include non-drowsy antihistamines. Crockett said these can be effective at relieving watery eyes, itching and runny nose symptoms.

“They work within an hour or two and they’re good for milder symptoms,” he said.

For persistent symptoms, nasal sprays might be the best bet, said Dr. Vasan Ramanuja, allergist at the Mankato Clinic.

“A lot of nasal sprays previously available through prescription are available over the counter now,” he said.

Nasal steroid sprays block the swelling and inflammation caused by airborne pollens and other irritants. Most sprays are safe for continued use, but people shouldn’t confuse Nasacort, Flonase or Rhinocort with decongestant nasal sprays like Afrin.

The latter, Crockett cautioned, can provide immediate decongestant relief, but it’s addictive and shouldn’t be used for more than three days in a row.

If all else fails, immunotherapy is another option. The process involves receiving shots of different allergens, which eventually make you less allergenic to the substances.

It’s mainly recommended when other methods of relief aren’t helping, Crockett said.

“I would try other things first,” he said. “Most people, if they can take a nasal spray and antihistamine, they’re good.”

Apart from medications, people can also take measures at home to make allergy season more tolerable. Ramanuja said simply closing your home and car windows can help keep pollen and outdoor mold particles out.

“After spending time outdoors during those seasons, washing the hair before bed time is helpful,” he added., an allergen tracking website, projects high pollen counts for the region including Mankato through the weekend. 

With so many options for allergy relief available, Crockett encouraged people with allergies to take the steps needed to get out and enjoy the spring.

“We want people outside and exercising,” he said.

Follow Brian Arola @BrianArolaMFP.

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