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Spring is in the air, and so it the pollen

Outside your window, the sun is shining, the birds are singing, and the sky is blue. It’s a beautiful spring day. Inside, things aren’t so bright. Have you caught another cold? Your nose is stuffy and runny. You have dark circles...

Outside your window, the sun is shining, the birds are singing, and the sky is blue. It’s a beautiful spring day. Inside, things aren’t so bright. Have you caught another cold? Your nose is stuffy and runny. You have dark circles under your eyes. You have postnasal drip and you can’t stop sneezing. Is it a cold, or allergies? Sometimes, it’s hard to tell.

Although both conditions share the common symptoms mentioned, there are also some noticeable differences. With a cold, you may have body aches, fever, and a sore throat; however, not with allergies. With allergies, you feel itchy, especially in your eyes, nose, ears and throat.

Other differences may be noticed by a doctor. For example, with a cold the mucus membranes in the nose are usually bright red; with allergies they are often swollen and light pink. Also, eczema and wheezing may be seen with other allergy symptoms.

Another difference is how long they last. A cold usually goes away within a week. Allergy symptoms hang around as long as the trigger is still there. So, pollen allergies may affect you for an entire season and pet allergies for as long as you are exposed to the pet.

But, just because you have allergy symptoms doesn’t mean you have allergies. Some symptoms, like chronic rhinitis (inflamed nasal mucus membranes), can happen for other reasons. Bright sunshine, strong smells, smoke fumes, perfumes, temperature changes or humidity, blood pressure medication, foods, or overuse of over-the-counter decongestant spray can all trigger similar symptoms.

Unfortunately, if you are one of the 35 million North Americans actually suffering from allergies, there is no magical cure.

However, understanding why your body reacts may help you find ways of avoiding triggers. With spring allergies, this trigger is usually pollen. For some reason, the body of an allergic person treats pollen like a germ. So when pollen grains are breathed in, the body fights with antibodies, which leads to histamines being released into the blood. These histamines trigger the allergy symptoms.

Trees, grasses and weeds all release pollens. For trees, the worst spring offenders are: alder, ash, aspen, beech, box elder, cedar, cottonwood, cypress, elm, hickory, juniper, maple, mulberry, oak, olive, palm, pine, poplar, sycamore, and willow. For grasses and weeds, they are: bermuda, fescue, johnson, june, orchard, perennial, rye, redtop, saltgrass, sweet vernal, and timothy.

Since pollen grains can travel for miles and as a trucker you travel thousands of miles, you are breathing in a variety of pollen grains every spring day. How can you reduce your exposure?

Try to stay indoors in the mornings when the pollen count usually peaks. In your rig, drive with windows closed. Filter your vent system to trap pollen before it gets blown throughout the cab. Keep your carpet and upholstery vacuumed.

In your home, keep your doors and windows closed. Use an air purifier. Change air filters frequently. Keep all surfaces where pollen could collect like bookshelves and vents dust-free. Vacuum twice a week; if possible, wear a mask because vacuuming will kick up the pollen, mold, and dust trapped in your carpet. Wash your hair and change your clothes after being outside; pollen floating in the air settles on these surfaces.

Shift your mental gears and learn to treasure rainy, spring days because rain pushes pollen to the ground and washes it away, while breezy, sunny days carry pollen everywhere.

If you can’t avoid the triggers, once the symptoms appear, minimize them. Some natural therapies have been found effective. Butterbur, an herb from a European shrub, can give relief. One Swiss study showed that butterbur was just as effective as Allegra for reducing allergy symptoms. Quercetin, a flavonoid found in apples, onions and black tea, has anti-inflammatory properties and also blocks histamines. The roots and leaves of the stinging nettle plant may also reduce allergy symptoms.

Or, opt for one of these common over-the-counter remedies:  Antihistamines reduce sniffling, sneezing and itching by lowering the amount of histamines in the body. Decongestants clear mucus out of the nasal passageways to relieve congestion and reduce swelling. Some combination products produce both effects. Nasal spray decongestants usually relieve the symptoms faster since they are applied directly to the nasal passages. Eye drops relieve itchy, watery eyes.  

If you choose to take one of these products, stay alert by only using the non-drowsy formulas while on the road. Remember that though they are available without prescription, they are for occasional use only. Both natural and over-the-counter remedies may have side-effects. It’s always good to talk to your doctor. If your condition is seriously impacting your life, something stronger, like steroids may be recommended.

Allergy symptoms can seriously affect your productivity and your ability to rest. Managing them will help put the spring back into your spring season.

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