Ah, spring. A time to get back to work in the garden, play at the park and otherwise just spend some time outside after months of cold and gray skies.
That is until your eyes water and itch and your nose starts running like a dripping faucet.
“My head will plug up and loosen up and then plug up again,” said Ann Adams, an assistant meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Pendleton on her annual struggle with seasonal allergies.
Allergy season is off to an early start in the Tri-Cities, largely thanks to a mild winter and early spring, said allergist Dr. John C. Walker of Northwest Asthma and Allergy Center in Richland.
“The trees have been pollinating for almost a month now,” he said.
Many wish for a quick fix to ease their suffering and reliance on tissue boxes, but knowing your allergies and being proactive about treating them is crucial to coping with the season, Walker said.
Tens of millions of adults and children are diagnosed with hay fever in the United States every year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.
Hay fever, or seasonal allergic rhinitis, often means a stuffy nose, sore throat and head congestion, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.
Itchy and watery eyes are allergic conjunctivitis. Both are the result of the body’s immune system encountering pollen in the air and producing antibodies in response that contribute to swelling and other symptoms.
Allergy sufferers in the Tri-Cities have it particularly bad, said Walker. The region’s dry air keeps pollen light and in the air, and the Mid-Columbia’s regular windy conditions also kick it up.
And inversion layers, typically associated with Mid-Columbia winters, mean stagnant air is trapped near the ground.
“Lots of time people who aren’t even allergic will have an irritant reaction,” Walker said.
The Tri-City region also has three distinct pollen seasons, starting with trees in the early spring, then grasses and finally weeds like ragweed and tumbleweed in late summer.
The seasons overlap slightly and just because you see something floating in the air at the same time you’re sneezing uncontrollably doesn’t mean that’s what is tormenting you.
“When the cotton is flying, everyone thinks they’re allergic to the cottonwoods but it’s really the peak of grass pollen,” Walker said.
Jamie Rauch of Moses Lake suffered for decades with headaches, stuffy noses and itchy watery eyes from allergies she attributes to pollen and mold and even the ash from the Mount St. Helens eruption in 1980.
She tried various over-the-counter medications, homeopathic treatments, allergy shots and even acupuncture but none worked fully.
She’s since found a dietary supplement that helps her but she also attributes healthy habits, such as improved nutrition, to controlling her symptoms.
“(Medications) only mask the symptoms, not aid in the healing process,” she told the Herald.
Adams grew up in Hawaii and has lived throughout the West but only began having allergy problems once she moved to Pendleton 10 years ago, she said.
Spring and summer are the worst times, especially during dry and dusty days, but she’s found an over-the-counter antihistamine that helps her get through the day.
Antihistamines and nasal rinses are among Walker’s recommendations for treating seasonal allergies. There are more aggressive immunotherapy treatments, such as allergy shots, but those require frequent doctor visits and can carry some risks, he said.
Overall, your seasonal sniffles and itchy eyes aren’t likely to disappear so it’s best to find out what works and stick with it, he said.
“Realize it’s not going to be 100 percent and it is a treatment,” Walker said. “If you stop treatment, you haven’t done anything to change the condition.”