Overcoming Seasonal Allergies: My Journey
Updated: Apr 16
The allergy season is here! To all those suffering symptoms right now, you are not alone. According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA), there are
81 million with seasonal allergies in the U.S. in 2021, which accounts for 26% of adults and 19% of children!
I'm one of you as well! But luckily, my symptoms have significantly improved over the years (fingers crossed it will maintain this way this season!). Reflecting on my 20 year journey with seasonal allergies, I wanted to share my personal journey.
I hope you find comfort in my story and hope that you can get better as well!
"You have allergies"
I first started having symptoms around elementary school. At first, my parents thought I just had a cold since I had a runny and stuffy nose. But then the symptoms persisted for weeks. So we went to the doctor's to check it out and I was asked to do the skin prick test. I remember the doctor scraped my wrist lightly and dropped all kinds of common allergens. After waiting a few minutes, red patches began to form in some spots, indicating positive results.
Turns out I was allergic to pollen from early flowering trees in the spring and also ragweed pollen in the summer. This meant that I had symptoms for half of the year!
Summer used to be my favorite season where I could enjoy plenty of watermelon and ice-cream and holidays by the beach. However, from then on, whenever the weather started to warm up and the flowers began to bloom, feelings of trepidation and fear would arise... the supposed excitement about the summer was tempered down by the thought of itchy and congested nose...My dad, who also suffers from seasonal allergies used to tell me that "Spring is not for us". So, winter became my favorite season.
I connected with my best friend in Hungarian school who also had seasonal allergies. Specifically, she was allergic to cottonwood tree pollen and she would stay indoor during playtime to avoid it. For her, it was clear that her allergy season had started because there was "flying cotton" everywhere on the field. But the pollen I was allergic to couldn't be seen with the naked eye, so it felt like I had an "invisible" enemy! It was everywhere and could get into any place. It was just hard to stay away from. I felt quite beaten at times knowing that there is no cure for allergies and that I would have to endure these symptoms for all my life!
Symptoms: Which one is the worst?
Painful memories always stick. I went to Chinese school during the regular school's summer holidays. I still remember vividly my nose running like a broken faucet during class. Tissues were my best friend. By the end of a class, my desk would be full of used tissues that had been crushed into myriad of different shapes.
I have to give the "crown of symptoms" to the stuffed nose that literally makes it hard to breathe like when you have the common cold, except imagine having to deal with it for months!
Especially if this occurred at night, it would make it very difficult to go to sleep. Luckily, only one side of my nose would be blocked at a time. So if my left nose is blocked, then I would lie on my right side, and that would relieve the blockage in my left side, and if my right nose is blocked, I would turn to the left side. I also tried various massages of different pressure points (middle point of the forehead and the two points around the nose) and found them helpful at times to relieve the congestion.
Later in high school, my allergies made me have bad coughs. I'm not sure if this was worse than having a stuffy nose... I don't know which one is worse. Basically, when I went to bed at night and laid down, the snot in my nose would drain down into my throat, irritating it and making me cough so much that I couldn't sleep. So, my childhood of spring and summer are filled with "a handful of noses and tears." (as my Dad would describe in Chinese).
Antihistamines were the most common medicine that my family doctor would give me at the time. However, I did not like to take them. First of all, I didn't like the idea of needing drugs to feel like myself, let alone the fact that they made me sleepy. Most importantly, at that time, the allergy pills didn't help me very much, so I rarely took them.
I didn't like the nose spray or eye drops either. I didn't like the way the bitter taste of the nose spray, and didn't like the idea of dropping chemicals into my eyes either... I rather just dealt with the pain I was already in than go through more...
After trying out various medicines that were useless for my symptoms, the doctor made me try homeopathic medicines. In my memory, they were basically tiny white sugar balls that tasted just like sugar. Who knew what was in it? It didn't help, of course. At most, it might've had some short-lived placebo effect.
Dad's Secret Remedies
There is a common saying in Chinese, "those who have had a disease for a long enough time become their own doctor". Dad, who has had a long history of seasonal allergies himself, has figured out some of his own ways to cope with his allergies. He would tell me to go out running and use the nose only to breathe in and out to "fight against the pollen" and "build immunity against the pollen". He also told me to regularly exercise in general to boost my immune system. I didn't really follow his advice at the time, and only appreciated this advice much later on.
Fast forward to my freshman year in Minnesota, I distinctly remember when the magnolia flowers began to bloom on campus, my symptoms would start immediately.
Since my most prominent symptom was a runny and blocked nose, I was prescribed a flonase nose spray and Claritin-D (with nasal decongestant). I was told to start using the nose spray around a month before my symptoms are expected to start. This would help prevent my nose getting congested when the allergy seasons starts. Due to previous bad experience with the nose spray and allergy medication, I did not have much expectations. I was pleasantly surprised that the nose spray tasted sweet this time! This at least motivated me to keep using it.
This treatment plan worked very well! In the first couple of years, I diligently used the nose spray and would need around 1-2 boxes of allergy pills each season to fight my symptoms.
Over the years, my symptoms have significantly improved. I had less and less days of bad symptoms and have significantly dialed down my medications over time. In fact, one year, I still had a whole tablet of allergy pills left over at the end of the summer since I didn't need to take them! From then on, I no longer bought allergy pills ahead of the allergy season to avoid creating waste. I would only go buy pills when I really needed them.
I have kept using the nose spray throughout the years, and only take an over-the-counter allergy tablet whenever I know I need to be outside for a long time in the summer.
I also found doing regular aerobic exercise has helped to reduce my symptoms (I thank my dad for this tip!).
I'm happy to say that I can finally fully enjoy spring and summer again!!! Now, when I see flowers blooming in the spring, I no longer have mixed feelings. I actually get to fully appreciate its beauty, take photos of them and even get close up to smell them! I look forward to going cherry-blossom and magnolia peeping soon!
Overall, having seasonal allergies has been quite a painful experience but also make me appreciate more the times when I can breathe normally (without having to sneeze or have snot trickle down my face)!!!
There were definitely moments when I felt hopeless, knowing that there is no treatment for allergies and that I would have to live with these symptoms for the rest of my life! Now that I'm feeling considerably better, I experience a tremendous sense of gratitude when I can come close to flowers in the spring and fully appreciate their beauty!
For those of you still suffering from allergies, I hope my story has made you feel less alone and brought you hope that you can also get better over time! It takes some time to figure out the best treatment for you, so be patient and listen to your doctor!
I hope you will get better and better over time!
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