Puzzled nervous curly haired young woman surrounded by camomile has allergic reaction on wildflowers stares at camera has red swollen eyes poses against white background. Pollen allergy concept by Freepik.

It’s a time of misery for some, as spring allergies are in the air. With seasonal allergies comes sneezing, coughing, runny or stuffy noses, headaches, sinus pressure, or even sore throats. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 5.5 percent of African Americans suffer from seasonal allergies or hay fever. And studies show that members of our community, especially children, are often under-diagnosed, a health disparity that can lead to other, more serious problems such as asthma.

Seasonal allergies, prevalent in the spring, summer and fall, are triggered by an excessive immune response to airborne substances such as pollen, grasses or weeds, Dr. Erinn Gardner of Atlanta Allergy & Asthma says. “When people suffer from allergies they’re inhaling things that we all inhale on a daily basis, but for whatever reason their body recognizes it as being foreign, attacks and then you have an allergic response.”

But there are ways to treat and manage your symptoms, as long as you understand what your runny nose and itchy eyes actually mean. According to Garner, who completed her residency in internal medicine at Northwestern University, the first thing to do is establish care with a board-certified allergist and immunologist. These specialists can evaluate your symptoms, test for specific allergies and devise a treatment plan that works for you, whether that means over-the-counter medications or a long-term solution like an immunotherapy injection.

You also must differentiate between seasonal allergies and other respiratory illnesses such as cold, flu, bronchitis or COVID-19. While some of the symptoms are similar, Gardner says people with allergies typically don’t have a fever, body aches or overall fatigue, as these usually indicate a viral illness.

Another thing to keep in mind is that seasonal allergies are just that, occurring at the same time every year. So, if you’re having these symptoms now, as the flowers start to bloom and the green leaves appear on the trees, you likely are one of the 25 million Americans with some type of seasonal allergy.

And just because you never had allergies as a child doesn’t mean you can’t develop them as an adult, because any type of allergy “can present at any time and any age,” Garner says.

Ask Lynn Green, who lives in the Atlanta suburb of Snellville, Georgia with her husband and two children. Green, 47, was a late bloomer when it came to developing hay fever. While Green has had sinus problems all of her life, it was in the last five years that things started to change. “All of a sudden it was beyond that; it wasn’t something that was just annoying. I thought I had bronchitis or some serious cough or illness,” the facilities director at the historic Morton Theatre in Athens, Georgia says.

A trip to her primary care physician soon followed, and with that visit came a diagnosis and a measure of relief. “Come to find out it was just allergies,” Green says. Her doctor helped her find over-the-counter medication to manage her symptoms. While she has not been evaluated by an allergy specialist, that is something she plans to do.

Another tool to combat allergies is to keep an eye out for the pollen count, which essentially is a measure of the amount of pollen or mold spores in the air. The higher the pollen count, the more likely those with hay fever will experience symptoms. So, it’s a good idea to understand when the pollen count is high because you may want to limit your time outside or adjust your medication with the guidance of your physician. Gardner says some people even start taking their medication before a speck of pollen appears on their car, which keeps them ahead of severe symptoms.

Allergy seasons also vary by region. In the Southeast, with its milder winters, spring allergy season generally runs from February to May, but can begin even earlier and last even longer, according to experts.

Finally, what about those home remedies? Even though your mama or your mama’s friend’s grandma told you to take a teaspoon of raw, local honey to combat allergy symptoms, that may not be the best solution, as studies on this treatment have been inconclusive. While it’s not harmful, there’s likely no benefit, either. Gardner says the best bet is to see a doctor. “If you or anyone in your household are suffering from persistent nasal symptoms that are not controlled, it’s important to seek care with a specialist.”