May is here, and spring is finally announcing its late arrival. And what is spring without hay fever? Many of us are already suffering from itchy eyes and sneezing. Hay fever (also known as allergic rhinitis) is mainly due to pollen from trees, and Beijing is notorious for its annual explosion of poplar and willow tree pollen that coats the city in a fluffy haze.
Beijing’s trees and flowers are likely to be very different from those in your home country. So although most expats with severe spring allergies usually have improved symptoms in the capital, others with no previous history suddenly find themselves suffering from this unwanted springtime guest.
Fortunately, hay fever is usually only mildly irritating for most people. And it’s also fairly easy to treat. The simplest treatments are the over-the-counter (OTC) non-sedating allergy pills. The most common one is loratadine, which in China is usually called Clarityne. This is a once-a-day pill, which is safe for children over 2 years old; for many people, this is all they need. For young children, it comes in liquid and chewable forms as well. There is also diphenhydramine (known to many as Benadryl). This is very effective but needs to be taken more often, and sleepiness is a common side effect. Diphenhydramine is usually the sedating ingredient in all the popular OTC sleeping pills, such as Tylenol PM.
Those of you bothered by itchy, red eyes can try one of the many OTC eyedrops – naphazoline is a popular choice. Doctors can also prescribe stronger and longer-lasting eyedrops if the OTC varieties don’t offer enough relief.
If OTC medicines aren’t doing the trick, a doctor can prescribe stronger eyedrops as well as a group of special steroid nasal sprays. These once-a-day nasal sprays usually do a terrific job and also can be used safely in children. Some kids and adults with severe hay fever need to be on both a daily pill and a nasal spray during the entire allergy season. This is very safe and won’t cause any long-term damage.
But not every nasal spray is created equal. Many people overuse the OTC spray oxymetazoline (known in the US as Afrin). This works very well for a runny nose, but after using it for 3-5 days your body develops rebound congestion, at which stage you need to stop using the spray. Unfortunately, many people mistakenly continue using it for weeks without realizing that their chronic congestion is caused now by the medicine, and not allergies.
Don’t forget about the simple things. Try to avoid the specific allergen that is bothering you. Also, nasal rinsing with salt water has done wonders for many people bothered by severe hay fever. Even for those on multiple medications, this twice-a-day nasal clearing out of all the inhaled dust and pollen spores can really help both kids and adults. Plus, it’s practically free and almost harmless – if you can get past the "ick" factor.
And don’t forget that itchy eyes, or chronic sneezing, cough and congestion may not be allergies at all. A red eye may be an infection; a chronic cough at night may be the first sign of asthma. If you’ve tried the above treatments and still have symptoms, it’s time to visit your doctor.