Before You Take a Deep Breath Outside This Spring
April 15, 2022
You’ve got cabin fever and spring weather is beckoning you to enjoy the great outdoors. Before you venture forth–even if it’s just to your backyard—curtail allergic reactions to pollen that may cause you to have hay fever and start to sniffle and sneeze.
Causes and symptoms
The biggest spring allergy trigger is pollen from trees, grasses, and weeds that release tiny grains into the air to fertilize other plants. When these particles get into the nose of someone who’s allergic, they send the body’s defenses into high gear.
The immune system mistakenly sees the pollen as a danger and releases antibodies that attack the allergens leading to the release of histamines into the blood. Histamines are chemicals that trigger a runny nose, itchy eyes, dark circles under your eyes, and other symptoms that are familiar if you have allergies.
Pollen counts tend to be particularly high on breezy days when the wind picks up sneeze-inducing grains and carries them through the air. Rainy days wash away allergens.
Being inside may protect you from windblown pollen, but other seasonal triggers, such as mold and dust mites, can be prevalent inside your house and cause allergic reactions.
Start with your primary physician who may refer you to an allergist for tests. An allergy specialist may give you a skin test, which involves either pricking the surface of the skin with a tiny amount of allergen or injecting a tiny sample of a diluted allergen under the skin of your arm or back. If you’re allergic to the substance, a small red bump (called a wheal or hive) will form. You may also undergo a blood test to detect and measure the allergen-specific antibodies in your blood.
Many over-the-counter and prescription drugs can ease the symptoms of allergies. They include:
- Antihistamines reduce sneezing, sniffling, and itching by lowering the amount of histamine in your body.
- Decongestants shrink blood vessels in the nasal passageways to relieve congestion and swelling.
- Antihistamine/decongestant combos combine the effects of both drugs.
- Nasal spray decongestants relieve congestion and may clear clogged nasal passages faster than oral decongestants without some of the side effects.
- Steroid nasal sprays ease inflammation and are the preferred initial treatment.
- Eye drops relieve itchy, watery eyes.
- Immunotherapy gives you gradually increasing doses of the allergen until your body can handle it. The treatment can relieve your symptoms for a longer time than other types of allergy medications. Although it doesn’t work for everyone, it can stave off some people’s symptoms for a few years.
If you feel like you need over-the-counter antihistamines and decongestants for more than a few days, ask your doctor to recommend an effective regimen, which may include:
- Prescription medications, including steroid nasal sprays,
- Allergy shots, or
- Under-the-tongue immunotherapy tablets.
Some natural and alternative remedies for allergies that may ease your symptoms include:
- Nasal irrigation, a way to rinse your nasal passages with saline solution
- Butterbur, an herb from a European shrub that shows potential for relieving seasonal allergy symptoms
- Acupuncture, a technique in which practitioners stimulate specific points on the body—most often by inserting thin needles through the skin
Talk to your doctor before you start any herbal product or alternative treatment. Some can cause side effects or react with medications you take.
After you choose and try allergy remedies, keep track of your selections and effectiveness at insureyouknow.org. On this handy portal, you’ll also be able to retain health insurance coverage records, details about office visits and allergy tests, and dates of prescriptions so you’ll know when you need refills to prevent seasonal allergies from interrupting your spring activities.
Safely Enjoy Summer Fun in the Sun
May 29, 2021
With students out of school and parents ready for a vacation, your summer planning may lead to seasonal activities and events outside during the warmest time of the year. While making a list of your fun in the sun options, keep in mind your family’s health and safety while avoiding the dangers of heat-related illnesses, water-related injuries, grilling hazards and food poisoning, allergy attacks, and the stress of traveling.
The Federal Occupational Health agency offers the following tips for balancing fun activities and sun safety.
Prepare for Heat and Sun
A big part of staying safe in the heat and sun is being prepared. Have an idea of how long you will be out in the sun and the heat, and then plan accordingly by:
- Limiting your outdoor activity, especially midday when the sun is hottest.
- Wearing and reapplying sunscreen as indicated on the package.
- Pacing your activity; starting activities slowly and picking up the pace gradually.
- Drinking more water than usual and not waiting until you’re thirsty to drink more.
- Wearing loose, lightweight, light-colored clothing that protects your skin.
- Wearing sunglasses and a hat.
- If possible, taking breaks from the heat and sun in a shady or air-conditioned location.
For more information, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Keep Your Cool in Hot Weather! and Sun Safety pages.
Dehydration is a safety concern, especially during the summer months. Be sure to drink enough liquids throughout the day, as your body can lose a lot of water through perspiration when it gets hot outside. Drinking plenty of water can be part of good nutrition, too. Snacking on water-rich foods like raw fruits and vegetables also can help keep you hydrated.
Without enough fluids, you may experience dehydration. Look for these signs:
- Extreme thirst
- Dry mouth
- Muscle cramping
- Feeling lightheaded
- Foggy thinking
Learn more on the MedlinePlus Dehydration page.
Heed Water Safety Precautions
Swimming is an enjoyable way to both cool off and get some exercise, but it also takes extra precautions and vigilance. To lower the risk for water-related injuries or accidents:
- Always have adult supervision for children who are in or around water.
- Do not swim alone, and swim near lifeguards whenever possible.
- Learn to swim.
- If you have difficulty swimming, wear a life jacket when participating in water-related activities.
- Wear a life jacket when boating.
- Know local weather conditions and forecasts before swimming or boating.
For more information, visit CDC’s Water-Related Injuries page.
Additional summer safety reminders include the following tips from National Insurance Services:
Eliminate Grilling Risks
Grilling is a great way to make a delicious meal, especially during summer get-togethers and events. However, grilling carries a number of risks—from fire to food poisoning—that you must be aware of to keep your outing safe and enjoyable. Experts say that food poisoning peaks in summer months for two main reasons: bacteria grow fastest in warm, humid weather, and people generally do not pay as much attention to cleanliness when eating outside.
General Safety Precautions
- Do not allow children and pets to play near the grill until it is completely cool, and you’ve had a chance to put it away.
- Place your grill at least 3 feet away from other objects, including your house, vehicle, trees, and outdoor seating.
- Before using a gas grill, check the connection between the propane tank and the fuel line to make sure it is not leaking and is working properly.
- Only use starter fluid for barbecue grills that use charcoal. Do not use starter fluid for gas grills.
- If you suspect that your gas grill is leaking, turn off the gas and get the unit repaired before lighting it again.
- Never use a match to check for leaks.
- Do not bring your grill into an unventilated or enclosed space, such as a garage or inside your home. This is not only a major fire hazard, but it’s also a carbon monoxide hazard.
- Never grill on wooden decks, porches, or balconies.
Carcinogen Hazard Preventions
- Cook leaner meats that drip less grease. Opt for a turkey burger or a lean cut of beef, and cut visible fat from poultry. When fat drips into the coals or flames, smoke travels up to the meat and releases carcinogens.
- Marinate meat to reduce carcinogens by 87 percent. Herbs contain polyphenolic antioxidants, which prevent the formation of carcinogens on the meat’s surface.
- Scrub your grill with a wire brush after every use. This will prevent bits of leftover food from dropping into the grate and creating carcinogen-filled smoke.
- Use a nonstick cooking spray on the grill rack to prevent meat buildup.
Follow Food Safety Tips
- Wash your hands. You should do this before all types of food prep, and grilling is no exception. If you’re outdoors and there is no bathroom, use a water jug, some soap, and paper towels. Consider carrying moist towelettes for cleaning your hands.
- Separate raw and cooked food. Don’t use a plate or utensil that previously touched raw food to touch cooked food unless the utensil has been washed with hot, soapy water.
- Marinate your food in the refrigerator, not on the counter.
- Make sure food is cooked thoroughly to kill any harmful bacteria that may be present. Hamburgers should be cooked to 160 degrees Fahrenheit, or until they are brown all the way through. Chicken should be cooked to 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Refrigerate leftovers within two hours of being cooked—the sooner, the better.
Warm weather and high humidity can put a strain on seasonal allergy and asthma sufferers. It’s a peak time for certain types of pollen, smog, and mold. Below are some survival tips to help you manage your allergies during the summer months.
- Protect yourself during prime allergy time—stay indoors between 5 a.m. and 10 a.m., when outdoor pollen counts are usually the highest.
- Avoid extremes—going between intense outdoor heat and indoor air conditioning can trigger an asthma attack and other allergy symptoms.
- Wear a mask when mowing the lawn or if you know you are going to be around freshly cut grass. Also, take a shower, wash your hair, and change your clothes to remove any pollen that may have collected on your body. You should also dry clothing inside, rather than on an outside line.
- Patrol your yard for weeds such as nettle or ragweed and oak, birch, cedar, and cottonwood trees—they all can trigger allergies.
- If you’re allergic to bees, protect yourself. Wear shoes, long pants, and sleeves. It’s also a good idea not to wear scented deodorants, hair products or perfumes, as all of these can attract bees.
Travel Safely this Summer
The following tips can help you plan for a safe and fun road trip:
- Buckle up for safety; you’ll avoid a ticket, and more importantly, should you get into an accident, you’ll increase the odds of surviving the crash and reducing injuries for both you and your family.
- Get a good night’s sleep; drowsy drivers can be as dangerous behind the wheel as drunk drivers. And don’t think coffee or opening windows will be enough to keep you awake— there is no substitute for a good night’s sleep.
- Take a break from driving if you feel yourself getting drowsy. Get out of the car for some exercise or switch drivers if you have that option.
- Do not drink alcohol and drive—you put yourself and anyone around you in danger.
- Conduct a pre-road trip inspection on your vehicle—taking just 10 minutes to ensure your car’s tires are properly inflated, that the fluids are topped off, and that everything under the hood is all right—to identify and mitigate problems that could lead to future breakdowns.
Review CDC’s travel tips on the following topics that are continuously updated as needed:
- Domestic Travel During COVID-19
- When NOT to Travel: Avoid Spreading COVID-19
- Safer Travel Tips for Families with Unvaccinated Children
- Requirement for Face Masks on Public Transportation Conveyances and at Transportation Hubs
- Travel Health Notices
- Cruise Ship Travel
- International Travel During COVID-19
- Travel Recommendations by Destination
- After International Travel
- Travel Planner
- Travelers Returning from Cruise Ship and River Cruise Voyages
- Travel: Frequently Asked Questions and Answers
- Travelers Prohibited from Entry to the United States
- Communication Resources for Travelers
When planning your summer vacations, keep track at insureyouknow.org of your health, automobile, boat, and travel insurance policies, as well as passports and COVID-19 vaccination records, for you and your family members. In case you face an emergency or need to prove your coverage, you’ll be able to refer to your secure documents online.