By John D. Scinto, MD FAAAI FACAAI | Allergy/Immunology
Spring, with its showy display of flowering buds and blooming trees, is the favorite season for many people, unless you are among the 58 million Americans who suffer from seasonal allergies. Most seasonal allergies begin in the spring, when tree and grass pollens circulate in the air until late June. Mold, another allergy offender, begins in February and can last until the ground freezes, and ragweed can cause misery to allergy sufferers from mid-August until the first hard frost. Two-thirds of people with allergies suffer year-round, with few periods of relief.
If you or your loved ones suffer from seasonal allergies, read on to learn about its causes, prevention and treatment.
With winter ending soon, the trees will begin to bloom, typically mid to late March, causing spikes in pollen. Tree, grass, mold and weed pollens are the leading contributors to the allergy season. While the timing and quantity of pollen release can vary, the weather can also influence the degree of your exposure. Tree, grass and ragweed pollens disperse more readily during dry, warm days and cool nights, whereas mold grows quickly when there is frequent rain and high humidity. Unfortunately, there is no way to avoid airborne allergens because they exist wherever plants grow.
The most effective way to prevent allergies is to know your allergy triggers and when they are likely to strike, and to stay ahead of your symptoms by treating them before they begin. Monitoring weather reports to track pollen and mold counts is a helpful start, but pollen levels vary in different localities, so the pollen levels in your neighborhood may vastly differ from pollen counts at a weather station 50 miles away. To reduce your exposure, stay indoors as much as possible on dry, windy days. The best time to go outside is after it rains. It is also helpful to keep your doors and windows closed during the peak allergy season and use an air purifier or central air conditioning. Removing your clothes after going outside and rinsing off in the shower may also be helpful. If the forecast shows pollen counts are high and you must go outside, take allergy medication before your symptoms begin.
When you suffer from seasonal allergies, your immune system has already produced antibodies to allergens in the environment. As a result of this process, histamine is released, which causes symptoms such as itchy and watery eyes, sneezing, congestion, runny nose and wheezing. However, during the spring, many upper respiratory infections (colds) are also common due to the changes in the weather. Colds do not normally last as long as seasonal allergies, but they can last up to two weeks. Colds typically cause fever, muscle aches, joint pains and sore throat. While both seasonal allergies and colds can cause fatigue, seasonal allergies do not cause fever. Seasonal allergies also produce the histamine effect of itchy eyes, nose and throat.
Over-the-counter allergy medications and nasal irrigation products usually help to reduce allergy symptoms. However, if your symptoms are not responding to these products, prescription allergy medicines may be needed. When taking prescription allergy medications, it is important to start two weeks before the usual start of your symptoms. Starting medications early, before symptoms begin, can effectively ease symptoms and often prevent them altogether. If you annually suffer during allergy season to the point where your symptoms affect your daily life, ask your Allergist about allergy immunotherapy, a treatment that modifies the body’s immune response to allergens and can provide long-lasting relief.