Spring season has arrived! And while some may breathe a sigh of relief when cold and short winter days are over, others have a hard time breathing at all. For them, spring means a stuffy and runny nose, sneezing and unstoppable itching. It is the season when air quality is being contested by allergens!
What are seasonal allergies?
Anyone who has ever experienced seasonal allergies knows they can be irritating and unpleasant. Allergies are common and may affect any person regardless of age, gender, ethnicity or health status. Seasonal allergic rhinitis (the medical term for seasonal allergies) affects 10-30% of adults and up to 40% of children in the US.
The most common causes of seasonal allergies are pollens from wind-pollenated plants such as trees, weeds and grasses; mold; and dust mites. Although spring is notorious for being known as “allergy season”, seasonal allergies can occur at any time of the year.
The most common symptoms of allergic rhinitis include:
- Runny nose and/or nasal congestion
- Itchy nose, throat, eyes and ears
- Red, puffy and watery eyes
- Fatigue, headache and excess phlegm
Many of these symptoms may mimic those of the common cold or even COVID-19 infection, but the difference is that allergies are not caused by a virus. Despite the nickname “hay fever,” fever is not a normal symptom of allergies. Also, unlike other viral illnesses, allergy symptoms often last longer—usually more than one or two weeks.
How do allergies develop and who is at risk?
Seasonal allergies occur when the body’s immune system recognizes an allergen, such as pollen or mold, as potentially dangerous and produces an overreactive response to them. When your body first recognizes the allergen as an intruder, your body begins to produce allergic antibodies to that specific allergen. When your body is exposed to the same allergen, the allergic antibodies start off a cascade of reactions that result in the release of a substance called histamine. When histamine comes in contact with our mucous membranes, we begin experiencing symptoms of allergies.
Allergies have a genetic component and can often run in families. Allergies are a part of “atopic triad” or three conditions that often occur together: allergies, asthma and atopic dermatitis (eczema).
Tips to prevent and ease allergy symptoms
Here are a few tips on how to prevent or minimize allergy symptoms:
- Check your local pollen levels and pollen forecasts on TV, radio or online
- Avoid or minimize your time outside when pollen levels are high
- Close doors and windows when pollen levels are high
- Avoid outdoor activities early in the mornings as pollen levels tend to be highest at this time
- Try to perform outdoor activities in late afternoons
- Stay indoors on dry or windy days. The best time to be outside is after rain, which helps clear pollen from the air.
- Avoid or delegate gardening chores
- Remove clothing you wear outside to reduce pollen exposure at your home or office
- Take a shower after being outdoors to remove pollen from skin and hair
- Don’t hang laundry outside
- Brush or wash your pets after they were outside to remove pollen from them
- Use a humidifier if indoor air is dry
- Clean the floor and surfaces at your house more often during allergy seasons
- Make sure your home and car AC filters are changed or cleaned regularly
- Wear a mask outside-especially if you are doing yardwork
Following some of these prevention tips may be quite effective in providing relief from allergy symptoms. However, if symptoms persist, your healthcare provider may advise you to take specific medications to help with your symptoms.
Allergy medications and supplements work primarily by blocking the body’s pathways that promote production and release of excess histamine. The most common medications include nasal sprays (eg. Cromolyn, fluticasone), oral antihistamines (eg. cetirizine, fexofenadine and loratadine), nasal and oral decongestants (eg. oxymetazoline, phenylephrine and pseudoephedrine) or combination medications.
There is also some evidence that certain natural supplements may relieve allergy symptoms. Some of the most commonly used alternative treatments include bromelain, butterbur, quercetin, stinging nettles and vitamin C.
Always speak with your healthcare provider to determine if your symptoms are due to seasonal allergies or a viral illness. It is important to speak to your healthcare provider before taking medications and/or supplements for seasonal allergies and to check for medication interactions or contraindications for use.
1) Allergies statistics and facts
2) What triggers seasonal allergies?
3) Seasonal allergies: Nip them in the bud
4) Top 5 natural antihistamines for allergies
5) What does histamine do?
6) Allergy overview