One, Two, Ah-choo! What to know about seasonal allergies
Seasonal allergies, also commonly referred to as hay fever or allergic rhinitis, is an allergy to weeds that pollinate. The damaging immune response that occurs consists of inflammation of the nose and airways. Allergic rhinitis afflicts people of all ages including nearly 10% of U.S. citizens and 30% of the population worldwide.
For children under the age of 18, allergies are the third most common chronic health issue. Most people are diagnosed with seasonal allergies in childhood or early adulthood, and symptoms tend to become less severe as the person ages. Individuals whose parents experience seasonal allergies are 50 – 75% more at risk of developing allergies as well.
From difficulty sleeping to higher risk of respiratory infections, seasonal allergies can be extremely uncomfortable. They not only affect one’s senses – from the ability to smell, see, hear and taste – but can also be life threatening if left untreated (triggering asthma in some people). Seasonal allergies can severely disrupt a person’s work, school and recreational life. There are a multitude of symptoms one may experience, as well as numerous potential causes and options for treatment.
At first, symptoms of seasonal allergies may feel like those of a cold, but the cause actually stems from an encounter with pollen and mold. When plants release pollen into the air – typically during the spring or fall – one can endure congestion, sneezing, wheezing, irritability and hives. One may also experience itchiness of the ears, eyes or throat, and even hoarseness.
Additionally, the following symptoms may develop:
- Sinus pressure
- Post nasal drip
- Decreased sense of smell
- Asthma / Shortness of breath
- Sleep apnea and fatigue
The respiratory system is extremely sensitive and vital to one’s health. The aforementioned symptoms are an overreaction of the immune system, whereby one’s body attempts to protect its respiratory system from harmful external factors. During this protection process, antibodies are produced, while allergic response symptoms occur simultaneously.
Causes & Common Allergens
The causes of allergic rhinitis can range from mild to severe, and could have a genetic or environmental component. With seasonal allergies, pollen is the most common allergen. Pollen is a powder released by weeds, trees and grasses that fertilize the seeds of nearby plants. Pollination season entails billions of microscopic airborne particles which sometimes end up in people’s mouth or nose. Other outdoor allergens include trees of cedar, ash, elm, alder, willow, poplar, maple and birch – particularly in northern latitudes.
Ragweed, or Ambrosia, is another difficult-to-control weed that can spark volatile allergic reactions. Autumn is ragweed season and there are more than 40 species worldwide. Other pollen-dropping plants include sorrels, nettles, plantains and mugworts. Cactus flower and sagebrush can be ‘trigger plants’ in dryer climates for allergy-prone people.
Mold is an allergen that thrives in both moist and dry weather conditions. It is a spore that grows on rotting logs and dead leaves. Mold can quickly release “seeds” in rainy conditions and cause seasonal allergy symptoms.
Seasonal allergies can also be caused by indoor allergens like dust and animals (pet dander). Children in particular may develop food allergies or eczema prior to coming down with hay fever. In general, people who are allergic to weeds may be more likely to experience other allergies throughout their life.
Testing and Diagnosis
If a person reports hay fever-like symptoms, an otolaryngologist will conduct a thorough physical examination of the ears, nose and throat, and if necessary, an allergy test. Testing of this nature is when the skin is pricked on the arm or upper back area using different substances in order to determine if an allergic reaction takes place such as hives or raised bumps.
An allergy blood test is another way to detect the immune system’s response to a particular allergen, as it measures the amount of antibodies in the bloodstream which cause allergies.
There are various treatment options for combating allergic rhinitis symptoms. Doctors may prescribe medicine for their patients or allergy shots (immunotherapy) if necessary. Allergy pills mostly work by transmitting chemicals that bind naturally to histamine, which is the protein that reacts to the allergen and causes an immune response that then negates the protein’s effect.
The two main types of allergy medicines are nasal allergy symptom controllers and antihistamines. Both serve to minimize the effects of histamine chemicals emitted by the body.
One can attack symptoms using nasal sprays that contain decongestive ingredients which soothe irritated blood vessels in the nose or eye drops that reduce inflammation via moisturization. Over-the-counter remedies are an easily accessible treatment option as well. A neti pot rinses the sinuses, as do irrigating hydropulse systems which cleanse pollens, infections and environmental irritants from the nose.
Acupuncture and other holistic options can help people with seasonal allergies, as can placing air purifiers in one’s home. If the pollen count is high, one can choose to stay indoors to prevent symptoms from flaring up.
Keep in mind that it is often easier to remove indoor allergens than environmental pollens. One can keep a dehumidifier running to reduce excess moisture. Other helpful tips include:
- Using allergen-proof bedding and washing bedding frequently
- Avoiding or removing upholstered furniture or carpeting
- Keeping stuffed toys out of children’s rooms
- Repairing or eliminating any leaks that can cause pests and mold
Allergy Sufferers in Buffalo, New York
It is beneficial to visit an ENT (ear, nose & throat) specialist to remedy your seasonal allergy symptoms. Those who experience allergic rhinitis in the Buffalo, New York area put their health in the hands of leading otolaryngologist Dr. Paul Young. He and his superb team ensure your seasonal allergies are cared for with optimal results.
Since allergy symptoms can become dangerous if untended to, it is important to stay connected to your body’s needs and rhythms. Becoming increasingly aware of your breathing, sensory functions, and overall physical state helps you immediately notice imbalances or potential allergies that may exist. It is advised to visit a doctor when symptoms of seasonal allergies arise.
To stop suffering with seasonal allergies, contact Dr. Paul R. Young, MD today.